By Scott Sterling
It’s often difficult for young people to acknowledge that something might be incorrect. That would mean the source from which they received the information, whether it was a teacher, parent, or older sibling, is fallible. Children need their information sources to be infallible.
In actuality, learning occurs when a misconception is revised until it’s accurate. Science wouldn’t exist if everyone’s hypotheses were just assumed true. In every subject area, students need to acquire skills in revising their knowledge.
In Revising Knowledge, the new book from the Essentials for Achieving Rigor series, there are five aspects of this process:
- Reviewing prior understanding of content
- Identifying and correcting mistakes
- Identifying gaps in knowledge and filling in these gaps
- Deciding where to amend prior knowledge
- Explaining the reasons behind revising prior learning
These are steps in a process that can even the youngest students can learn—and notice who’s doing the work: the student. Revising knowledge is a student undertaking. Teachers are there to instruct at the beginning and assist whenever needed, but revision is meant to be an autonomous pursuit—that’s how it adds rigor to any instructional practice.
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Remember, rigor is the meeting of complexity and autonomy. Any time a task is complex, there are bound to be (and should be) parts of it that require revision. Failure, to a certain extent, is learning.
So when a student encounters failure, there’s a need for revision. They then move through the five aspects autonomously, acquiring a deeper understanding of the skills at hand. Here’s what it might look like on a math quiz.
- The student answers 3 x 4=? with 15
- He realizes that 15 doesn’t look right
- Using tools like times tables or a graphic organizer, the student sees where he was mistaken
- He decides that he got confused between the tables for 4 and 5
- He applies a visualization technique on every problem, rather than rushing through memorization
- Perhaps while talking with classmates or the teacher after the quiz, he explains his new technique
This student has acquired a much deeper understanding of basic multiplication than just memorizing times tables. He has also undertaken a much more rigorous exercise than reciting that knowledge to himself.
Many students would have handed in their papers without even checking their work. Without admitting that you could make mistakes, revision is impossible. That’s why it’s up to the teacher to model effective revision techniques, if only to show the students that one of their “infallible” sources is, indeed, fallible. Mistakes are acceptable, as long as the person knows how to improve.
Speaking of Mistakes
Unfortunately, teachers often make errors that can undermine the knowledge revision process. The first is not adequately modeling the process. There’s no need to be reluctant about showing students that you make mistakes or have misunderstood something.
The second is not taking the time to properly work through the process. This is deliberate practice and students need to understand and accept that they probably won’t master things on the first try. If and when the opportunity presents itself, simply revisit the revision process should in the context of the new knowledge.
For more learning strategies and analysis on the topic of helping students revise their knowledge, check out the upcoming book in the award-winning Essentials for Achieving Rigor series, Revising Knowledge, available at the Learning Sciences International bookstore.