When we were learning Latin, we all probably made flashcards of some kind in order to learn vocabulary. We wrote the Latin on one side with all of its parts (nominative, genitive and gender for nouns, while all four principal parts for verbs), and on the other side, we wrote the English meaning. We drilled ourselves faithfully with these flashcards, looking at the Latin in order to produce the English. And for the most part, they worked for us.
Or did they?
In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with flashcards, because they do work depending on the task, but there are a number of reasons why they do not always benefit students.
- Flashcards only work for a certain type of learner - the visual kinesthetic learner. Yet many Latn teachers require all of their students to create flashcards and to turn them in as a grade. Why do we insist that students do this when it only benefits a small percentage of students?
- Flashcards only present words as isolated forms. We know that language does not operate as individual words set in isolation.
- Flashcards only offer temporary memorization, not long term internalization. This is why many times, students will immediately forget vocabulary following a quiz, even though they "studied" using flashcards. I call this the "cram and flush" syndrome - they "cram" for a quiz, and they "flush" it from their minds as soon as the quiz is over.
- Learning refers to the processes by which people actively and strenuously BUT temporarily internalize information. This is what is called conscious learning.
- Acquiring refers to the relatively effortless, subconsious and permanent internalization of new information. This is what is called subconscious learning.
- Two weeks before the quiz, the teachers themselves were to learn the 20 vocabulary words
- A week before the quiz, the teachers themselves were to incorporate and to use these 20 words in their everday instruction as a way to preview the words for students in a context.
- The week of the quiz, the teachers were to give the list of 20 words to students, who by now should be familiar with the words
- 20 words a week was too much for the teachers to handle. They could not keep track of the words. In other words, if the teachers could not do it, then how did they expect students to do it?
- The 20 words themselves were too difficult and random for teachers to preview for students in a natural way.
So what were the conclusions from this experiment? In order to acquire and to internalize vocabulary:
- It must be limited
- It must be meaningful
- It must be contextual and not isolated
- It must be constantly repeated in a meaningful and contextual way
My next posting will be part 2 in the series and will deal with how I myself have been experimenting though with "flashcards" in a CI kind of way this school year.