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March 26

Gail Brown

More about Seahorses, and where we learn….

  • Mon 7th Jan 2013
  • Gail

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from Diving with Seahorses is the importance of the PLACE where you learn. So, returning to a place where you’ve experienced an important event (making a memory) brings back that event more vividly – maybe even the smells, sounds and feelings you had back then?

In 1975, maybe before some of you were born, an experiment took place in Scotland that set the scene, literally and figuratively, for the importance of place in memory research.

Duncan Godden and Alan Baddeley (famous for his work in short term, long term and working memory) had 3 groups of underwater divers. Group 1 learned a list of words sitting on the pier, and recalled those words sitting on the pier. Group 1 ALSO learned a second list underwater and recalled that list underwater. This determined if it was more difficult to learn and recall underwater, compared to on the pier.

Group 2 learned the same list underwater, and recalled the list underwater. Group 3 were different = they learned their list on the pier, and THEN recalled it underwater. This Group 3 were important for determining whether place of learning affects memory.

This study was replicated in 2016, with the same identical results. These results confirmed that when the divers learned and recalled in the same place, their memory was significantly better than when the place of learning and recalling were different.

NOW, thinking about how this applies in schools. This result explains exactly why some students who learn in withdrawal groups, a different classroom, and then don’t remember what they’ve learnefd when they are back in their regular classroom. Yes, the withdrawal situation may be better for initial learning of  important, new information - with its small group and less distractions.

BUT, if we want our students to learn important skills and knowledge, in reading, maths or whatever, then we need that instruction to happen in more than one place. So, establishing the new learning in withdrawal MUST be extended into the regular classroom, if that is where that learning is needed for classroom tasks.

Taking time for this, for ensuring transfer recognizes the importance of PLACE in creating memories of learning. If we want students to remember and apply what they learn, then teaching within the classroom is critically important in terms of remembering what is learned, and demonstrating that learning.

Thinking further, if we want to create lifelong learners and passionate readers, we need to support their learning and their reading in many places in their lives, including their homes. Setting up a routine with parent reading, at home in a special place, is part of creating these lifelong learners!

Ostby, H. & Ostby, Y. (2019). Diving for Seahorses: The Science and Secrets of Memory, New South Publishing, University of New South Wales.

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