Later, the researchers--Mary Ann Foley and Maria Barnett of Skidmore and Nancy Robinson of the University of Denver--asked the students to remember as many words as they could. Surprisingly, students remembered two of their own words for every one of the words they merely repeated.
It takes effort to spontaneously answer a question, and relatively little to parrot the answers of the teacher, says Foley. That extra effort, she says, may explain the students’ memory gain.
This theory was confirmed in a second experiment with 48 students, who were given 20 words, one at a time, and asked to either say its opposite or a word with a similar association. Students took longer to think of associated words because they required more thought--but they remembered about a third more of them later.
“When children are actively involved, they remember more than when they’re just sitting in front of the teacher,’' Foley says. “The effort involved engages students in the material.’'
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as It’s he Thought That Counts