Education: Posts

January Authors of the Month: Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki, and Oliver Caviglioli

We are very pleased to announce that the Routledge Education January Authors of the Month are Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki, and Oliver Caviglioli!
Their book, Understanding How We Learn, is a visual guide that helps teachers to integrate effective, research-backed strategies for learning into their classroom practice. The following Q&A is adapted from the introductory section of the book.
WHO ARE YOU?

‏We are two cognitive psychologists who do applied‏ research in education. 
Yana first got hooked on “false memory.”‏

Yana
: ‏False memory is something I learned about in my first ‏undergraduate research methods class: the idea that‏ we sometimes remember things that did not occur, or‏ differently to how they really occurred. I got stuck on the ‏idea that surely there is an objectively “true” memory ‏somewhere in our minds that we distinguish from this‏“false” memory. My dream was that you could take ‏a person who claimed to have a particular memory,‏do some clever science on them, and come back with a ‏“TRUE!” or “FALSE!” indicator for that particular‏ memory. What can I say – I was young and naïve. ‏I tried to research this in my PhD, but realized too late ‏that it was, in fact, more or less impossible to distinguish‏ between true and false memories with a cognitive task.‏I then went on to join Henry (Roddy) Roediger’s lab,‏where I learned all about how to apply memory research‏ to education. Now my passion has shifted over to ‏figuring out the best way for students to learn, based ‏on advances in cognitive psychology and our ‏understanding of how the mind processes and‏ remembers information.

‏Megan got into cognitive research as an‏ undergraduate student because she was ‏interested in education.‏

Megan
: ‏By the beginning of my junior year in college I was‏ getting ready to apply for the research-focused‏ honors program at Purdue University, and had‏ started subbing K-12 on days when I didn’t have‏ classes – I went to great lengths to block them off so‏ that I would have two full days off at a time. I loved‏ being in the classroom and working with students, and I loved issues related to education. I applied to conduct my honors thesis in Jeff Karpicke’s Learning Lab (http://learninglab.psych.purdue.edu/people/karpick... where I started conducting my own applied research on learning. I fell in love with the research, and continued to pursue training in cognitive psychology and applications to education. I had found my passion, and wanted to have a role in changing education. 

WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DO YOU DO?

Yana: My research interests lie in improving the accuracy of memory performance and the judgments students make about their cognitive functions. I try to pose questions that have direct applied relevance, such as: How can we help students choose optimal study strategies? Why are test scores sometimes so surprising to students? And how does retrieval practice help students learn?

Megan: My area of expertise is in human learning and memory, and applying the science of learning in educational contexts. My research program focuses on retrieval-based learning strategies, and the way activities promoting retrieval can improve meaningful learning in the classroom. I address empirical questions such as: What retrieval practice formats promote student learning? What retrieval practice activities work well for different types of learners? And, why does retrieval increase learning?

WHY ARE YOU WRITING THIS BOOK?

We are writing this book to continue the conversation about evidence-based learning strategies that we started on our website and blog, learningscientists.org, and our Twitter account, @AceThatTest. When we started the Learning Scientists, it was because we wanted to make the cognitive psychology research on learning more accessible, to increase its ability to have real positive impacts for students around the world. Essentially, we have aimed to break out of the typical walls of academic research and talk about research and education with many relevant parties, and not just our fellow researchers. 

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM OTHER BOOKS IN THE FIELD? 

The closest content-wise is Make It Stick, but that is not a visual book nor is it specifically aimed at teachers. Many books are easy enough to read. But there are significant limitations that make reading a book inefficient regarding:
  • starting to read: feeling overwhelmed by the number of pages of text
  • during reading: losing interest, feeling of drowning in detail through a lack of structure and summaries
  • after reading: forgetting the ideas in the book, not being able to find what you found interesting, having to plough through the book from the beginning again. Not action-oriented to post-reading.
  • Our book addresses all of these issues by using a format with summaries, relevant illustrations, and calls to action.

