In Defense Of Listening, Mulling, and Remembering

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I wrote (approvingly) on the Brilliant Blog the other day about professor Carl Wieman’s practice of having his students turn and talk to each other during class, as a way of getting them to absorb and remember the material better.

My post generated this response from Diana Senechal, author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture:

“Regarding the value of arguing in class, Wieman may have overlooked an important consideration. When a student is absorbing a lecture, it’s perfectly natural that she won’t remember much on the spot. There’s so much to put together in the mind. (It isn’t necessarily ‘passive’ learning at all; the mind may be highly active, in fact.) Later, when reading and solving problems at home, the student starts to recall what she heard earlier in the day, and it starts to fall into place. That can be extremely rewarding.

When you try to ensure that students understand the material on the spot, you take away the concentration during class and the mulling and remembering afterward. To me, very few classroom procedures are as depressing as ‘turn and talk’ activities. When I am listening to a professor, the last thing I want is a room abuzz with talk. The penultimate thing I want is the pressure to come up with an instant answer. The antepenultimate thing: a suggestion that if I am listening to someone and thinking about what he or she is saying, then I am being passive, proof being that I can’t recall, immediately afterward, exactly what the person said.”

After reading Senechal’s response, I realized that—much as I admire Wieman’s efforts to shake up traditional ways of teaching—I feel exactly as Senechal does about having to interrupt my train of thought to have to talk about something before I’m ready.

How about you?

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