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From neurons to teaching efficiency …..and to your job Helen Abadzi Education for All Fast Track Initiative (c/o World Bank) March 18, 2011 For the University.

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Presentation on theme: "From neurons to teaching efficiency …..and to your job Helen Abadzi Education for All Fast Track Initiative (c/o World Bank) March 18, 2011 For the University."— Presentation transcript:

1 From neurons to teaching efficiency …..and to your job Helen Abadzi Education for All Fast Track Initiative (c/o World Bank) March 18, 2011 For the University of Michigan

2 Smart domains of knowledge for you to study International agencies are deluged with CVs When you finish your masters or doctorate in education what will you be able to say you can do? Can you advise how best to train people at various levels? –Can you explain why some choices re better than others? Can you do design evaluation studies, analyze complex datasets? –Can you explain whether the findings make sense given how people learn or think?

3 Cognitive neuroscience: Knowledge domain to help you interpret concepts: –Such as Constructivism Active learning Child-centered learning Teacher-centered instruction Classroom climate Quality of education Zones of proximal development

4 A glimpse to a trove of knowledge known by a few Low-income students tend to do very poorly International agencies want to see financing converted to information How to facilitate better retention, integration, use of knowledge under conditions unknown in higher-income countries? Cognitive neuroscience offers the needed principles –Mainly cognitive psychology of the 1990s Education faculties rarely teach this field The lecture will give you a sample

5 What happens to information on its way to being learned? Knowledge taught in school must go through: Attention mechanisms Short term memory limitations Encoding through “rules” of cognitive networks consolidation into long-term memory

6 The micro level features are reflected in macro memory features Education modifies brain architecture As a result of school work: certain proteins are made for permanent storage New axons and dendrites created –Connecting parts of the brain that were not earlier connected Neuron synapses open and close in milliseconds Knowledge is stored in neuron assemblies – spatio-temporal patterns

7 Principle from neuron functions: We remember best the info we have used most recently and most often Neuron assemblies connect in spatio-temporal patterns to store information Feedback is needed for modification Neural networks Neuron assemblies

8 Biological mysteries of memory Aromas of rosemary Chewing gum Effort, physical activity Glucose Items presented within 30 minutes of humor –funny classes matter Sleep But emotions have inverted U relationship with performance

9 Daily life School curricula Vocational skills, computer use, Typing Word, Excel Imitating conscious or unconscious movements (buttoning shirt) Reading automaticity Knowledge encoded in movements Valuing certain knowledge Background noises deemed ordinary Reward expectations “noncognitive” skills: Showing up on time Carrying out obligations etc Your mind contains these kinds of Conscious knowledge We can talk about it Unconscious knowledge

10 Short-term memory capacity Why speed is needed for comprehension (working memory) Long-term memory 12 seconds at most About 7 items 4 pictures Cognitive networks 125 gigs semantic memory !

11 Implication of short-term memory: Fluency must be the goal of all training Students should be trained for fluency in reading In math in vocational skills (procedural memory) In basic facts – so that they pop up in students’ minds –No time should be lost in searches

12 Short-term memory capacity determines how we learn and act Fluency must be the goal of all training Automatic, fluent performance needed for frequently used skills If we search the mind for answers, we forget the problems we tried to solve !

13 After some practice, our mind groups letters into ever- larger chunks All sophisticated skills are built like this

14 Implication of short-term memory: Fluency must be the goal of all training Practice shortens reaction time, we do things without much attention: –Reading –Math calculations –Vocationally related skills –Gas chromatograph, computer operation, etc. Time, materials, homework must be used to bring about fluency So what is the most important goal in beginning literacy?

