Your Brain Is Not a Computer


Teaching is nothing without learning.

If a teacher teaches but students don't learn, there's no teaching.  The students might be bad, they might be lazy, the teacher might typically be effective -- but if the students aren't learning, as a class, then teaching isn't being done. In one ear and out the other, as the metaphor goes. Sometimes, it never even gets in the first ear.

Last year, as ACA's teachers studied Gregory's The Seven Laws of Teaching, The Law of Review stood out as perhaps the most crucial law of all: "Review, review, review: reproduce the old, deepen its impression with new thought, link it with added meanings, find new applications, correct any false views, and complete the true."

That's one of the best places where true teaching happens.  In the review.

Past generations understood the importance of repetition and review. They were the generations of catechisms and widespread classical education. Today, we are the generation of the quick-fix conferences.  We never read a book, and we definitely don't memorize, not with Siri. Fly in a big-name motivational speaker, get tickets to the show, take notes, and you're set.

But that's not the way the brain works, not the way it remembers and learns, whether you live in the 1800s or the 2100s. The brain works by hearing something many times, forgetting it many times, and then finally learning it. People never learn the first time. Only computers do that.

So let's remember this as we consider the way our children are learning or as we help them with their homework.  For example:

  • In upper school or high school, when your kids bring home a tough Omnibus reading, they're not supposed to get it all the first time. Do you think your child is a computer? But they are supposed to begin to get the general ideas and the bigger details with second or third readings.  So encourage them to practice reading quickly 2-3 times instead of slowly and carefully just once -- though slow reading has its place elsewhere. The key to reading comprehension is not always speed; it is usually repetition.
  • In middle school or logic-stage math, your kids are generally supposed to mess up badly on their first time through a new speed drill. No problem. The only problem comes when they don't correct their mistakes and quit doing any more speed drills. Do you suppose anyone in the world thinks a multiplication table makes sense the first time? Or as my mother once said when I jumped a creek with a horse and fell off and crunched my nose, "Get right back out there."
  • In Kindergarten when your kids are wrestling with phonograms and struggling to sound out words, do you expect them to remember how to pronounce "The" after telling them once? Look at that word! Its pronunciation makes no sense at all. No, you sit with them, night after night, and say over and over, "T-H-E says thuh." Night after night, they crash their brains over crazy English syntax, the only possible way they can learn.
  • And in preschool, children learn by listening, and listening, and listening, to the same story, the same story, the same story, and by asking you to sing the same song, Daddy, the same song Daddy, the same song, Daddy.
And we roll our eyes and smile kindly at their needs, and then we go out to the car dealership for the seventh time, finally comfortable enough -- knowledgeable enough -- to put down an offer.