How to learn vs. What to learn

What is the purpose of homework? Is it a medieval torture device? Is it because your child’s teacher is lazy and won’t teach your children in the time she has? Is it a secret plot by the government to subdue the populace? Is it a good tool for parents to get their kids to shut up for a couple of hours? What if it’s a test to see how much the parents remember from 5th grade?

Here’s the theory behind it:

  1. The teacher presents new material to the children. It may be new spelling words, new grammar rules (what the heck are linking verbs?!), new mathematical formulas and geometric proofs, or historical facts that need to be connected.
  2. The students work on the material with supervision in class.
  3. The students work on the material without help at home to see if they understand the concepts and practices
  4. The students bring the work back the next day to be graded.
  5. Teacher grades the homework after school for about 4 hours…
  6. Students get their graded papers back and they start new material.

WAIT! That doesn’t make sense! What if the parents did the homework? What if the children didn’t comprehend the material? The teachers reply:

  • We have to continue on to the next lesson because the school board says we have to finish the book by May!
  • We must go on to the next subject because the bell rang!
  • It doesn’t matter if they don’t get it, they’ll all be doing manual labor anyway.
  • We’re teaching this class because some idiot in Washington decided we needed to, and we don’t get funding if we don’t.

One of the worst complications is that if the next subject or the next chapter has nothing to do with the one before it, the new material learned gets dusty and forgotten. In mathematics and science, if the next chapter depends entirely on what was learned before, and it wasn’t learned, then they are completely in over their heads and never get caught up. So moving on after the homework is graded is a good way to lose the students.

The basis of learning depends on these concepts…Discovery, Attempt, Identify gaps.

Discovery—What do you know now? Is the new material based on material you’ve studied before, or is it completely new?

Attempt—You know what you know, but you don’t know what you don’t. So, you make an attempt at whatever you’re learning to find out what you don’t know.

Identify gaps—Now that you know what you don’t know, you take a look at what needs to be filled in. You analyze the new material.

  • Is it a new concept?
  • Is the material different than what you expected?
  • Is it a skill you need to master?
  • Is it complex and needs to be broken down into smaller parts?

See? So, when the teacher assigns homework, this is the third step in the process. Can the student identify what the gap is between what they did in class and what is remembered? The graded papers give the teacher that information.

But there are more steps to the process!

Practice—understanding the new material. Once the gap has been identified, the student needs to practice the new material. That may mean memorization, repetition, more analysis, building a relationship between the material they already know and the new material.

Integrate—placing it correctly in the big picture. The student needs to integrate the new material into what he already understands and get a bigger picture.

Resolve—considering the old and new material as a single entity. It’s like doing the edges of a puzzle in class, finding the horse pieces and putting those together, then placing the horse in the right position in the puzzle.

Most school systems use homework to Identify gaps, Practice, and Integrate. There is no supervision in this step and either the student gets it or forgets it. Later, the teacher will test on the material.

This is where the “fun” begins. Teachers MUST assume that the students have done their homework on their own and have completed the next 4 steps correctly. But they’ve never taught the students what the next 4 steps are. It’s hit and miss. The students may or may not have an idea of how the teacher tests, what the teacher thinks is important, or how relevant the test will be to the material they’ve studied. So they will cram to remember all the facts and not how they relate to the subject. They will study formulas but not actually work them. They will memorize names, dates, and places but not why they are relevant. They will take the test. Then they will be Judged. They either pass or fail, they either get an A or a C. Their rank in class depends on the collection of these judgments.

The test does not reveal how well the student has integrated the material into his conscious mind and/or influenced his subconscious world map.

This is why our “traditional approach” to education is skewed.

Our tradition only goes back to the industrial age. Actual academic traditions were more like discussing subjects in the main square of town.

The only time children took “notes” in class was when they were learning to write letters and numbers. Aristotle didn’t lecture then give tests. Plato didn’t lecture and then give tests, and neither did Socrates. The method most used? They asked questions of their students and discussed the material to fix it into the student’s brain. Then they used questions to get the students to apply what they’d learned. The teachers and the students worked on steps 3-6 together. The teachers spent their time showing students how to think and how to learn, not filling their brains with information to regurgitate on a test and then forget.

If the student knows how to do the steps correctly, the material sticks for longer and that means NO more cramming for tests.

Fegan Method does precisely that: It shows the student (regardless of age) the steps and how to use them. Most importantly, it shows students HOW to think instead of WHAT to think.

Published by Rebecca Fegan

To be a better anything, I have to be a better person. My results come from the quality of my thinking and it is something I always work on.

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