15 Journey of an information item When did Mozart live ( )? An item going into your mind (e.g. Mozart’s birthdate) –Must first get attention, enters through senses Passes through the short-term memory bottleneck Ends up in the contents of the long-term memory bottle Gets classified into existing networks based on specific “rules” If not contemplated or used, it may be forgotten With use, it gets reconsolidated, reclassified under networks of “deeper” meaning After 10 years of use or 10,000 hours of practice, expertise arises, and the item resides in a modular network

16 Attention is needed to learn anything Animals are set up to pay attention mainly to changes in the environment. –The ‘default’ state is inattentiveness –Attention requires conscious control –Control develops throughout childhood Perhaps adding roughly a minute per year of age Being called on by a teacher influences performance –Reinforcement on a ‘variable ratio’ maintains attention best (B. F. Skinner) A student who knows little and has little chance of being called upon will likely learn very little from schooling

17 Bangladesh: How many paying attention? One student recites, rest unoccupied

18 Teachers in Nepal interacting mainly with the front of the class

19 How does knowledge get constructed?

20 Biological tendency for network organization Cognitive networks under construction Items are usually categorized on the basis of meaning (particularly after age 12) Children in particular may classified items in series

21 After seeing many examples with various features, the mind classifies items in various schemes

22 If information survives up to long-term memory.. “rules”determine which items will be retained Spoken rather than written info Imageable (picture superiority effect) Contemplated and connected to existing knowledge through meaning Encoded through multiple senses Somewhat distinct from others – but not unheard of At the beginning or end of a session In small chunks at a time Reviewed at intervals spaced apart – not crammed Generated rather than just given

23 Crucial for remembering and forgetting: organization and links among items Information is recalled along the same paths on which it was encoded We remember information items by traveling along the pathways where they were encoded – E.g. remember a foreign language better by reviewing your old books, going where it was spoken Places, time, smells, are encoded with the information (encoding specificity) – Proust and the “madeleines”

24 To be remembered, items must be attached to very specific “hooks” (encoding specificity), zones of proximal development? If we don’t know where to “hang” something, we forget it – Can you remember…. Chloro(trephenylphosphine)gold” ? We need concrete examples to retain abstractions If we know where to hang something, we understand!

25 From items we draw conclusions and find rules A paradox: – Items can only be linked very specifically to other items (encoding specificity) – but once linked, rules are extracted from patterns conclusions drawn – knowledge multiplies, easy to learn anything ! –Cognition - interplay between remembering an item and deriving conclusions – Generalization, transfer difficult – Certain rigidity Conclusion Precise fit of information items New items attached Prior knowledge example

26 The mind derives rules from items and events People drop the details, remember the gist Particularly for repetitive events, the specific information may be discarded –What did you see on the road while going to work three months ago? People will reconstruct from repetitive events, develop “schemas” –“recall” false details based on likely events

27 The more knowledge we have, the more we have hooks to hang new items Fast reading, fast intermediate calculations reward learners –help create ‘self motivated learners’ Elaboration, practice reconfigure networks 10 years of practice create expertise Innovation, creativity – research ongoing on these issues

28 E laboration and use reconfigure cognitive networks into “deep structure” Upon teaching, items may be classified through “superficial” characteristicsUpon teaching, items may be classified through “superficial” characteristics With elaboration and practice, items may be reclassified under underlying conceptsWith elaboration and practice, items may be reclassified under underlying concepts “surface structure” to “deep structure”“surface structure” to “deep structure” “deeper” principles help create analogies:“deeper” principles help create analogies: –Generalizing: Transfer of learning to problems that superficially appear different Have same “deeper” structureHave same “deeper” structure “rote memorization” just connects items,“rote memorization” just connects items, –no elaboration

29 Elaboration, contemplation: Crucial educational concept “Contemplation” activities help transfer items to multiple or different classifications Some such activities may be “active learning” Really active processing Students who get elaboration exercises connect knowledge –E.g. Connections to motor networks Multisensory inputs –Knowledge “pops up” whenever needed

30 Some implications of cognitive network functions Organization and links matter as much as the information itself Knowledge is cumulative – Students need exact “hooks” with prior knowledge – Dropouts can’t just return without remediation Students with primary school deficits can’t benefit from secondary school They need remediation! extra books benefit the best – Matthew effect

31 Poor-quality schools may just teach items in loose series The heroes of the revolution are… The principles of constitutional law are…. 2x2=4, 2x3=6, 2x4=8, 2x5=10…. Note: Information is recalled along the same paths on which it was encoded Students may just recite or listen…

