Context and Learning Names

I wrote yesterday about my decision to try learning names of my students on the first day.

As of the middle of week two, I’ve learned the names of every student within each class with few exceptions. In some of the bigger groups, I mix one or two names that start with the same first letter, but I correct myself pretty quickly. I’ve come to recognize some individual traits that make each student unique within the group, and am feeling comfortable building on my knowledge of their names to find out more about who they are.

In the hallways, in line for lunch, and walking around campus, I struggle. Outside of the classroom, I lack the context of those names that I can usually lean back upon to remember them. With the students all mixed up together, including with students that I don’t have in my classes, it takes longer to put a name with the face. As I develop an understanding of the students beyond names, this struggle will go away.

The analogy to learning in any classroom context stands on its own, so I won’t ruin it with more commentary.


3 thoughts on “Context and Learning Names

  1. Certainly the same is true for me. If I’m in a big lecture hall where students don’t group much with those far away it’s much easier for me. If the students make completely random groups (which sometimes I force) it takes me longer to get their names down but I keep them longer. I certainly agree that there’s a strong analogy with learning but, given my experience, is it better to have the students learn it fast or learn it deep? The problem with deep is it takes so long.

    1. I think we’re agreeing for the most part. I want the students to learn concepts well enough that they can apply them in different contexts, not just those in which the concepts were previously presented. I think that is, by definition, deeper learning. I’m not arguing that memorizing names is the level of our expectations. It’s that even for a simple task such as this, we need to vary the context to make the knowledge stick.

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