Transferring Skills Subconsciously

It never ceases to amaze me how my students can learn a skill brilliantly, and then move on to a skill either in the same subject or a different subject and exclaim, “I can’t do this! I never learned how!” I always assure them they just learned part of the skill and they did well at it. I even show them their scores for the just-mastered skill. Nine times out of ten, the student digs in their heels and refuses to understand or accept that they really do know part of what’s expected of them. Then, I’ll show them the related skill, and they’ll say, “Oh. I did know that. Never mind. I can do this.” And they shoo me away and get to work.

As you can imagine it’s very frustrating.

For some reason, these students really do think that they’ll never use a skill again, so they promptly forget it when they think they no longer need it. They don’t understand that skills often build on each other, or that a skill can appear in many different areas of their lives. Trying to explain this to them or convince them that these skills will help make their lives easier somewhere in the future gets me nowhere, even when it’s a kid with whom I’ve had the above conversation repeatedly.

It almost makes me wonder if kids are actually mastering these skills because they never reach a subconscious level with them. That’s the real point of education. It’s not enough just to transfer knowledge and processes to students. They have to become familiar and comfortable enough with them to be able to see applications beyond the moment of study. They have to subconsciously apply the knowledge or process.


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