32 High-quality institutions offer activities to create complex networks Students recite + read long texts+ manipulate + collect real-world samples + answer questions connecting various items + derive new conclusions from data + solve problems + practice for fluency + generalize into various circumstances

33 Knowledge in the schools of the poor Less utility for employers Knowledge in the schools of the better-off More utility for employers

34 Time is needed for consolidation: instructional time amount crucial Teaching time increases the probability that cognitive networks will be built High-income countries and schools put more at students’ disposal, so even if some tasks are inefficient, there is redundancy. –also repetitions, reviews etc. Schools of the poor give less time to students. –May get few chances to create a sensible semantic network about a topic

35 Instructional time is what the governments pay for But o nly a fraction of the investment is actually converted into learning time

36 Lack of textbooks translates into time wastage at all levels Copying, dictation necessary Limited practice, time, feedback Due to a lack of knowledge and materials, teachers do very few activities Teacher boredom: Could you spend 20 years in blackboard transcription?

37 Efficient classroom activities Brief lecturing with examples, analogies Asking students at random to answer –variable ratio reinforcement best maintains attention Elaboration, contemplation of the material –retrieval, recombinations, analyses –Selective use of groups Textbooks, other structured material –Students should copy or take dictation only as a curricular activity

38 Automaticity and working memory crucial in reading

39 Minimum reading speed needed for comprehension words correct per minute (working memory) Long-term memory 12 seconds at most About 7 items 4 pictures Cognitive networks 125 gigs semantic memory !

40 To read an average sentence in an ‘average’ language roughly.. 7 items in 12 seconds… students must read at least a word per second with 95% accuracy (correlates.87 with speed) words per minute minimum 7 words in 12 seconds equals words per minute!

41 35 words per minute

42 Perceptual Learning: Visual complexity in various languages and scripts (Psycholinguistic grains) English through, caught, bake, often, saw, sew French Ils etaient, oiseau, mois, etant Bengali jomi – earth boithak – meeting koThin - difficult

43

44 Can all students be engaged in this class? Why not?

45 Do these students discriminate among letters of the blackboard from this distance?

46 Setting the basis for efficient math acquisition

47 Mathematics are innate to some extent Triple code in the brain: sense of quantity, number name, symbol –Babies, animals manipulate about 3 items –Addition and subtraction more “natural”, multiplication and division less so Magnitude processing, Weber fraction (some people better than others)

48 Higher-level math is based on preschool and early grade tasks Lower SES children start off and stay in poorer performance Activities needed to connect the verbal and the visuospatial parts Interventions needed since kindergarten: –quickly estimate how many things in a group –Build number line –Measure, compare sizes –Develop fluency of calculations

49 Develop early the number line people have in their heads

50 Instructional principles to apply From cognitive neuroscience to teaching practices -Students need feedback -Sufficient learning time - Retrieval opportunities - Need for fluency - Info must pop up in mind without conscious searches -Need for teaching methods that optimize classification and retrieval of info -Optimally spaced reviews Input into short- term memory Neuron connections to encode information Long-term memory consolidation ( protein formation transfer from hippocampus etc)

51 Interventions in countries of all income and educational levels Fluency of basic skills –emphasis on achievement in grades 1-2 Prior knowledge needed for a specific topic (hooks) Textbooks or a structured set of materials per student Use of allotted time for instruction, practice, elaboration Teacher training for appropriate (elaboration) activities –video-modeling methods more efficient in behavior change Supervision of the relevant teaching activities –Frequent feedback and reinforcement to teaching staff, given the way the brain’s reward system works

52 Countries need valid technical advice on learning efficiency Which expert to believe? Degrees in education do not guarantee knowledge –Often personal opinions, “Anglo-centric” views are given Evidence-based expertise is needed! You could learn this domain of knowledge and do a better job !

53 Suggestion: learn better how to integrate psychology findings Test hypotheses in dissertations and theses Take 3 psychology courses before you graduate –Cognitive psychology –Perceptual psychology – for reading etc. –Neuropsychology ALSO: –Social and/or motivation –Educational psychology? Depends on content –Tell your faculty you want such courses

54 Thank you for your time!


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