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My Head Hurts

Today I received an ad for a new book titled “How to Teach So Students Remember”. I get lots of similar promotions but there was something about this one that caught my eye. And made my head hurt.

The first line of the description of the publications makes this declaration:

Ensuring that the knowledge teachers impart is appropriately stored in the brain and easily retrieved when necessary is a vital component of instruction.

The copy goes on to promise that the author will provided you with “a proven, research-based, easy-to-follow framework for doing just that”.

There is just so much wrong with everything in the space of one small email, it’s hard to know where to start.

How about the apparent core idea that the goal of good teaching is to have students “remember” all that we “impart” to them? Reflecting the traditional role of the teacher as someone who transfers information in carefully measured clumps from their tightly managed repository to the vessels sitting in the classroom.

And, in the same sentence, is the implication that success is derived from knowledge being “appropriately stored in the brain” and “easily retrieved when necessary”. I can only assume that the most important “necessary” time is the spring standardized tests.

Ok, all that snark is only based on a couple of paragraphs in an email. I haven’t read the actual book, although I did read through the first chapter posted on the web. And just that part certainly lives up to the promotion. Research-based pedagogy right out of a 50’s-era manual for running a traditional teacher-directed classroom.

I just couldn’t believe this is being peddled as a guide for modern teaching by one of the largest professional organizations for educators, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum (ASCD).

An image similar to the one at the top just stuck in my head from the minute I read the ad copy. The picture, taken in 1943, is of a classroom in a UK Catholic school and is used under license from the Wikimedia Commons


  1. Tara

    I have not read the second edition of this book (which arrived in the mail last week), but did read the first edition and used it quite a bit in my last year in the classroom. I found it to be one of the best books for supporting instruction that I used in my nearly 20 years of teaching.

    The title is a bit misleading. This is not a pedagogy book. It’s really about understanding how we process, store, and retrieve information in order to make sense of things. What I remember most is how much my students appreciated the things I shared with them from this book. It supported them in strategies for new learning and helped them be more independent in reviewing and applying what they learned. I won’t claim my classroom was 100% student-directed, but we weren’t 1950’s era, either. Not every kid was excited about learning science with me—they did, however, like learning about how to leverage different memory processes to support their own goals.

    As someone who’s actually read the text and used in the classroom, I would have no reservations about recommending it.

  2. tim

    Thank you for the feedback and your perspective, Tara.

    As I said, I haven’t read the whole book and was commenting more on the promotional material than the contents. However, the first chapter I read online didn’t do anything to change the impression that the author is advocating for a very, very traditional teacher-driven approach to instruction. Perhaps that is necessary, however, since that is also what is expected by administrator, parents, and even the kids in most of our schools.

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