Ulrich Boser’s Learn Better

One of the great things at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville is that, each year, teachers can meet as a book club to discuss a book about education, learning, and teaching. This year, I was happy to be a part of the book study of Ulrich Boser’s Learn Better about the process of learning and what research suggests are best practices. These are some of the things that I have taken away from the book and our discussions:

Students need to decide for themselves why a subject matters. We can subtly show how Latin is important through derivatives, and we can show the value of learning about another culture by asking students to compare ancient Rome to today, for examples. However, telling students that this is why they should care about something will actually turn them off. For students to be most motivated to learn something, they need to find that intrinsic reason to study Latin or Classics or Biology themselves. This will then give them more motivation to learn.

The importance of tracking progress.  If you know how well you are performing a skill, you will be more in-tune to your performance and it will improve (whether or not you are consciously trying to make it improve). This is especially true, according to Boser, if you keep track of the results yourself. Yes, teachers keep track of students’ work in their gradebooks and some schools’ gradebooks are open to students and parents; but it is better for students to do the tracking themselves.  Therefore, starting with the fall exam, I’ve been asking students to keep track of how well they have translated sentences on tests using a Google Sheet like this partial chart below. Students have said this practice is helpful, and it helps them realize what they need to study more. For example, this hypothetical student below should probably focus more on vocabulary than case endings when they study for their next test on Chapter 6.

Fall Exam Ch 5 Test Ch 6 Test
Meaning errors 10 7
Untranslated Latin words 2 0
Part of speech errors 3
Noun Errors
Gender 1 0
Number 2 2
Case 5 2

The importance of quizzes. Quizzes assess knowledge and they offer feedback. They also provide some of the much needed practice students need to acquire a skill. While I never doubted the value of quizzes (partly because I recognize that graded quizzes are a useful way to ensure students actually study the material), Boser’s book made me want to incorporate more quiz-type or self-quizzing activities into my classes. I am more likely to use Kahoot! and Quizizz or PRS-type activities now since they give students immediate feedback and all students participate. I have also been adapting the think-pair-share technique for practicing conjugating and declining. Students practice in their notes; then, as a class they fill out the same chart on the board; and finally, we check the accuracy of the chart on the board.

The value of large stacks of flashcards. When you’re attempting to learn a large amount of information, such as all the vocabulary words in a textbook, it is more helpful to review them as one large chunk than as smaller groups. This may seem counterintuitive, but the longer pauses between reviewing a word and its meaning (because the stack of flashcards is larger) allow the word to be recalled in a more effective way for working it into long-term memory. Therefore, I have been having my students review all their vocabulary words more often with a round or two of Quizlet Live each week (I compiled cumulative vocabulary quizlets for Wheelock’s Latin here).

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