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Explicit Teaching: Old-Fashioned or Essential?

Debra Lambrecht, Founder, Caulbridge Education | February 13, 2018

Your child’s well-developed working memory contributes to effective learning, strong executive functioning skills and their social-emotional development.

Children are bombarded with sensory inputs that are taxing their memory processing and shutting down their ability to turn information into knowledge and skills. Academic and cognitive development requires both long-term memory and working memory.

Long term memory includes everything from the addition facts we just learned yesterday to knowledge accumulated over our lifetime. There are two kinds of long-term memory; 1) procedural memory sometimes referred to as muscle memory where information such as how to ride a bike is stored in the body and becomes automatic, and 2) memories of general knowledge, facts or events that involves conscious thought and learning.

Working memory refers to the intake and processing of new information. Processing new information such as combinations of numbers or letters can only be stored in the working memory for brief periods of time (minutes or even seconds) and is limited in the amount of information that can be processed.

You may have experienced resistance when your child is uncertain or lacks confidence. Whether that resistance shows up as frustration, quitting, blaming or pretending to know then becoming argumentative, it is all an indication that the working memory processing is on overload and no new learning can occur. When overloaded, sensory and memory processing goes into survival mode of flight or fight and cannot learn.

Research shows that students learn more deeply from strongly guided learning than from discovery. In spite of the research, much of traditional education stems from a constructivist model, based in the idea that if we can interest children they’ll begin to pick up the processes on their own; and Progressive education relies on an inquiry-based methodology believing that if children discover their own answers it will have more relevance and long-lasting learning. Minimal guidance or letting young children discover answers for themselves however, places a huge burden on the working memory. We may think we are strengthening the working memory by taxing it, however, we are overloading it to the point where it is ineffective.

What about a child’s imagination and natural curiosity? For the young child, it is the explicit teaching that can build trust of themselves and their world which actually strengthens their imagination, curiosity and creativity.