“Yes, I know that… I just can’t explain it”. Ever heard this? Ever SAID it? If you “can’t explain it”, you DON’T know it. Very simple. It’s one of the reasons why writing things down in your own words is so valuable: it’s a test of your understanding. When writing you have to use complete sentences, which are complete thoughts. If what you are writing about is clear in your mind you can do this fairly easily. If you have a weak grasp of your material the words will not flow, or they will be vapid and vague.
There is significant research which delves into this area painstakingly. It looks into what takes place in our mind, in our psychology, when we “think we know”. It asks “what is going on in a student’s mind when they study and sense that ‘this is familiar to me’ and so moves on with a sense of knowing and thus being prepared?” It turns out that familiarity is no indicator of understanding and so leads the learner away from further work on the topic prematurely. Then you take the test (yes, the test!) and find you didn’t do so well despite “feeling like you knew the material”. This also helps to begin to explain why there is often such poor ability to apply knowledge: that true test of understanding.
It turns out that in order to build understanding you need to do certain things in your mind: you need to actively think about the material. This is the key. Actively thinking means “turning over ideas”, it means “seeing how this content relates to other content”, it means helping your mind to integrate ideas. THIS is what learning is. And sadly, our schools do very little of this because they are geared towards memorization and regurgitation- not meaning making. (You can read further about this claim here).
Once again, it is clear that if education is doing what it needs to do, namely, prepare young people to be able to live their lives successfully and contribute to society, then they need to learn with deep understanding. We need schools that allow this to take place, which means a lot more than sitting and listening. We need schools with ACTIVE LEARNERS.