How to rewire my student’s brain to become fluent in H2 BIO

The major difference between being a tutor and a school teacher is that my compatriot in school is bogged down by admin work, presiding over student’s co-curricular activities, organizing school level events, attending meetings in and outside of school etc. As a tutor, I don’t do much else except to teach. Outside of teaching, I spend time profiling my students, updating my teaching materials and thinking how I can bring my teaching to the next level.

I think and read about teaching a lot. And recently I had an epiphany. One that I think will explain why students who go tuition tend to improve or do better (provided they go to the right tutors, and WANT to improve).

In most schools, their teachers frequently split class time between lectures, tutorials and practicals. Majority of these activities revolves around understanding-centered teaching methods.

In tuition classes, whilst I allocate a portion of time with students using understanding-centered teaching, I also spend time repeating, emphasizing memorization and rote learning adapting certain memory techniques helpful for my students. When students flip between the 2 realms of learning do they finally gain subject fluency.

Teachers are setting their students up for failure if they only focused on understanding-centered learning.

This is bad because most students don’t have photographic memory. Almost all my students gain understanding as I talk about the topic at hand. But the understanding can quickly slip away and the students have to start from ground zero again without practice and repetition. So when the big exams come, these students are woefully unprepared because they are learning to understand the material but unable to gain fluency to use it in novel situations examined in assessments.

It’s no wonder hearing a new (failing) student recently remarked to me, ‘I don’t understand how I could’ve done so badly, I understood what my teacher taught in class!’

Some maybe confused between the 2 different learning outcomes. So let me give an example. Everyone of us know our multiplication tables. The first time, we understand how is it that 2 x 10 = 20 when the teacher draws 10, 50¢ coins and then draws another 10 more asking us to count the total coins. From there we just memorize the rest of the table. And then we work on a myriad of problem sums involving multiplication. If we were to draw 50¢ coins everytime we encounter a new problem sum, this will confuse and infact get in the way of us achieving the correct answer. Conversely, if we tap on our memory and contextualize it to the new problem we start appreciating the why’s and the how’s etc allowing us to gain the sought after fluency.

This fluency will then facilitate the development of expertise. Also known as chunking first proposed by Herbert Simon studying how chess grand masters are so good at their game. That led biologists to understand that chunks of knowledge are stored in the long term memory of experts. What a new situation arises, chunked neural networks are analyzed and then produce an appropriate response. This is the prized ability in examinations.

For chunking to occur, one must be fluent and that is gained from understanding complemented with repetitive learning. In turn this leads to true understanding of the material. In short, EVERYTHING is necessary not just one or the other. COMMENT.


  • On December 26, 2016