    HOW DID YOU START THE LEARNING SCIENTISTS PROJECT?

    Yana: One night in January 2016, I was feeling guilty about not doing enough to disseminate my research on learning to students — so I decided to see what I could do on Twitter. I searched “test tomorrow” and realized that many students tweet about how unprepared they feel for their upcoming exams or about how they can’t concentrate enough to study. I began tweeting advice at these students.

    Megan: At the same time, I had started a new professional Twitter account and was trying to create an assignment for my students in cognitive psychology where they would find articles and tweet them. The assignment was a slight disaster, but in the process, Yana and I connected again (we had crossed over at Washington University in St. Louis, but had not worked together directly), and I saw what she was doing and started joining in. And then I realized if my account was flooded with all of this stuff, my students were going to get confused, so I suggested that maybe we should start our own Twitter handle just for this. That’s when the Learning Scientists Twitter account (@AceThatTest) was born. At the time of writing, we now have over 10,000 followers, and the project has grown to so much more than just a Twitter account. We have a thriving blog, multiple funded research and science communication projects, a podcast, and now this book.

    ARE THERE ANY MYTHS YOUR BOOK SEEKS TO DEBUNK, FOR EXAMPLE LEARNING STYLES?

    Yes - in fact, we have a whole chapter about them! However, we prefer to call them misunderstandings, as we think this more accurately describes these ideas. We see it as a situation where a kernel of truth is turned into a rule or principle that doesn't necessarily reflect the science. Learning styles is a great example: the kernel of truth is that students do have preferences, but the misunderstanding is that catering to these preferences benefits students' learning from a cognitive perspective.

    WHAT DRIVES YOU?

    We’re passionate about education and giving people tools to study and teach more effectively.

    WHAT MIGHT YOU HOPE THE READER WILL DO WITH THE KNOWLEDGE?

    Apply it to their own lives – after all, everyone is trying to learn something!

    ILLUSTRATOR PROFILE

    WHO ARE YOU?

    I’m a former special school principal who, from childhood, has been interested in visual communication. My architect father introduced me to diagrams, typography, and the fine arts in general. So when I became a special school teacher, this focus on visual depiction served me well, and by working with educational psychologists for a number of decades, I found an increasingly useful range of applications for my growing set of skills.

    HOW DO YOU USE YOUR VISUALS TO AID LEARNING?

    In addition to illustrating books, I also create posters and slide presentations, as well as designing documents. Then there’s something called sketchnotes. These are live notes made of presentations at conferences. Or, alternatively – and rather less stressful – they can be hand-drawn summaries of book chapters, for example. Napkin sketches are similarly hand-drawn, but focus on depicting either the structure of concepts or stages of processes. They are immensely helpful in analyzing and depicting the steps involved in teaching techniques.

    HAVE YOU WORKED WITH THE LEARNING SCIENTISTS BEFORE?

    Yes, last year we collaborated in the creation of a set of posters of the top six learning strategies as identified by cognitive psychology. The posters have now been translated into a dozen languages and can be found on classroom walls around the globe.

    WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF WORKING WITH THE LEARNING SCIENTISTS?

    I end up getting the most marvelous education! As we discuss how best to visually explain some pieces of research, for example, I receive explanations that are personalised to my level of understanding. Being able to ask questions until you think you have established a good understanding is a treat, as well as being essential for creating the illustrations. And, of course, the illustrations become feedback to Yana and Megan on the effectiveness of their explanations. A perfect loop in which to learn!

    Featured Book

    • Understanding How We Learn

      A Visual Guide, 1st Edition

      By Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki, Oliver Caviglioli

      Educational practice does not, for the most part, rely on research findings. Instead, there’s a preference for relying on our intuitions about what’s best for learning. But relying on intuition may be a bad idea for teachers and learners alike. This accessible guide helps teachers to integrate…

      Paperback – 2018-08-16
      Routledge

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