Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning Hardcover – 25 Apr 2014
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This is a quite remarkable book. It describes important research findings with startling implications for how we can improve our own learning, teaching, and coaching. Even more, it shows us how more positive attitudes toward our own abilities and the willingness to tackle the hard stuff enables us to achieve our goals. The compelling stories bring the ideas out of the lab and into the real world. --Robert Bjork, University of California, Los Angeles
"If you want to read a lively and engaging book on the science of learning, this is a must. [...] the narrative is seamless and polished. [...] This is a rich and resonant book and a pleasurable read that will leave you pondering the process through which you, and your students, acquire new knowledge and skills." --Hazel Christie, Times Higher Education, 3 April 2014
About the Author
Peter C. Brown is a writer and novelist in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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The science of how we learn is deeply counter-intuitive and this book sets out not only why what we believe is often wrong, but how to implement strategies to get the very best out of our students.
What it includes: Scientifically proven methods of learning that work, and their ineffective, but popular counterparts (eg interleaving as supposed massed practice (eg rereading in rapid succession), testing as a tool of learning, memory aids)
What it does NOT include: Physiological considerations: eat well, sleep well, don't use stimulants etc. The use of any type of software. How to make yourself motivated to study. (there's very minimal advice on that)
Pros: A lot of books give good advice, but this one gives the best. It prioritises the most important aspects of learning ie the ones which will make the biggest difference. Has a large scope, but enough depth to provide good understanding. The format makes it very easy to understand the topic and the experiments qouted let you know that the information is proven and accurate.
Cons: Does not suggest the use of any software even when it would be appropriate. Eg the use of paper flash cards was suggested once, but a flashcard software is superior in every sense. I think a bit more emphasis should have been on memory aids.
Format: As you would expect from any good popular science based books, there are stories and examples so that you understand the principles and the short description of the results of experiments proving them (which are referenced). Very important: This lets you know how accurate the information is. It lets you separate proven facts from opinion and specualtion. (not like there's a lot of the latter in the book anyway) It's nice that the most important bits are summed up in the last chapter from the perspective of students, teachers etc.
Brown lists the things which do work, always with the emphasis on "retrieval" of memories: spacing out practice sessions so that "forgetting" has started; mixing up the practice of different skills; introducing "desirable difficulty" into your practising sessions; trying to work out problems before you have had the explanation or answer; good old mnemonics. All of this is amply illustrated by examples and anecdotes, and this is where I started to get impatient. Several authors on learning (Gladwell, Sayed, Dweck, Lemov) have made the link between academic learning and practical skills, and I was initially excited to discover strong links between my own discipline (foreign languages) and, for example, ball sports. But "Make it Stick" has so many lengthy anecdotes to make each point, that I started to find it repetitive. For those just starting to read about research-based study skills, I imagine the anecdotes would help to make Brown's points "stick". Others might prefer to jump straight to the "Takeaway" section at the end of each chapter. It also seemed to me that most of the anecdotes related to fields of physical, practical learning, such as flying planes, military strategy, surgery and business. Although Brown occasionally includes brief examples from abstract or complex academic fields such as foreign languages or mathematics, the way he sounded over-impressed by a gardener's ability to remember Latin plant names made me suspect he had never investigated how to achieve fluency in a foreign language, for example.
That said, there is plenty of good advice here for motivated students who really want to know what works. I'll request a copy for the school library, but I won't be keeping one for myself.
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