Prepare to be amazed! I am going to introduce to you a learning phenomenon called the primacy-recency effect. Have you ever tried to memorize a list of information? What parts do you remember best? What parts don’t you remember at all? In general, people tend to remember the beginning of the list and sort of remember the end of the list. This is the primacy-recency effect. So what does the primacy-recency effect look like when it’s applied to the larger scale of teaching and learning?
The primacy-recency effect tells us how to set-up our classroom time to maximize information retention in students. During a 40 minute lesson there are two “prime-times” when the students will retain information. The first prime-time occurs during the first 20 minutes of class and the second prime-time occurs during the last 10 minutes of class, with a 10 minute downtime in between. This tells us that when we are teaching, we ought to use the first 20 minutes to cover new information, the 10 minutes of down-time to review old information, and the final 10 minutes for closure.
So Environmental Educators and Classroom teachers alike! Be sure that you’re using the prime-time windows to teach new information and not to review old information, take attendance, or pass back papers. Use the 10 minutes of down-time to have the students break up into discussion groups or practice the information in a different way. Closure allows students the time to process the newly learned information and assign meaning to it so that it will be stored in their long-term memories.
In the near future, I plan on re-writing some of my lesson plans and interpretive talks to reflect the primacy-recency effect. Stay tuned for a full report!