Associative Chains: The Best Way to Store Knowledge

The following is a guest post by Zack Hargrove on the topic of associative chains, a technique you can introduce to your students as a way of retaining important information.

Associative Chains: The Best Way to Store Knowledge

To make sense of the complexity of the universe, the human brain has always looked for ways to simplify.  In the modern era, the gigantic amount of available information gives people opportunities to find out more and more about the world. The key to learning and understanding any discipline or phenomenon is the ability to memorize the required knowledge. And the most effective way of doing it is by using the associative chains technique.

How it works

We tend to think in patterns. Our experience has given us a great amount of material that can serve as a foundation for memorizing any type of information. Association chains basically help us find similarities between new pieces of information and those already in our memories. The best way of explaining how it works is by showing some examples. For that reason, I will divide them into two main topics: words and numbers.

Words

1. Names

For some people, it is harder to remember names than formulas. However, forgetting names may lead to worsening relationships. That’s why we should know how to remember them.

My name is Zack Hargrove. Let’s break it down.

∙ Chain #1. You need to remember someone named Zack. If I had to remember my own name, I would associate it with Zack de la Rocha, the vocalist from Rage Against The Machine.

∙ Chain #2. Surnames are usually harder to remember. I would divide Hargrove into two parts. “Har” is for Harvard University. “Grove” is for the street from GTA San Andreas video game.

Result: I am Zack from Rage Against The Machine who decided to go to Harvard all the way from Grove St. The same algorithm can be applied to any other name.

2. Unfamiliar Words or Phrases

Let’s say you’ve begun to study the Spanish language, and you’re having a problem memorizing the phrase “Mucho gusto” (nice to meet you). Sure, you can repeat this phrase over and over in order to remember it. But you can alternatively spend a minute creating the proper associative chain which will help you memorize it instantly.

It all starts with breaking down the phrase (“Mucho gusto”) into several parts, creating a chain that makes sense to you, and linking it to another chain. Let each chain be a paragraph. One way:

∙ Chain #1. One of my favorite shows is Breaking Bad. I am always very excited to watch it, so during pretty much every episode my eyes stay round just like the letter “O”. Mucho gusto – both words end with the letter ”o.”

∙ Chain #2. The word “Mucho” sounds pretty similar to the English word “much”. The only difference is that I have to add the letter “o” at the end.

∙ Chain #3. The name of one of the characters is “Gustavo”. I have to remove the last three letters and replace them with “o”.

The associative chain is complete. I picture myself seeing too much of Gustavo, and feeling surprised about it, so that my eyes become as round as the letter “O”.

The same principle can be used to memorize  unfamiliar word(s). For instance, say you have to remember the word “embedding”. It is the process of putting social media content on a web page. The root word rhymes with the phrase “in bed”. Thus, it is extremely easy to remember it, imagining yourself putting social media content to bed for sleep.

Numbers

It will be very easy and interesting for sports fans. Many people who are interested in sports (especially the ones that involve teamwork) see many athletes in jerseys, with a specific number on their backs. The bigger sports fan you are, the more likely you’ll remember the names of the players. And this is crucial for remembering numbers. If the die-hard basketball fan has to memorize numbers like “23103241” – he will be very likely to remember it. Why? Because he would only have to choose the players whose numbers fit in this sequence. This is how you might build the associative chain in this case:

∙ 23 – Michael Jordan. Arguably the best player in the history of basketball.
∙ 10 – B.J. Armstrong. Teammate of Jordan, who will assist him.
∙ 32 – Shaquille O’Neal. One of, if not the most, powerful centers in the history of the game;
∙ 41 – Dirk Nowitzki. Unlike Shaquille, a master of free-throw and 3-point shooting.

The same method will help you memorize dates, phone numbers, or debit card PINs.

The technique of associative chains is something that requires practice. The weirder and the longer the description of your chains may sound, the more likely it is to appear in your head when you need to remember it. The process of “imaginative comparative thinking” is fun, interesting, and most importantly, productive. It develops the ability not only to think outside of the box, but it also helps you exercise your “creative muscle” and memorize the necessary information.

Author Bio:

Zack Hargrove is an editor-in-chief at cheapwritingservice.com. One of his missions is to share ideas on how to sustain your curiosity on its highest level. He enjoys writing about most things, but especially science and music.

