Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Students learn from visuals

We all watch the news, or at least we try to because sometimes it just gets a little boring. We turn off evening news shows with Katie Couric and Brian Williams and flip over to Comedy Central for some Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. And with good reason: Satirists like Stewart and Colbert know how to present the news to the general public in informative, yet engaging ways that make people remember. Maybe conveying information this way is better.

I’m the type of guy who needs color to the things I read. Get me emotionally involved, make the material relate to me, have a dramatic or humorous voice and I’ll obtain as much information as I can. I can’t just look at dense blocks of black text on white paper and expect myself to learn.

I recently read a series of articles from the Chicago Tribune called “Death row justice derailed” by investigative reporters Ken Armstrong and Steven Mills. The story had an interesting topic: a corrupt legal system in Illinois falsely convicting people of crimes they either didn’t commit or there wasn’t sufficient evidence for the accused to justly be incarcerated.

But something was odd. I didn’t find the article worthwhile. And then I realized what it was. Despite the fact the article covered a stimulating topic, contained copious facts and the reporting was so in depth, there was a lack of color and liveliness to the story.

Not to say “Death row justice derailed” was a poorly written series and Armstrong and Mills are bad writers — the articles were just so dense with statistics, dates and names that it was tiring to read them. But the worst part was I couldn’t remember much of what I just spent the last two hours reading. And that really upset me.

I invested all that time in trying to learn something and read a good piece of journalism, but when it was all over I felt relieved and exhausted, like I just went to the gym. All I wanted to do was take a nap.

Becky Kasper, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Plattsburgh State, specializes in getting teachers to make their classroom setting more engaging and, ultimately, more informative for their students. Kasper said student-engagement in class material and how well they absorb it depends on the subject, class size and,most importantly, the teacher’s personality.

Teachers must have a “welcoming environment and passion for their discipline,” as well as “speak with commitment.” A teacher must relate the material to reality and ask questions such as, “What is the value of this to you?” and “What is your opinion?”

Kasper said when teachers feed students information with no real enthusiasm or relation to why it is important, “that can really hurt the butt, and when the butt hurts, the brain stops.” Taking the class outside, switching up formats for assignments or watching the occasional video are good ways to keep students hooked on what they’re learning, Kasper said.

After I read “Death row justice derailed,” and I couldn’t remember much of the important material, I became disappointed in myself. I wondered, “Am I not smart enough to just retain information?”

Why does information need to be presented in a more engaging and emotional way for me to learn?

“We don’t just absorb. People aren’t sponges,” Kasper said. “Life is colorful. Life is dramatic. People need to see the color in what we’re learning.”

I’m not disappointed in myself anymore.

Email Griffin Kelly at griffin.kelly@cardinalpointsonline.com.

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