Let’s stop forcing students to “puke out their brains”

Individualized, customizable, learner-centred approaches are becoming the new norm. Traditionally, education has been about developing a curriculum and teaching to students in a prescriptive manner. That made education easy for teachers because they could essentially teach the same thing, year in and year out.

That was not only boring for students, it’s ineffective.

It is said that one month after final examinations, students have lost 90% of the “knowledge” they had on the day of their final. That’s not learning. It’s stuffing information into a brain for it to be regurgitated on a test. And once it’s been puked out onto a test paper, it’s gone forever, it seems. Not exactly ideal, is it?

The good news is: learning is becoming more individualized and focused on the students and their needs.

Teachers of tomorrow will need to shift their thinking, stop thinking about how to get students to learn the curriculum and instead, make the curriculum work for the students.

Scratch that.

We don’t have time to wait for a new generation of teachers to understand that learning is about the students, not the textbooks, not the curriculum and most definitely not about standardized testing. Teachers of today need to learn that.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

6 Responses to Let’s stop forcing students to “puke out their brains”

  1. Liz Asbury-Brown says:

    This is especially true for the adult learner. Most adult learners don’t just want to learn for the moment, they want to learn, retain and be able to draw on their learning in the future

  2. Guus says:

    I hear you there, it almost seems that making the students ‘puke their brains’ in periodic tests is simply meant as a way to easier assess the teacher. More than just the teacher’s convenience, it’s the administrator’s convenience. No question it is better for students and society as a whole if education were more holistic.

    The current discussion in Singapore is about how to make education more relevant and less test oriented, while at the same time monitoring the quality of schools and teachers. Any thoughts on that?

    • Hi Guus,

      Thanks for the comment. It makes me want to jump for joy that conversations about this sort of thing are happening around the world. There are newer ways of assessment that are emerging such as the use of benchmarks, frameworks and students portfolios. The concept and philosophy behind these is a complete paradigm shift from what we have known. Rather than focusing on making students conform to one way of doing things, and positing that as the only way, it is being recognized now that there are many ways for students to learn. A focus on inquiry, problem-solving and most importantly, student creation (demonstrated through the work of portfolios) is replacing a test-focused approach. Now when I say, things are changing, I mean changing “at a snail’s pace”. This kind of thinking represents a departure away from what we have known for a few hundred years. It will take time. Conversations are an excellent starting point.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I am hoping for some practical ideas on how to do this with a class of 35 students. I am teaching English in South America. It is difficult at best to individualize the program because of time constraints and the “logros” that I must reach.
    My students come from poor families. I have read about Mobile Assisted Language Learning and find that it is a great idea but I don’t think it is possible with my class as many of the students do not have personal communication devices.
    I want to pull my class (and the school where I teach) out of the 1970s. Advice?

    • Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth. It reminds me of a group of teachers in Jalisco, Mexico with whom I co-facilitated a workshop in 2008 with a colleague of mine. I’ll think on this and do a blog post on it over the next few days.

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