Final exams are upon us. Time to remind students that re-reading and highlighting their textbooks won’t help much.
Because absorbing information won’t make it stick.
Students need to do the opposite: Get information OUT of the brain. Cognitive scientists like Pooja Agarwal call it retrieval practice. There are many ways to do this.
Today, I talk about one: Affinity mapping.
Sometimes called affinity diagrams. The idea comes from the business world—specifically project management.
Affinity mapping is a great way to organize and clarify lots of information. Like the kind needed for final exams.
Let’s take one topic: “major theories of education.” Something my students need to know in their foundations class.
Step 1: Do a Brain Dump Using Post-it Notes
Get students in groups of 4-5. Or just do this as a whole-class activity. Then brainstorm everything they remember about educational theories. Like progressivism, critical theory, John Dewey, social justice, activity-based curriculum…
Write each one on a post-it note. Stick it on their desks (or the board), like this:
Step 2: Organize the Post-its
Here, students organize the post-it notes—in whatever way they see fit. No need to assign labels beforehand. Maybe students group by names of famous people. Maybe they group everything into 4 major theories.
As long as there is some sort of relationship. That’s why it’s called affinity mapping. The connections are what make learning stick. You provide guidance where needed.
Step 3: Share Affinity Diagrams with the Class
Have students take a picture of their diagram with their phone and upload it to your email or to a shared cloud-based service, like Dropbox or Google Docs. Then project the diagrams on the screen. Discuss.
No Internet service? Then have each group share how they grouped their information. Or have everyone walk around and take a look.
By the way, affinity maps are just one option. Venn Diagrams work. How about tables and charts? The point is to demonstrate what students know in graphic ways. That’s different from the typical way they process information (i.e., through lectures and texts).
The more students retrieve information out of their brain and the deeper they see interrelationships, the more the learning sticks.
So, what are other ways you prepare students for finals?