The Problem with Textbook Learning

"Learn" can mean many things, but in the context of History instruction it means being able to recall key events, understanding why those events lead to other events, and recognizing the patterns of events as they recur throughout history. Remembering facts—like dates and names—uses different aspects of our memories than remembering patterns, and recognizing those patterns in other contexts uses yet other aspects.

We often use techniques to memorize information by rote:

  • Repetition

    is often key to memorization. In language study, students are encouraged to repeat a word at least three times in a different context, in order to have a chance of it staying in their permenant vocabulary. The science behind marketing indicates that brand recognition is much higher if people see a brand or message in at least three contexts within one week. Modern math pedegogy emphasizes learning why but still requires students practice the consequences with repetition in the form of multiplication and addition tables.
  • Juxtaposition

    is a technique for remembering sequences of information. Quick! What's the last line of your National Anthem? You remember words to songs mostly through juxtaposition—with previous words or with the music. Juxtaposition of Context, Cause, and Effect helps students learn historical processes.
  • Visual/Structural learning

    exploits the spacial facilities of our brain, to keep track of two- and three-dimensional relationships between objects.