The Best Parent-Teacher Conference Advice

I don’t remember much from the year I spent as a student teacher. It was in a fifth-grade classroom. The kids were mostly well behaved. When I took over lead teaching, I had the idea that I would run a classroom where students didn’t need to raise their hands. My mentor teacher looked at me askance, but to her credit allowed me to fail on my own. Most of the time, I was trying to keep my head above water. I learned most by failing, but there were a few things my mentor teacher did that I took with me to my first job. Some of the most enduring lessons were on how to conduct parent-teacher conferences. After 18 years in the classroom and an estimated 450 conferences, here are my five best pieces of advice:

Let the Parent Go First

Here’s how my mentor teacher put it before the very first parent walked in on our first night of conferences: “Always start by asking the parent if they have anything they’d like to talk about.” Most parents will come in and be content to hear what you have to say. But there will usually be a couple who have a burning issue they’ve been waiting to address with you. If you start in with your prepared remarks, or student artifacts, or the progress report, these parents will not be listening. They’ll be thinking about what they want to say, just like you do when you’re pissed off in a staff meeting and can’t wait to vent while your principal blathers on about something you care not a whit about.

If a parent walks in with student work in her hand, you can bet that’s what she wants to talk about. Start your conference with these words: “Hi, thanks for coming! Now, before I get into what I’m going to say, is there anything you’d like to discuss?” Then shut up and listen.

Show That You Understand Their Kid

You spend seven hours every day with your students. Their parents spend less. More than wanting to know how their child is doing in school (they usually know) and whether or not they behave during class (they have a pretty good idea about that, too), parents want to know if you get their kid. They want to know if you respect their child enough to get to know them and accept them for their differences. They want to know if you see the children in front of you as individuals.

Say at least one non-judgmental thing that shows you understand each child.  Even if your observation is a less-than-desirable characteristic, the fact that you’ve noticed their kid is important to parents.

Be Honest 

A former colleague interviewed for a teaching job with another district but didn’t get it, even though she thought it went well. During the call where she learned she wasn’t getting the job, she asked what she could have done differently. She was told she was a “model candidate” and received no constructive feedback. She asked what she could do to improve and was basically told nothing.

People crave feedback. We don’t mind being told hard truths if it will help us get what we want. Parents want their children to succeed, and to do so they need to know what their children can do to make that happen. Telling parents that their child “lacks motivation” when in reality they don’t do any work in the room at all is a disservice. Reporting that a child creates a lot of “interpersonal conflict” is hiding behind jargon. Just say they don’t play well with others and that in most of the cases, you’ve observed their child to be the instigator.

Don’t be a jerk, but do be honest.

If Jimmy doesn’t focus on his work and gets little done in class, say so. If Susan acts without thinking and her impulsivity regularly interferes with others’ learning, let the parents know. If Quentin is reading behind grade level and you’ve witnessed him on many occasions doing everything he can to avoid reading, explain to his mom and dad that he’s not going to improve unless he actually reads.

Parents can’t help their kids get better if they don’t know what to work on and you’re in the best position to know what they need to work on, so tell them.

Describe, Don’t Diagnose

Teachers aren’t doctors and shouldn’t pretend they are. We don’t know the causes of what we’re seeing and even if we’ve seen it ten times before, we should stay in our lane. If pushed by parents — I sometimes have parents who come right out and ask if I think their child has ADHD–stick to what you have observed.

“He has a very hard time focusing. He rarely finishes assignments. Yesterday, he completed the first three problems in three minutes, but then completed only one more over the next fifteen minutes.”

“He doesn’t get work done and he bothers others during work time.”

“Whenever he doesn’t get his way, he throws a fit. Other students have noticed and they avoid him.”

Telling parents what you’ve seen puts you in the position of simply being a reporter. If pressed, stick to that role. You can even add, “I’m just telling you that this is what I’ve witnessed in the classroom.”

Let There Be No Surprises

A good way to have a disastrous conference night is to never tell parents anything until they’re sitting right in front of you and then unload all the bad news at once. They feel ambushed, and you come across as unprofessional. You have all the knowledge, you’ve kept it to yourself, and then you’ve sprung it on an unsuspecting victim in a public place where they can’t just get up and storm out without looking like horrible parents. Save yourself a lot of trouble by letting the parents know, at the earliest date, about any problems their child is having at school. If a parent is surprised at any point during the conference, then you haven’t been communicating enough. If you’ve dropped the ball in this regard (and I have), admit it.

Say: “I’m sorry. I should have called,” or  “I should have sent home more student work.” Ask them how frequently they would like to be updated going forward. Then promise to do better.

