Several years ago, I read the great book, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. The premise of the book is that many ideas that we are taught or told, are 'sticky"...meaning they are easy to remember. Other ideas are communicated to us in a much less effective manner, making them difficult to "stick" in our memories.
The book describes six key traits for educators, presenters, and sales personnel to communicate their ideas most effectively.
After reading the book, while searching for additional resources to use to help implement my new knowledge, I stumbled on "Teaching that Sticks", a special companion to the original text just for educators. I felt I hit the JACKPOT!
Reading through the PDF I was exposed to some really cool ideas. One though has proven so incredibly "sticky" I share it constantly... the "Curse of Knowledge".
The "Curse of Knowledge" comes from research conducted at Stanford University. In the study, students were asked to tap out, using their fingers, the beat to their favorite song, while a peer tried to "name that tune". Although this seems like an easy task, over 85% of the time the song goes unrecognized. The question then is WHY?
Here lies THE CURSE.
It seems, once a person learns something, it is very difficult to remember what it is like to not know it. Thus the reason why many people once being told the song just tapped out to them was something as simple as "Jingle Bells' or "Mary had a little Lamb" are completely amazed.
So, what does this have to do with teaching and learning? The answer is simple, we often don't remember HOW we learned something. We don't remember what caused us struggle, what strategies we used to learn something or what feedback helped us close the gap from the known to the unknown.
Without those vivid memories, we tend to have a more difficult time helping others when they are struggling. We, because of this memory loss, rely on feedback that is based on being right or wrong rather than specific, focused feedback that moves learning forward.
Having worked and discussed this concept with hundreds of educators, I find the "curse of Knowledge" is very real...especially in the area of math.
Why math many say... well I think it is because most people who teach math and enjoy math have always loved math. It is something that came easily to them. They just got it. This allowed them to excel in this area. The more they excelled, the more "fun" they had and because they had fun, they wanted others to have fun and enjoy it as they did. This is very noble, unless they forget that for most of their students learning math will not come so easily. For most, math is a struggle.
So, math teachers, and us other so called "experts" need to be extra patient when teaching concepts to those who are having difficulty and not catching on as fast as we might have. We need to become incredibly cognizant that the struggle is real. We need to look at things through the learner's lens and not through our own. We need to be patient, active listeners and really hear what each child's needs are in order to help them through their particular stage in learning. And, we need to reach out to colleagues to find ways they have used to help struggling students and not just rely on the tools in our own tool bags. Discussing these strategies better opens are eyes and provides new avenues to helping ALL children become successful.