Last Monday morning, Vancouver Island University (VIU) students facilitated science centers in our gym. They had prepared hands-on presentations as part of their coursework. For almost an hour, my students experimented with unknown liquids, rolled toy cars down slopes, drummed drums, guessed smells, created circuits.
As staff, we saw an opportunity to play with one of our “Project Success” questions: will having students write about field trip experiences increase written output?
So, the day after the centers, we organized a school-wide write. Most students grabbed pencils and started writing. Two, however, did not–for a very specific reason.
At lunch, I sought out my colleague Sooz.
“How’d your write go?” I asked.
“Pretty well,” she said. “But here’s the disturbing part: three students could NOT remember what they had done yesterday. They were pretty sure they had gone to the centers, but they couldn’t remember what activities they did. I tried jogging their memories by asking who they were with, but they just couldn’t remember. I know these kids–they aren’t faking.”
“You’re not going to believe this,” I said, “Two of my students had the exact same thing.”
We looked at each other, the implications sinking in.
These students could not recall–after one day–a learning situation that was, in many respects, “perfect”: a low adult-student ratio (one adult to three students); hands-on activities; novel material; presented in the morning (just after having breakfast at school).
We compared notes and realized all students came from “traumatic” situations (in foster care, just out of care, history of violence).
As an educator, I suppose I knew that stress affects memory. But I had grossly underestimated the degree to which children’s learning is impacted.
I feel a bit sick. I can only imagine how much they’ve remembered from last month’s lessons.