A good conference is about the teacher first listening to any concerns the parents may have and then communicating the information parents need to know so they can help their children succeed. Do the above, and your conferences will be productive.

 

Why Some Lessons Are Lame

I’ve had two recent experiences that put into perspective just how absurdly high we set the bar for teachers. That bar is set by many people, from legislators to parents to administrators to fellow educators. Those who study teaching tell us what we need to do to be effective. School districts turn those suggestions into elements on our formal evaluations. Thought leaders take the ball and run with it,  penning pen books on how to be better in the classroom. They then take to Twitter to spread their message further.

Dave Burgess (he’s the pirate guy) tells teachers to preheat the grill, by which he means to light a fire under your students at the start of your lessons to get them interested.

Matt Miller wants us to ditch textbooks. Textbooks are boring!

Alice Keeler despises worksheets.

George Couros wants teachers constantly innovating.

Teachers should strive to improve, and it’s often too easy to do what we’ve always done. We should look at our practices introspectively, read others’ ideas, watch others in action, and see if there might be better ways to reach students.

But we should also recognize that we have limitations, and those limitations mean that sometimes our lessons are lame.

A few weeks ago I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. I saw Michael Jackson’s glove, Jimi Hendrix’s couch, an Elvis jumpsuit, and many more rock artifacts. What interested me the most, however, were the sheets of paper displayed throughout the museum on which artists had scribbled some of the most recognizable lyrics of our time. Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” Jon Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” to name a few.

Songs we’ve heard hundreds of times, jotted down on hotel stationery or in spiral notebooks no different than the kind my third-graders doodle in. It got me thinking about the work musicians do and how it compares to what we ask of teachers. Both are performers. Both stand in front of a group of people and communicate. Today, both are expected to entertain. The musician, before going on tour, will rehearse. He’ll perform the same songs over and over again until he can play them without thinking. Then he’ll spend any number of months moving from city to city singing the same old songs, the ones he wrote on napkins and notebook paper years ago.

A teacher will probably not rehearse. There’s no time to, really. Unlike the rock star, a teacher has to compose different lessons for every day. While the musician’s audience changes nightly, the teacher’s remains the same. So no matter how good that lesson on photosynthesis is (and it’s a chart topper, baby!), you only get to roll it out once per year. The artist can spend 30 minutes jotting down some lyrics that might be played for 30 years. A teacher is expected to carefully plan lessons that are done in 30 minutes and might never be played again. The musician, if he’s giving the crowd a great show, might play for three hours. Teachers work seven. A rock star who spends 25 years singing the same songs over and over again to different groups of people, only introducing a new hit every few years for the first ten, is considered a legend. A teacher who spends 25 years teaching different lessons every day, coming up with new material for 180 days each year, won’t ever be known outside a small circle of people.

And what about each of those lessons? We’re told they’re supposed to be good. All of them. No textbooks. No worksheets. No filler. No crappy B-sides.

Last week I read the book Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo. Gallo studied the most popular TED Talks, interviewed many of the lecturers, and came up with sound advice for delivering a memorable speech. Teachers who lecture can learn a lot from it. Unfortunately, one thing they will learn is that giving a great talk is time-consuming. Really time-consuming.

Gallo shares this story:

I received a call from a business leader who is recognized as a pioneer in her industry. She had been invited to give a TED talk and asked if I could give her some tips. “Well, you have plenty of time to practice,’ I said after giving her some suggestions on how to craft a compelling story. “Spend the next two months working on the story and the slide design and then three months rehearsing.’

“Three months?’ she asked after a long pause.

“Yes. Three months. You’ll be giving the presentation every day. Ninety times sounds about right,’ I said. “It’s a short presentation. Just get up about 15 minutes earlier and practice.’

“Ninety? Isn’t that a lot?’

“Well, Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor rehearsed her TED talk 200 times. It’s been viewed 15 million times and Oprah invited her to be a guest on her show. Dr. Jill’s TED talk transformed her career.’

Amanda Palmer worked on her talk, “The Art of Asking,” for thousands of hours over four months. She wrote on her blog, “I slaved over the talk, writing and writing and re-writing and timing and re-timing and tweaking and trying to fit the perfect sets of information into 12 short minutes.”

Teachers give multiple 12-minute talks (and longer) each day, and unlike rock stars, they don’t get to reuse them very often. Expecting them all to be excellent is unrealistic. So is expecting them all to be good.

Or even average.

