Here’s a great new tidbit from my favorite magazine, The Week:
If you find yourself struggling to solve a complex math problem, try working through it out loud, says Scientific American. Psychologists in Spain found that college-level math students who detailed their thinking processes aloud were able to solve the problems faster and with greater accuracy than their silent counterparts.
In the study, quiet and nonquiet students were placed in separate rooms, given problems to solve, and monitored on videotape. The test results confirmed that students who talked aloud, or who drew pictures to map out the problems, scored higher and finished faster.
The researchers aren’t quite sure why this approach works, says psychologist Jose Luis Villegas Castellanos, only that representing a problem verbally or visually clearly offers “more possibilities of finding the right solution.”
This new finding makes me think of all the times in high school that I’d approach my math teacher to ask for help, only to suddenly realize exactly what I needed to do as soon as I started to explain why I was confused. I’d joke with my teachers about how they radiated understanding so I’d just “absorb” it once I was in their force field. But now I’m wondering if it was actually the process of getting ready to tell someone what I didn’t understand that activated my own inner knowledge.
This new finding also potentially explains why tutoring can be so powerful. In most math classes today, students passively receive information by listening to a teacher present the material to the class and then approach math problems in silent solitude at their desk. Talking things through out loud isn’t encouraged.
But in a tutoring situation, students are forced to talk things through out loud with their tutor. Maybe the process of learning to talk things out is as powerful as the process of “getting help” from someone who is more experienced.
I wish that more people were encouraged to talk things out and draw pictures to solve problems in standard math classes.