Repetition, Memory, and Interest

A quick addendum to my previous post. This morning, my daughter (who is 9) told me she’d taken part in “an experiment” at school, in which students completed the same maze three times, with a brief break in between. During this break, they took part in some other activity. Then back to an identical maze. They were timed each time and the purpose was, I imagine, to see how much of the maze was remembered.

My daughter thought this was fun. I think this is because she experienced a feeling of success as her time on the task improved. I haven’t spoken with the teacher about it and I may have it all wrong. But in many ways, this activity was not unlike reciting the alphabet or the “7 times table.”

My first thought was about interest. Those who find puzzles enjoyable and those who think they are good at mazes (this was me when I was 9 or 10) will bear down and try to finish quickly. They will be more deeply invested in the pace of the solution. So the exercise might indicate memory but interest as well.

Still, I like it. I like how it got my daughter thinking about how things get easier as you do them more than once. There is a lesson there: sometimes all you need is a little practice. I hope this lesson was underlined.

As I reflect a bit more, the maze exercise also seems like a lot of schooling. We ask our students to commit a great deal of information to memory of the years. But how much of it worth knowing? This is not an argument for “skills” but I wonder how often the task in my classroom suits the goal. Am I honest with myself about the short- and long-term outcomes I am pursuing and does my assessment give me the evidence I need to know the learning has taken place?

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