Ignite your summer learning (with) science

by Saro Mohammed

This summer’s hot new trend is learning science, right? Everywhere I turn, educators are told that instruction should be based on the science of how we learn. We also hear that researchers are uncovering new evidence every day that might help improve our students’ learning. But short of pursuing a graduate degree in cognitive psychology, where can we learn more about how learning science principles are actually relevant to teaching and learning? At The Learning Accelerator (TLA), we grappled with the same question, and we’re thrilled to share our answer.

IgnitED Research is a series of bite-sized resources in which educators describe how different learning science principles have shaped practices in their classrooms. At the end of each one, we outline how a specific learning science principle is relevant to what teachers, students, and technology do to make learning more personalized, mastery-based, and/or data-driven.

Each installment includes a brief video (5 minutes or less), paired with an article that provides links to more resources and deeper information about the principle and what it means for instructional practice. 

Our first five installments have featured the following topics and educators:

  1. Jin-Soo Huh, Distinctive Schools – The Myth of Learning Styles. Did you know that learning styles do not exist? There is no evidence that shows teaching to a student’s learning style leads to better, deeper, nor longer-lasting learning.

  2. Mike Fauteux, Leadership Public Schools – Not all Feedback is Created Equal. It seems to be common (and accepted) knowledge that effective feedback is timely and relevant. In other words, receiving a simple grade on a test two weeks after it was given is unlikely to improve learning. But learning science has also shown that feedback, even when timely and relevant, can still be ineffective, or even harmful.

  3. Nelly Lopez, Lindsay Unified School District – Mix It Up! The Benefits of Mixed-Ability Groups. Students benefit from working on a skill or learning target in small groups with others who are at different ability levels in that skill, likely through developing a growth mindset around the target skill and gaining a better understanding of their own strengths.

  4. Patrice Bain, former educator and finalist for Illinois State Teacher of the Year – Retrieval Practice - Power Tools for Instruction. You probably already know that the best way to get information into long-term memory is to “retrieve” it, or periodically recall it. This is why many of us mentally rehearse information that is important to remember. Storing information in long-term memory is one step in the process of learning, and this same cognitive mechanism of retrieval works to help students learn, too.

  5. Sam Scroggins, Cisco Independent School District – Learner-Led Classroom Management. We may know a lot, in theory, about effective classroom management. But putting it into practice requires giving students authority, along with responsibility, for co-creating classroom norms and routines.

These five installments are only the beginning; future topics will be posted on our website, including:

  • Transfer: Transfer of learning has been described by researchers as the underlying objective of all learning. There are many strategies that are known to facilitate effective transfer – so many, in fact, that it may be challenging to implement all of them as unified classroom activities.

  • The Importance of the Teacher: Of all the competing factors that can influence learning in the classroom, the teacher is the most important and influential.

  • The Myth of Extrinsic Rewards: Tying success to an extrinsic or “artificial” reward can, in fact, inhibit motivation to learn.

  • Mastery Learning: Mastery learning, or “learning for mastery,” produces deeper and longer-lasting learning. This type of learning is a product of intrinsic motivation to learn, students' autonomy, self-directed learning, and explicit connections to student-developed objectives for learning. 

As you wrap up one school year and look ahead to the next, we hope that IgnitED Research sparks your curiosity and helps you incorporate new learning science-based practices into your digital and face-to-face learning environments.

About the Author

At The Learning Accelerator, Saro focuses on understanding if, how, and when K-12 blended learning is effective nationally. She has ten years’ experience in researching/evaluating public, private, and non-profit education programs.