That’s why some lessons are lame. To avoid lameness takes considerable time and effort and those things are in short supply for everyone, but especially for teachers. In 2013, the Teaching and Learning International Survey found that while Norwegian teachers spend 15 hours per week in front of their students, U.S. teachers spend 27 hours each week on instructional time, giving American teachers far fewer hours for planning and rehearsing.  [Source]

So if you want to know why I gave your kid a worksheet, this is why. If you wonder why textbook companies still sell a lot of textbooks and teachers still actually use them in spite of being told how lame they are, this is why. If you’re annoyed that your kid watched a Magic School Bus video for science class today, this is why.

Lame lessons are a reflection of reality. They are nothing more than the result of a teacher committing time and energy to develop good lessons in some other subject or for some other day. Lame lessons are what you get when teachers have to churn out hundreds of different lesson plans each year with little time to prepare them.

Let’s stop expecting our teachers to be better than people who can carve out the time they need to be great. Let’s stop expecting the impossible. After all, the Beatles had a lot of hits, but they also had a lot of duds. Even the best teachers are occasionally lame.

_______________

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Understanding the Process of Learning through the Conscious Competence Model

A guest post by Silvia Woolard

Teachers keep exploring different methods of learning. Not only because they are life-long learners, but also because the best learning methods lead to the ultimate teaching methods.

Today, we’re going to explore a model we’ve all relied on in one way or another. Still, most of us are not even aware of the theory behind that practice, and we haven’t been implementing all stages properly. I’m talking about the conscious competence model, AKA the conscious competence matrix or the conscious competence ladder.

Let’s set terminology aside and focus on what’s really important: how can this model help you become a better teacher?

It all starts with understanding.

Understanding the Conscious Competence Model of Learning

Whenever we’re into the process of learning new skills, we go through different emotions at various stages of the journey.

If, for example, you’re trying to teach your students how to write research papers, they might underestimate the challenge at first. They think it’s enough to go through a few resources and sum up their findings. When they realize what a great research paper should look like, their emotions shift. They get overwhelmed and disheartened. Most of them would love to give up at this stage. They will complain about not having enough time, not having enough experience, and not having enough skills.

If you understand the conscious competence model, you’ll be able to encourage positive emotions and help the students get out of the negative mindset.

This model, initially founded as “four stages of teaching” was established by Martin M. Broadwell back in 1969. Later on, Noel Burch from Gordon Training International developed the theory known as “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill.”                   

These are the four stages of learning a skill:

1. Unconscious Incompetence

At this point, the students are unskilled, but they are not aware of that fact. Just like when you present them with a new assignment and they assume it’s easy. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they don’t have a skill.

If you let them stay in this stage, the results won’t be pretty. They will simply assume they can do it in a day, just like they do with their usual homework assignment. So they will procrastinate and they will fail to deliver.

That’s why you need to move them out of this level. You’ll do that by showcasing the true nature of the challenge and introducing them closely to the type of work they need to do.

How do you do that?

  • Ask specific questions about their skills. If it’s a writing project, for example, ask if they have written something similar before. If it’s a social service project, ask them if they are aware of its goals and challenges.
  • Set objectives! Whenever you push your students to learn new skills, you have to introduce some expectations within a timeline. How will you measure those skills? When will you do that? This shouldn’t scare them away. You should set objectives as incentives that will push them to the next stage of the conscious competence model.

2. Conscious Incompetence

By this stage, the students realize they have to make an effort in order to learn a skill. If we continue with the research paper example, they realize that it will take way more time and way more research than they initially assumed.

This stage will be demoralizing for many of your students. They will lack the motivation to proceed. That’s why you have to push them forward.

  • Rely on affirmations. “No one was born skillful. Everyone can learn! There’s plenty of time by the deadline, so you can do it if you start today. You can do it!” When you approach the process with such a positive attitude, you’ll inspire your students to get out of this stage.
  • Develop a progressive schedule. A goal such as “write a research paper” seems overwhelming. If you break it up in smaller goals, it suddenly seems more achievable. For example, they can start by going through five resources that you’ll provide them. They will take notes. Then, they will extract the most important information. Then, they will develop an outline. These smaller goals are not that overwhelming.

3. Conscious Competence

At the conscious competence stage, the learner realizes they have the skills and knowledge needed for achieving particular goals. As they continue on the journey, they keep gaining more self-confidence.

It’s not the final stage, though. You want to keep your students moving forward!

  • Keep them focused on the progress. Remind them how they started and make them aware of the point they are currently at. Progress is a never-ending process, so you should keep pushing them to get better.
  • Give them opportunities to use the newly-acquired skills. If they wrote a research paper, the implementation of their research and writing skills doesn’t end there. Inspire them to start their own blogs and work on their own research.

