Use it or Lose it

When I was in high school, I was a lifeguard.  I took many training courses to be hired at the local pool and after I was hired I was required to attend weekly inservices.  During the inservice time we practiced life saving skills in the water, first aid, and we maintained a certain level of physical fitness.  As a group we also attended a number of lifeguard competitions which helped to improve our skills, reasoning, decision making and teamwork.  If a person were to collapse in front of me now, many years after my days as a lifeguard, I could probably perform some type of CPR but I would be rusty and without that kick of adrenaline, I would really have to think through and consider the necessary steps.  If this person were to collapse, I’m not sure that I would automatically think of the ABCs – I might jump straight to CPR when perhaps they were choking.  Thankfully I haven’t been involved in such a life threatening situation to test my skills.  But it makes me wonder, if I don’t use it (or practice), do I lose the skills and knowledge that I could easily recall at one time?

The first year I taught grade 7 Math, I followed the text book and read ahead of the students to be ready for my lessons and although I understood the Math, I didn’t always know or see where it was going or why I was teaching certain lessons.  During my second year of teaching the same course, I knew what was coming, I understood the importance of building upon student understanding and teaching Math was clearer and made more sense to me.  By my third and fourth years of teaching grade 7 Math, I felt like I was a pro but it made me wonder about my students’ experiences.  Here I was, an adult, with University Math classes to support my understanding, struggling at times with how to teach my students and yet they were expected to remember everything they learned in grade 6, apply that knowledge to new understandings, and hopefully become proficient with that skill in the three to six weeks I took to teach it.  Once a chapter was taught, I didn’t refer back to it again unless it was necessary for another concept coming up.  Yet I expected that my students would remember what I taught them when they went to grade 8.

We expect our students to remember everything we teach them.  It sure would be nice if they did but in reality, do we remember everything we learn?  Do we always remember the things we are interested in?  I find the differences between toads and frogs interesting but every time I wonder about the differences, I have to look it up to remind myself.  Imagine the things I don’t find interesting!  In Math we have a possible advantage in that once we teach an outcome, we can assess our students and move on.  But I think we have to remember to constantly review and remind our students about the skills and understandings they have learned as they continue to learn new information.

I had the advantage of teaching the same group of students for three years in a row.  I remember on more than one occasion when I referred to the fact that I had taught them something the previous year.  I remember being surprised that my students didn’t remember that valuable lesson I had taught the previous year, a year later, with approximately three weeks to practice the skill.  And yet, I did expect that my students would remember amongst the Science lessons, Social Studies lessons, Health lessons, reading strategies, etc. as well as other important pieces of information from their lives such as their home phone number, Mom’s work number, Dad’s work number, Grandma’s home phone number, Mom’s cel number and Dad’s cel number in case anyone needed to be contacted in an emergency.

There are many things our students must remember.  There are many things our students must learn and apply.  There are many things we must teach.  I think we must also remember, however, to provide time for practice and review so that once our students learn it, they can use it, so they don’t lose it.

March 3, 2014Permalink