How Learning Works: 7 Researched Based Principles for Smart Teaching


How Learning Works by Susan Ambrose and others promises to balance reporting research about learning with practical classroom advice. I read through their first principle last night. The principle is about how prior learning affects students’ new learning.

Many of the research results were ones I had read about previously. For instance one from How the Brain Works tells about how students did not apply transfer unless they were told to transfer. Keeping to their word they only briefly summarized this- to the point of not actually mentioning the contexts of military conquest using multiple roads and tumor treatment.

Many of the suggestions will not surprise a veteran teacher. For veteran teachers it appears this book may be like many conference sessions – 80% “Yeah, of course” and 20% “Hmm, I should have thought of that.”

Nonetheless I have a few goals for the winter semester based on the first chapter.

  • Math 081 and Math 131: On the second day give a pre-assessment of required skills and start remediation immediately.
  • Math 081: Use brainstorming more often to see what students know about a topic in the course the first time it is introduced. (The Math 081 curriculum is a lot like a “spiral”  where key topics like proportion are revisited several times.)
  • Math 081 and Math 131: Explicitly list the pre-requisite topics daily instead of less frequently
  • Math 131: Introduce several “Rules of Thumb” in the finance chapter so students will know when they are dealing with loans, when annuities, when saving for retirement . . .

When I finish the book I’ll probably make a document to review for preparing each day to make sure I do as many of the suggestions as possible.

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