Revisiting lost learning by Gerald Haigh

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In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important a function as recollecting. – William James

As teachers, we tend to do all in our power to prevent students from forgetting what we have taught them. This seems entirely correct and not open to debate: forgetting is clearly the enemy of learning. Well, according to Robert and Elizabeth Bjork, the way our memories work is a good deal more complex than that. For all practical purposes our capacity to store new information appears limitless – our brains have sufficient space to comfortably store every experience we’re likely to have over our lives. But what’s incontrovertible is that sometimes we cannot access or retrieve these memories. Bjork theorises that every item in memory has a storage strength (how well we know something; the quantity of schema to which an individual item is linked) and a retrieval strength (how easily we can recall that thing right now.) There’s stuff rattling around in my brain that I know I know, I just can’t always remember what it is. Our response to this well-known dilemma is to keep students’ retrieval strength as high as possible by providing cues and prompts and restudying material.

Read more on The Learning Spy

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