Effective Learning by Reflection and Visualization

The September 2012 Scientific American stated that most teachers would agree it is important for students to remember much of what they read. One of the most common sights on high school and college campuses is that of students poring over textbooks, yellow highlighter in hand, marking the pertinent passages. In the process, they often end up highlighting most of the page. Later in the semester, to prepare for their exams, students hit the textbooks again, rereading the yellow blocks of text. Yet, studies have shown that highlighting and rereading text is among the least effective ways for students to remember the content of what they have read.

A far more effective technique is for students to quiz themselves. In one study, students who read a text once and then tried to recall it on three occasions scored 50 percent higher on exams than students who read the text and then reread it three times.

Asking questions to recall information is an aspect of reflection, which is one of the most effective practices for success in any aspect of life and learning, and is an integral part of Discipline Without Stress and Parenting Without Stress.

It’s also easier to remember what you’ve read by visualizing. Here is a technique I used to have students learn the 13 colonies that became the original Untied States of America. To make the learning easy, I classified the new states into divisions: New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern. Before I taught the visualization approach, I had students make maps and memorize the names, and then I reinforced the learning with repeated drills. Still some of my students were not successful in learning what I had taught. That is when I turned to visualization.

Follow me on this. Do as I suggest and say the ANSWER to each question OUT LOUD.

 Visualize a cow. The cow’s name is Georgette.

         What’s the cow’s name?

It’s a Jersey cow.

         What kind of a cow?

The cow is sitting on the Empire State Building.

         What is it sitting on?

And it’s singing a couple of Christmas carols.

         What is it singing?

Under its chin is a ham.

         What’s under its chin?

It’s a Virginia ham.

         What kind of ham?

The cow is wearing yellow underwear.

         What’s the cow wearing?

In its hoof is a pencil.

         What’s in its hoof?

And the cow is making a connect-the-dots drawing.

         What kind of a drawing?

Of Marilyn Monroe.

         Of whom?

Walking down a road.

         Down a what?

Going to mass.

         Going where?

What was the cow’s name?

What kind of a cow was it?

Sitting on top of the ______

Singing a couple of  ______

In its mouth pops a ______

What kind of a ham?

The cow is wearing ______

In its hoof was a ______

It was making what kind of a drawing?


Walking down a ______.

Going to ______.

Congratulations! You just named all original thirteen states: Georgia, New Jersey, New York (the Empire State), the Carolinas (North and South Carolina), Virginia, New Hampshire (ham), Delaware (underwear), Pennsylvania (Pencilvania), Connecticut (connect the dots), Maryland (Marilyn), Rhode Island (road), Massachusetts (Mass).

My students had no difficulty remembering the states because it is easy for the brain to visualize and connect each picture.

 Reflection and visualization are two of the most effective approaches to remembering.