4. Unconscious Competence            

At this stage, the students are able to use the new skills without making serious conscious efforts. These skills become part of who they are.

This is the stage when the students need to push themselves towards growth. How can they use this skill to build a successful career? Maybe they can use it for a personal project? Maybe it will be the starting point of the higher education journey? Many people become teachers when they reach this stage. They have skills and knowledge that they are ready to pass on to others.

From Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence – The Journey to Success

When you understand the emotional conflicts that your students face in different stages of the learning process, you’ll be able to take proper actions to motivate them.

There’s a lot of theory involved in this model, but its practical implementations are immense. You’ve probably noticed these stages before, but maybe you weren’t fully aware of them. Now that you are, it’s time to bring the theory to practice.

My Bio:

Silvia Woolard is a young passionate writer at Superior Papers from Phoenix. In her free time, she writes and works in a field of popular psychology. Feel free to contact Silvia at Twitter.         

3 Tips for Staying Positive As a Substitute Teacher

Portrait of teacher in classroom with elementary school kids

Life surely has its ups and downs, and some mornings, the last thing you want to do as a substitute teacher is walk into a classroom you’ve never entered before and put your game face on.

When you’re dealing with life’s stresses, they’re hard to shelve. But the job demands that you push your personal concerns aside and focus on your students’ needs. It’s never easy to paste on a smile when your heart is heavy or your distracted thoughts are racing through your head like cars in the Indy 500.

You may not be feeling upbeat, but there are some simple ways to grasp a positive attitude in the midst of your mental and emotional turmoil.

 

Gratitude Is the Best Attitude

When you are facing difficulties or hard challenges, thinking about your blessings can counteract negative thinking. The more you dwell on good things in your life, the more present they will be in your brain and short-term memory.

Maybe something awful is wreaking havoc on your heart, but there are always things you can be grateful for.

Consider little things as well as big things. When your car is running without a hitch, the traffic is actually manageable, and you find a parking spot without having to circle the lot three times, that’s something to be grateful for.

Sometimes we have to “fake it till we make it.” Have you ever noticed how smiling is contagious? When we paste that smile on, even if we’re not “feeling it,” that can help shift our negativity. And it will attract smiles in response. Which will help us cheer up, and make us smile more. Without realizing it, we’ve pulled out of our funk.

 

Repeat Positive Affirmations

Affirmations are another way to help us “fake it till we make it.” We sometimes have to psyche ourselves into our positive attitude.

Choose a few affirmations that will help you as you go through your teaching day. How about: “I can handle anything that comes my way.” Or “Nothing will push me over today; I’m a rock.” Or “I can keep it together at least until the final bell.”Recite them until they become mantras that play in your head throughout the day.

 

Challenge Those Negative Thoughts

Every time your brain derails onto that negative track, separate yourself from it and picture it as something “over there” that you can manipulate. Don’t ride that train; pull the track switch and move it onto another set of rails.

If today you feel like a failure at everything you’re doing, tell yourself, “I haven’t failed. I’m facing a challenge, and I will conquer it. I’m going to try again.” Thomas Edison said of his attempts to successfully invent the lightbulb: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Because he had that positive attitude, he kept trying. If he hadn’t, we might all be teaching classes by candlelight.

Negativity is like a vise grip that squeezes and constricts our creativity. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, blame, and resentment narrow our focus in a way that obscures options. Worry, especially, paralyzes us.

So the sooner we bounce back, the better we’ll be able to serve the needs of our students.

 

Bouncing Back

Positive attitudes have been called “the undo effect.” They help us to quickly recover from negative emotions. When we generate a positive perspective, it helps us bounce back. And that “bouncing back” brings motivation or impetus.

Sometimes we feel we must change our situation before we can be positive and plow ahead. But there are times when we can’t change a thing. In that case, we can either accept the things we cannot change, and adopt a positive attitude of gratitude, or we can wallow in the mire of negativity.

The next time you get a sub request and you’re in that negative place, reach for the gratitude and a handful of positive affirmations. Challenge your negative thoughts and bounce back to a positive attitude. Focus on these tricks before you get to the classroom to make sure you make a great first impression. You and your students will be glad you did.

 

Author Bio:

Alex Murillo is the Director of Talent and Operations at Swing Education where he helps match substitute teachers to opportunities at local schools and districts. Prior to Swing, he was Associate Director of Operations at Rocketship Education.