Tables and Cabinets

I must admit that much of what I do is not based on research.  Well, it might be.  I don’t know.  I wasn’t good at paying attention to specifics.  I’m more of a whole-picture kind of super hero.  I don’t take credit for my thoughts or ideas since I’m never quite sure if they are mine or if I really did learn something in one of my education classes.  I have lots of ideas though, and I don’t think I learned that much in my classes, so I’d say it’s 50/50.

For example, I tell my students that their brains have a “brain table” and a “brain filing cabinet.”

Brain Table
The brain table is where we store many pieces of information.  Sometimes we try to store too much there.  It gets messy, the piles build up, we lose things.  In fact, I once lost my lunch on my desk.  I was eating, then I did some things, then I couldn’t find it.  About an hour later, I lifted up a folder and there it was!  Anyhoo,  our brain is a handy place to put things for a little while.  When we get stressed or whelmed, we may keep more than is prudent on this table.  Something will, eventually, fall off.  The only way to guarantee that information sticks around is to put it in the brain filing cabinet. Some learning and studying techniques depend on your brain table, and depend on you to be able to find things on your brain table.   I typically point out that my brain table is a holy mess.  I remind them  about Rule #3–Never put anything on my desk that is important to you–especially your homework.

Brain Filing Cabinet
The brain filing cabinet is where we store things we will want to access later.  We take things from our brain table and do something to it in order to store it in the filing cabinet.  We might organize it, we might chunk it into smaller bits of information, we might group it with like information.  We might color code it, use mnemonic devices, or put it into a more accessible format.  The key to this though, is our ability to retrieve the information once is it there.  You must be able to access the information you put there for immediate use.  This is where you store things you actually learn.  The way you do that is not specific, but is must include USING the information and structuring it in a way that makes it accessible to you.

My goal is make this filing cabinet full, organized, and accessible.  Yes, I want it accessible for the state tests. More than that though, I want it accessible for anything the students want to do.  I want them to have the ability to use what they know when they need it.  In the short term, that will be on state assessments.  In the long term, that may be for future classes, getting jobs, making life choices.  I can’t ignore the usefulness of a nice brain table, but my job is the get that filing cabinet all set up.

When I read articles about how kids learn, or how they don’t learn I pause a little in my raucous story-telling. The tone of some articles scoff at my Brain Table.  I have not yet had the opportunity to conduct formal peer-reviewed research on my theory, but explaining memory, studying, and accessing information using this analogy is successful.  I only have anecdotal evidence that it works. I may be struck down for saying this, but anecdotal evidence means something to me, and I will continue to use it as long as it works.

All of this is in my Brain Filing Cabinet.  Trouble is, I don’t know where I got it originally.  It is filed correctly in there, but has no reference section.  Thank you to whoever or wherever this came from.  Even if it was just the idea fairies.

One thought on “Tables and Cabinets

  1. I use a very similar desk/cabinet analogy when trying to explain computer storage componentry. It's not as artistic (or as well-articulated) as yours, but it still works.Is that an example of “Great minds think alike”, or “Fools rarely differ”? Perhaps a bit of both.

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