14 September 2010


FINANCIAL TUNEUP. Today's NYTimes featured a very useful article -- 31 steps toward clarifying one's financial status and enhancing the stability of one's financial future. They are broken down into subtopics -- investments and retirement, loans, credit, planning, consumer issues and insurance. My only quibble lies in the amount recommended to be set aside in savings. The article says one percent from each paycheck. I've found it more useful to target ten percent. Yes, in recessionary times that can be tough. But if you take that ten percent right off the top of your take-home pay, you'll find that your spending habits adjust automatically.

LEARNING. In recent decades, learning theory has paid much attention to the learning styles of students, and the corresponding teaching styles of instructors. There is certainly evidence to support the perception that some people learn most effectively through rote memorization, or through listening to verbal explanations, or through visual demonstration, or by hands-on practice -- with the implication that teachers need to be aware of their students' needs, and make adjustments in their method of presentation.

A new study suggests that these principles are only one avenue toward effective learning. The study found that absorption and retention of new information can be enhanced by (A) alternating the study environment, so that one is exposed to learning material in varied settings, (B) varying the type of material studied in a given setting, and (C) including intervals of self-testing -- essentially practicing taking tests and quizzes without the pressure of being graded, so that on actual tests the process feels familiar and less daunting, and one can concentrate more fully on content.

Speaking as a lifelong student and also as a former teacher, these ideas make intuitive sense. The more tools one has for learning, the more effective learning will be. Of course, nothing can replace the symbiosis between an inquisitive mind (student) and a versatile and creative imagination (teacher). Set and setting (i.e., one's attitude and the learning environment), physical resources (books, labs, field trips, guest speakers), varied study habits, and making the experience both challenging and FUN, all revolve around that core student-teacher relationship.

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