Monday, 27 February 2012

Lethe and lesson management

You are what you remember, not what you experience.

At least according to Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate and author of last year's outstanding book - Thinking, Fast and Slow.

This partly came to light when he conducted a study on people undergoing colonoscopies.

The first group underwent shorter procedures, and the second group longer ones.

When asked to rate the total amount of pain they had experienced (this was before colonoscopies were routinely accompanied by anaesthetics), surprisingly the first group recorded a worse experience.

How could this be if they experienced significantly less time under procedural duress?

 The answer lies in the fact that we function under the tyranny of the remembering mind, not the experiencing one.

The remembering mind operates with the two key principles: the peak-end rule and duration neglect.

The peak-end rule is the principle that the total pain experienced is an average of the worst or peak level of pain and the pain experienced at the end.

Duration neglect is the unimportance of the length of the procedure to the total amount of pain remembered.

While the first group had shorter amounts of pain, this was irrelevant to their memory of it.

Indeed, while the second group had longer amounts of pain and the same peaks as the first group, significantly, the pain they experienced at the end of the colonoscopy was less than that of the first group, thereby lowering their average remembered pain, in accordance with the peak-end rule.

These findings and the principles they evinced have been proved time again, but do they have any relevance in the classroom?

Kahneman suggests that inflicting longer procedures on patients might actually be beneficial if it makes them remember less pain and therefore more likely to come back for treatment and check-ups.

While I wouldn't want to compare language lessons to colonoscopies, everyone has some learners who lack enthusiasm, or get put off by certain aspects of language learning, such as writing, or participle clauses.

To ensure that they remember writing or participle clauses with a degree of affection, it might be worthwhile making the last five minutes of the lesson particularly enjoyable.

Warm-up activities are perennially popular, but warm-downs or coolers are less so.

What Kahneman's work suggests is that they are actually more important for the long-term enthusiasm of your learners, and therefore the success with which they learn the language.

(Image: Healblog)

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