It's a group effort -- well, actually only two of the six of us worked on this one. The other four wrote... well, I'll save that rant for another time.
I don't know if the formatting will transfer to LJ. Anyway....
Studies by Rovee-Collier (Rovee-Collier in Bee, 2002) support and expand upon Piaget’s ideas on the manner in which children acquire, store, and implement information (Bee, p. 69). Before a child may acquire knowledge, some external stimulus must trigger a response in the child; that is, the child’s attention must become engaged (Rovee-Collier in Bee). As the child develops, the complexity of the stimulus required to hold the child’s attention increases (Richard, Normaneau, Brun, & Maillet, 2004). Concurrent with the necessity for more complex stimulus is an expanded ability of the young child to retain knowledge for longer periods of time (Rovee-Collier in Bee). Additionally, as a child approaches the age of two the retained knowledge is integrated, in Piaget’s terms, into more complex schemas (Bee, p. 70) and becomes less context-based. Thus, as a child grows the ability to remember information increases and the ability to apply the information in situations outside the context of the original stimuli increases; however, the necessity for more arresting stimuli to capture the attention of the child or to make a lasting impression also increases. Reflecting upon this cognitive-developmental process in infants and projecting forward in time to the elementary age child gives some indication of the challenge facing teachers in finding approaches to capture the attention of students for the purpose of creating lasting knowledge.
A basic and necessary requirement of effective instruction is the utilization of techniques to encourage and enhance memory. Seabrook, Brown, & Solity note that while certain methods are demonstrably effective, these methods have not been consistently applied in the classroom (2005). Primary among these underutilized methods is the distribution or spacing of presented material. Seabrook et al. state, “the principle of distributing learning has not been widely applied in education” (p. 107). Designing experiments directly addressing Dempsey’s concerns over a lack of practical evidence in this regard (Dempsey, cited in Seabrook et al., 2005) and modeled on Melton’s lag effect (cited in Seabrook et al.), Seabrook et al. demonstrate a high correlation between the spacing of presentations and the ability of students to retain information. These studies also confirm previous observations relative to age-appropriate lags between the presentations of material; specifically, older students benefit from a greater time lag between the presentation of similar materials. The number of unrelated subjects interspersed between presentations of similar material also exhibits a positive correlation with the accuracy of information retained (Seabrook, et al.).
Complementing Seabrook et al. (2005), a recent Australian study indicates that the spacing of verbal information, that is, the simple technique of speaking slowly and pausing distinctly at the end of spoken sentences, is such a vital yet poorly implemented skill that “many students' classroom failures can be traced to teachers neglecting to pause between sentences, maintain eye contact, or speak slowly.” (Goodman, 2005, p. 11). Students misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorders and hearing problems actually benefit when educators receive professional training on appropriate speech rhythms (Goodman).
Teachers can be more effective, too, by making the effort to move around the room interacting with students (Ihuin, 2004). Involved students are attentive students. Inattentive students are less likely than attentive students to achieve lasting academic success (Rabiner, Murray, Schmid, & Malone, 2004).
Melvin Keohohou is a Kupuna, or Hawaiian Studies teacher, working at the elementary grade level in Hawaii. Keohohou developed and applies an interactive method to introduce the Hawaiian language and culture to students. His method appeals across the spectrum of learning styles, resonating with visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic responders (Palmer, 2004). Further, Keohohou’s methods demonstrate an innate understanding of the principles of pacing and spacing to effect memorization of complex material.
The first lesson of every school year is a ‘dancersize’ routine I created based on the song, ‘Do the Hokey-Pokey.’ Singing and dancing with simple movements always seems to capture a young child’s attention. When I hear a child’s squeal of delight, I know the lesson is off to a good start because laughter is contagious and quickly transforms the learning environment into a ‘party’ atmosphere (M. Keohohou, personal communication, August 9, 2005).
Keohohou’s approach includes a variety of songs, dance steps, Hawaiian words, and accompanying charts and visual aids. Repetition and rhythm are essential elements of the lesson, with a considerable variety of physical and verbal skills interspersed in the routine.
The first part of the lesson, ‘Your Body’ ( Kou kino), unfolds
sequentially from top to bottom and focuses on three major sections
of the human body: head (po’o), arms (lima), and legs (wā’wae). I
display a picture of a little boy dressed in aloha-print swim trunks. As
I point to the various body parts I say the Hawaiian word. The students
respond. After about five minutes of practice I’ll call for attention
(makaukau). The students respond, ‘yes’ (‘ai). Then we begin
to sing, introducing the hand and arm gestures and hip/leg/body
movements. We sing, ‘You put your arms (lima) in, you put
your arms (lima) out, you put your arms (lima) in, and you shake it
I might suggest that this lesson can be learned in eight weeks,
but my students often learn it in four. I’ve used this lesson numerous
times during the three years I’ve taught Hawaiian Studies at Nanaikapono
and Lehua Elementary Schools. This lesson is a ‘slam-dunk!’ ‘Hawaiian
Hokey Pokey’ always captures the kids’ attention (M. Keohohou, personal
communication, August 9, 2005).
Keohohou’s dynamic approach seamlessly integrates a wide variety of methods to hold students’ attention and help them memorize a complex assortment of new information, including vocabulary words, body movements, and rhythms. In addition to segmenting the presentation of information during each individual lesson, the lessons are repeated at weekly intervals during the course of the regular school curriculum. As Keohohou attests, material he might expect to take eight weeks to learn is often mastered in half that time.
Further, Keohohou’s techniques do not require the use of expensive high-tech gadgetry to engage the students. While the implementation of computers, video sources, and LCD projectors is demonstrably effective in generating student interest (Ihuin, 2004), a low-tech approach based on principles of clear communication and careful pacing and presentation of information can be equally effective in generating and holding student attention and increasing the likelihood that newly presented material will be retained.
Teachers face a considerable challenge in engaging the interest of students. As students grow and develop, the need for continually more complex stimuli to create and enhance learning increases. While the ability of the older child to retain information and apply that information in a wider variety of scenarios expands, so too does the necessity of providing variety in the presentation of that material. Simply presenting “more stuff” to the student is ineffective; rather, to stimulate retention and memory, the “stuff” must be presented in a manner that optimizes the opportunity for retention. As the quantity and complexity of the material increases, recent insights suggest that a renewed focus on basic communication skills, including clear, carefully paced speech patterns and lessons that emphasize periodic repetition of content may be among the most effective methods teachers might employ to help students achieve lasting knowledge and academic success. While this integration of method and content is challenging, the net result is creative lessons appealing to memory and attention needs which are interesting, fun, and effective for students and teachers alike.
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