One of the best ways to study is to survey your memory. Create your own practice tests. Flashcards, I think, get a bad rap because there’s this idea that it’s just rote and it’s only going to be appropriate for learning vocabulary or something. But doing flashcards is basically testing yourself, so I think it’s a great idea. There’s no reason you can’t ask and answer concept questions in a flashcard format, including essay questions. It makes you think about themes and connect big ideas, and it will be useful for you to study.
Q: Ten years ago you wrote the book “When Can You Trust the Experts?” In this document, you have shown readers how to assess whether a claim or educational practice is evidence-based. If you were to apply the skeptical approach to your current book on study tips, what would you say? Why should we trust your reading of the research here?
A: That’s an excellent question. Initially, I thought I’d try to be very clear about the evidence status of each of these tips. They vary. I thought I’d do a scoring system, like a number of ducks between one and five, to show how much research evidence there is behind each. But I decided that would complicate things too much.
There is a bibliography that describes the citations. You can unearth evidence of a particular tip based on what’s on it. Frankly, I’m not making it super easy for the reader. Ultimately, I’m kind of asking people to “trust the expert.” Pardon.
Q: What is a tip that has a lot of evidence and what is a tip that doesn’t?
A: The idea that probing memory is an effective way to help cement things in memory seems to be a fundamental attribute of learning. It has been very, very extensively tested in different subjects and at different ages.
A tip that doesn’t have much evidence behind it is tip number four, where I say to be mindful when reading. To my knowledge, no experience has been made on this subject. Instructors will almost always say come to class after reading. And that makes perfect sense. If they teach in a way that assumes you’ve done the reading and mastered it to some degree, they’ll go above and beyond. But sometimes that really isn’t true at all. It is often easier to listen than to read. If things are not completely clear, you can ask the instructor questions. You can’t query the author the same way. So that’s the kind of thinking behind why I’m giving this advice. It may be a good idea to read after class rather than before. But I don’t know of any direct evidence that it will be more effective.
Q: I love that the cognitive scientist gives us permission to postpone our assigned reading.
A: Wait, Jill. Call it being strategic about the deployment of our time.
Q: And for students who don’t want to read your book, you’ve made several TikTok videos on some of your study tips! More seriously, you have written two books that explain reading research, “The Reading Mind” and “Raising Kids Who Read”. What was your reaction to “sold a story‘, Emily Hanford’s podcast on why schools aren’t teaching reading properly despite decades of research?
A: As someone who has been writing about the science of reading for a long time, I can’t help but be excited and grateful to Emily Hanford for this reporting.
I think she basically did the right research. The idea that I don’t think has come across as clearly as it might have is that the importance of teaching phonics varies depending on what else the child brings to Table. Children who come to school with very strong phonemic awareness and very good oral language skills often need less explicit reading and phonics instructions. Children who don’t have these tools usually need more. The reason I think this is so important is that it helps us understand how you might be an educator and downplays phonetics.
I’ve also seen complaints that “Sold A Story” doesn’t cover other important aspects of reading, like basic knowledge. When something is really complex, you don’t tackle everything. But what worries me is that it can make people like Emily seem like they think all you have to do is fix the phonetics, and then you’re home free. So people who are not very receptive to this message now, may eventually say, “Well, see, the reading hasn’t been corrected. So then, you’ve been wrong all along.