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Find A Way to Make it Familiar

Eliminate the Knowledge Curse 

At first, I was overwhelmed. The terms confused me. I was caught off guard as I listened to the report from our veterinarian regarding my dogs. I was listening to a report that had my mind searching for anything to connect to.  At first, terminology was used that I was unfamiliar with. While the vet patiently tried to explain what had been done; and my role, I was stuck. I had no idea what I was going to do. The words he was using were new and specific. My mind searched for anything to grab on to. I wondered how I would possibly remember the information being relayed to me on the phone.  

All of a sudden, a light bulb came on. The veterinarian said that one of the things I would be looking for resembled a cherry. Instantly I was back in the game and felt like I could intelligently listen to a conversation packed with new information. As he compared a few parts of my dogś experience to ordinary objects, my mind began to process information quickly again.  By hearing things that felt familiar, I understood concepts I would have been otherwise very confused about. 

When we are not familiar with content, our mind craves a chance to connect new thoughts and ideas. Our mind craves an opportunity to have one focus and then build on that. 

Breaking Through the Knowledge Curse 

It's tough when you don't know all of the vocabulary and the content is new. “The  Knowledge Curse” As Chip and Dean Heath call it in Made to Stick, we have the ability to forget that other people don’t always know what we know. As we passionately explain something where our knowledge base is extensive, it is important to consider that most of the time, information we are presenting is new for our audience. Students might not have the background knowledge to make connections to what is presented. Without connections, the mind is lost. 

Itś What Happens When we are Looking for a Specific Car

When we decide to buy a specific car, we focus on the specific details and start noticing them everywhere. When the mind has a particular focus, it is easy to see what we are looking for.  All of a sudden, the mind is wired to notice a car. Details that were once distant and maybe even complex are now familiar and make sense. 

What if we could turn the learning process into something that resembles looking for a car? What if we could give students a single focus?  

Choose Symbols and Ideas That are Universal 

Marisol Quevedo Reruchaś (@MarisolRerucha) book, Beyond the Surface of Restorative Practices, utilizes one of the most common shapes; the circle. In her book, Rerucha talks about several big ideas that may be new to readers. However, one thing that makes the book easily understood is the constant parallel with the circle. No matter what is explained, the author connects the content to a shape that is a powerful metaphor. A circle is specific, singular, and easy for people to build on. 

Good Analogies Work

In UDL and Blended Learning by authors Katie Novak (@KatieNovakUDL) and Catlin Tucker (@Catlin_Tucker), everything from pizza delivery, high heels to a cooking class were used to explain concepts that might have otherwise not made an impression on me. Familiar symbols with a specific purpose and focus allowed me to dig deep into concepts that I might not have connected with as deeply. 

Humanize Statistics and Numbers 

It can be challenging when numbers and dates flood our minds. The key is making the numbers tell a story or represent familiar things. 

Focus on Student Interest

Sometimes the best way to help students remember information is to consider their interests. Isaiah Sterling (@isterlingn), contributing author to the 100 Stop Series for Teachers says, Ïf we want our students to gain knowledge that will integrate deeper with a more proud application to the real world (especially post-secondary), why not give them a chance to be engaged in a conversation they create? Typically students have a specific idea or interest that could be manageable to focus on. When  the student conversations are diminished, relationships are damaged, which can lead to learning damage directly or indirectly. 

When student-generated discussion interests are squashed, school improvement stops.

Student Ideas Work

What if we are not the smartest person in the room? What if we listened to the students more often and learned from them?  I can still remember watching The Freedom Writers by Erin Gruell and seeing her find different ways to reach a difficult group of students. Gruell had to meet her students where they were to make an impact. Listening to students’ music, hearing their stories and learning about their families are things that stand out for students. 

What if we could make our students’ day by including some of the things they love in our instruction?  

Include Things to Make Learning Feel Familiar and Comfortable 

Learning something new or setting foot in a new environment can be challenging and overwhelming. When something new has familiar elements, people feel more comfortable and willing to let their guard down. When everything is new, it can be exciting, but there is something powerful when elements of comfort and familiarity show up in a new situation. 

When we focus on one thing and zero in on specific details, familiar elements emerge. When things are familiar, learning feels possible and makes sense.  We begin working toward what once felt confusing and almost impossible. 

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