Learning Should be Hard

Jane Repp, Director of the Middle School
Entrepreneur magazine posted an article last fall that I saved on the desktop of my computer and have referred to often over the course of the year.
During this month of final assessments in all grade levels at the Middle School, “3 Ways to Become a More Effective Learner,” by Laura Entis has special relevance. We give cumulative assessments for many reasons: to synthesize ideas, strengthen foundational skills, apply big ideas and develop study skills. The latter is my focus at the moment as I prepare my Form 2 math students for a final exam in Algebra. Ms. Entis quotes a professor of cognitive psychology at Williams College, who sees much evidence that effective learning should feel difficult. This is a challenging notion for adolescents! I often have to remind them that “reading their notes” is not studying, instead, they have to engage with the material in an active way. One of the most significant journeys of middle school is to determine their own most effective way to do this.
Students must do the hard problems, and do more of them than they would like to. They need to study in bursts over the course of several days, so they are not just superficially memorizing material that will magically disappear after an assessment. And, perhaps most importantly, they must develop connections and meaning for the concepts they are studying. We discussed study strategies in class last week and the students came up with some great ideas: talk through the material with a friend, explain it to someone else, write it in your own words, make a diagram that connects different concepts, organize material into categories, and so on. The Middle School faculty met two weeks ago to share this work we are doing with students around how to best study and learn, and we all left the meeting armed with ideas and strategies to help our students. One such takeaway was each teacher engaging in something called “exam wrapping”; a reflection exercise for students after they have completed an assessment. As a result, the students will have time to think about how they prepared for the exam/​project/​performance and what they can put into their “toolbox” of study skills as they move to the next grade level.
Learning should be hard, but the payoff is well worth it. These students certainly have a support system to make sure they are working hard in the right ways!
Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
Copyright 2018. Kingswood Oxford.