One way to remember facts better and faster is to connect them with other more familiar objects and events. From a neuroscientific point of view, this is helpful because it involves leveraging on brain cells’ immense capacity to interconnect with one another. This implies that learning of one fact can be enhanced by connecting it to another related or unrelated fact. The physical make-up of the brain allows for this to take place without any problem.
Additionally, people prefer to work on things that they already know than things that they are unaware of. It is common for people to reject new ideas simply because they do not know enough about it. All these go to show that it is educationally sound for teachers to teach new ideas/concepts by connecting them to existing ones, particularly the ones students readily identify with.
Teaching with analogy, TWA
Teachers naturally use analogies when answering student questions – e.g. when I teach the difference between zero-order correlation coefficient (relationship between two variables without the effect of a third variable removed/controlled) and partial correlation coefficient (relationship between two variables when the effect of a third variable is removed/controlled), I tell students that it is similar to looking at the quality of relationship between a couple (two variables) in the presence and absence of a mother-in-law (third variable).
When I provide this analogy, the difference between these two types of correlation become clear and it is easily recalled the next time students need to use the concepts to interpret relationships between variables. Also, notice that I used an analogy that invariably creates excitement among people because everyone has something to say about the topic. This adds to overall eagerness of students to learn concepts.
It helps to bring in the actual object a concept is being compared to – e.g. when teaching the human eye, its parts and functions, it is advisable to use TWA with the aid of an actual Single-lens Reflex (SLR) camera. When connecting an idea with an event, it is helpful to re-enact the event in the class and discuss how the event and its elements connect to the idea being taught.
Utilizing TWA strategy allows students to engage in higher order thinking skills such as comparing, contrasting, analyzing, interpreting and synthesizing – they do so without much prodding by teachers. In other words, they learn to think critically in a natural way.
Almost every concept or idea taught could be connected to another object or event in life. However, the key is to connect new learning with things that students are familiar with and passionate about.
For this purpose, teachers need to know their students well. Personally, I do so by keeping track of what makes students tick at any point in time. Watching movies that they watch, playing games that they play and reading books that they read – could all contribute to this end. While arguably silly, these are some ways to get close to the hearts of students in order to reach their minds.
For example, I use Power Puff Girls cartoon characters to illustrate to student-teachers about the weakness of traditional education – i.e. the disproportionate head-to-body size indicates that traditional education developed only the head (the girls over-sized heads), but not the body and heart (unusually small bodies).
When teaching about the brain, its parts and functions, a teacher could bring in a brain model and ask students to compare each region and its functions to a factory that produces a variety of “cool stuffs” under one roof. Allowing students to figure out similarities among elements of the brain model and a factory encourages them to take responsibility for their own learning and make it a highly personalized experience.