TABS and Time to Reflect

I just returned from a weekend away at The Association for Boarding Schools conference, presenting with two friends about how to handle having a challenging advisee/advisory group.  It was a great change of pace from the usual week, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to present.  Our session had been planned in advance, and I felt ready prior to departure.  Therefore, my time away did not require me working into the night, and my early prep work for the week meant that I knew what my classes were all doing while I was gone.  In a way, attending this conference was a bit of a vacation.

In this mindset, I decided to attend any session that interested me.  I was awe-inspired from the start, as I listened to Wanda Hill as she received the Ruzicka Compass Award for work as an educator. Hearing her story about helping minority students gain access to boarding schools in  New England, beginning in the early 1980’s.  She was incredibly brave in her work, and was vocal about what needed to change.  For example, she would not send any of “her” students to a school where students on financial aid were required to work on campus.  I recommend looking up her full story; it’s a fascinating one.

Charles Best was the official keynote speaker, the founder of  He was suitably stunned to have to follow the impressive Wanda Hill onto the stage.  Nonetheless, he told an incredibly compelling history of, how it works, and where he thinks it could lead.  It was a great start to the day.

As I moved into an initial session, I went to hear Andrew Watson (@Andrew WatsonTTB) speak about Long-Term Memory Creation.  Although nothing he said was new to me, the ideas and research have solidified in my mind in a way they clearly had not been before.  Andrew spoke about interleaving, the benefits of blank page review, and how to provide “desirable difficulties.”  He was incredibly concise as he spoke, explaining the extensive research in this area.  Perhaps because my mind wasn’t racing with what I needed to plan for class tomorrow, and what was in my bag waiting to be graded, I could finally process what he was saying.

I do “blank page” review often, but not often enough.  That’s an easy change to make.  However, I do not interleave on a daily basis.  I think about the concept regularly, and try to think about overlaps between units over the course of the year.  This is not enough.  The yearly approach isn’t a bad idea; it’s just nowhere near enough.  I need to mix up problems every time students are doing them, so they aren’t in Section 4.1, needing related rates, and therefore expecting to use that skill.  This is not a hard change to make because I don’t use textbooks in many of my classes.  However, I need to make a commitment to changing the type of homework I assign, in particular.  My students will learn more by doing 3 or 4 different types of problems than doing 4 identical ones.

I am eager to commit to making these changes!  Thanks, #TABS2016.