15 Ways to Help Your Students Forget What You Teach Them

ForgetFor the sake of those who don’t frequent my blog or know about my educational philosophy, I would like to clearly announce an irony alert. I offer this as a playful way to reflect about our educational practice. In fact, even as I don’t agree with the spirit of any of these statements, there are grains of truth that may be reason for pause. In the end, know that this largely represents the opposite of where I stand on most matters of teaching and learning. Let the irony begin.

We live in a troubling times. Educational buzz words, trends, and fads are rampant and they are destroying the foundations of our educational institutions. We must return to high expectations for students, academic rigor, and a focus on the teacher, not the learner. With this in mind, I offer the following ten tips to make sure that as many of your students as possible remember very little from your classes. The few who do remember what you teach them will stand out and gain their rightful place in the next generation of intellectual elite.

1. Don’t tell students what is important to learn and not to learn. Surprise them with the tests, including random questions from the readings, the lectures, and the other classroom activities. If they ask you what they should study, tell them that everything in the course is important and that they should learn it all. This will make sure that only the most advanced learners (who probably don’t even need you to learn the content) will thrive, while the others will struggle. This helps you play that important gate-keeper role for those who aspire to graduate school or work in higher education. Survival of the academically fittest means letting the weak-minded struggle.

2. When you grade papers and tests, don’t waste your time with substantive comments and suggestions on how to improve their work. Let them try to figure that out on their own. That is how the real world works.

3. Do not waste your time getting to know what students understand or misunderstand about the course concepts. Focus on teaching, meaning clearly presenting the concepts, providing some examples, and leave the rest up to the students. Resist the call from educationists to get to know your learners and adapting your teaching style to the “unique needs and interests” of each learner. What is good for one is good for all. If some don’t learn this way, maybe they are not cut out for your level of schooling.

4. Related to #3, never re-teach something because one or more students struggled with it. You taught it once and that should be good enough for them. The older the students, the more important this is. You can’t water things down by spoon-feeding them.

5. Never, under any circumstances, give students an opportunity to rework and resubmit assignments. Your time is important, and you do not want to waste it on students who can’t follow the instructions the first time. Giving students a chance to rework their assignments after getting feedback from you will help them learn and remember what they learned; but that is not the real world. Who has heard of a boss allowing workers to create drafts of projects and run them past other people before competing the final project?

6. Give three or four major tests/assignments and nothing else. Base the entire grade on the student’s work on these few high-stakes assessments. This will reduce your time grading and it will encourage the students to cram for their assignments, what fancy scholars call mass practice. This is in contrast to what educationists call distributed or spaced practice, spacing study on a subject over time, which research consistently shows as increasing both long-term retention and the ability to recall content. Of course, that is for the poor students.

7. Do not degrade your discipline by infusing the class with humor. You are a professional and should act that way. While research supports the role of humor for building rapport and increased student engagement (which can bolster learning and long-term retention), the best students do not need such antics.

8. If you want to incorporate emotions into your classroom, tap into a heavy dose of fear. Keep them on their toes by reminding them that a large percentage of the class is likely to fail the class. Don’t tolerate foolish questions and comments. Be firm and sharp in your reprimands of such comments so that they will think twice before asking you a question the future. It is best to do these publicly, in front of other students, and this will make an example for the rest of the class. Instead, run a tight ship where students think about the ideas in the class less, and focus instead on making the grade at all costs.

9. Speaking of grades, do your best to cultivate a culture of earning in your class, students striving to earn the highest possible grade. Make it about the grade. Idealists talk about helping students love the subject, and that is what your most important students will do. The majority need the extrinsic motivation of grades and the fear of failure to keep them motivated. Remind them that you expect them to do whatever it takes to get the highest grade in the class. In the end, what goes on the transcript is the most important part of what students will get out of your class.

10. Have a no tolerance policy for study groups, peer learning and feedback, and other “collaborative” activities. Anyone can learn and remember things if they cheat by leaning on one another. Your class should be about students doing it by themselves, no help from others. Study groups and “cooperative learning” activities breed weakness and promote a “feel good” learning environment.

11. Make academic rigor your top priority. Look up the meaning of the word “rigor” and you will find, “strictness, severity, or harshness.” That is how your course should be if you want to be serious about maintaining academic rigor and avoid contributing to the widespread epidemic of watered down education.

12. Educationists today are mesmerized by things like maker spaces, learning by doing, and project-based learning. Do not give it a second thought. These diminish the time-tested methods of the traditional classroom, and they often result in lopsided students who know a great deal about one thing, but lack a breadth of knowledge about the subject area.

13. One of the most disastrous “innovations” in contemporary education is the use of the Internet in schools. A good database for research papers is helpful, but beyond that, the Internet diminishes your authority as teacher. As a result, restrict use of the Internet, mobile devices, laptop computers and the like your classes. They are expensive distractions. A pen, notebook, good listening skills, and the humility to trust you when it comes to the content is what is most important. If you open the door to these tools, you are likely to find students looking up things for themselves, challenging your ideas because of Wikipedia articles, and focusing more on texting their friends than taking good notes.

14. Do not use your school learning management system or other digital technologies for students to complete quizzes, tests, and other work in the class. Doing this feeds the impatience of students. They will quickly expect you to grade their work even before the start of the next class. They will start contacting you between classes for clarification of readings and assignments. The next thing you know, you will be spending countless evening and weekend hours working instead of enjoying your hard-earned time away from work. This is all part of that “learner-centered” mindset among the educationists that is eating away at the foundations of our educational institutions.

15. Do not give in to the supposed claims of “research”, “best practices” and “promising practices” coming from educationists who think that teachers should spend years learning the “art and science of teaching and learning.” Content rules and that is all that matters. Be an expert in your content and present it to the students. That is your most important job. The “learning” is the exclusive job of the students, and it is good for them to learn from all types of “teachers.” Educationists continue to produce thousands of “studies” about teaching and learning. Do not waste your time on such stuff. Read deeply in your discipline, but do not poison your mind with the “research” of the educationist.

Follow these tips and you join the remnant in educational establishments who stand firm on the side of high academic standards, academic rigor, and teacher-centered education.

Posted in blog, editorials, education, education reform, educational design

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.

One Reply to “15 Ways to Help Your Students Forget What You Teach Them”

  1. Michael Uden

    I appreciate your voracious ability to share your ideas and scholarship almost as much as I do your unbridled sarcasm. Kudos on both counts, Dr. Bull!

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