Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Students retain difficult lessons better than easy ones

Copies of J.D. Salinger's classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye" as well as his volume of short stories called "Nine Stories."

Amy Sancetta/AP

Cellphones can park cars?

"You're on the third lap around the car park, there are no open spaces and you're already 15 minutes late for your appointment," says the New Scientist. "Right now you're wishing you could jump out of the car and let it go find its own spot. Good news: Now there's an app for that. Virtual Valet lets your iPhone tell your car to park without you in it. 'You pull up to the curb, push a button on your smartphone and the car takes care of everything,' says Aaron Steinfeld, the lead researcher for the project at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. 'Then you tell it to come back whenever you are done.' To find its own spot, the system uses a sensor suite similar to ones found in many luxury cars. This includes a motion sensor that scans for moving cars and pedestrians, and a forward-facing laser rangefinder normally found in adaptive cruise control to determine the distance of objects in front of the car."

Hurrah for difficulties

Story continues below advertisement

"Our brains respond better to difficulty than we imagine," writes Ian Leslie in Intelligent Life magazine. "In schools, teachers and pupils alike often assume that if a concept has been easy to learn, then the lesson has been successful. But numerous studies have now found that when classroom material is made harder to absorb, pupils retain more of it over the long term, and understand it on a deeper level. Robert Bjork, of the University of California, coined the phrase 'desirable difficulties' to describe the counterintuitive notion that learning should be made harder by, for instance, spacing sessions farther apart so that students have to make more effort to recall what they learned last time. Psychologists at Princeton found that students remembered reading material better when it was printed in an ugly font."

Too popular? Not cool

"I imagined it so differently," Jessica Roake writes in Slate Magazine. "I would hand The Catcher in the Rye to my students and watch it transform their lives. They would see themselves in Holden Caulfield, and J.D. Salinger's words would elucidate their own frustrations and struggles. … The book would blow the minds of teenagers seeking a pilgrim soul – a friend's voice in the wild of adolescence. What I did not expect was shrugging boredom, the most feared of student reactions. I might as well have assigned Jude the Obscure. The problem is that Catcher in the Rye is no longer a book for cool high-school students. Catcher in the Rye is a book for cool high-school teachers. … Unfortunately, the book's reputation as the Great American High School Novel precedes it, and its popularity has been its undoing. According to Stephen J. Whitfield, author of a social history of Catcher, Salinger's once-shocking novel 'may lag behind only Of Mice and Men on public-school required reading lists.'"

How friendship starts

"Social factors are stronger than genetic forces when it comes to how people choose their friends, [say] researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder," reports United Press International. "While genetic similarities may help explain why humans tend to gravitate together, the full story of why people become friends 'is contingent upon the social environment in which individuals interact with one another,' the researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. People are more likely to befriend genetically similar people when their environment is stratified – when disparate groups are discouraged from interacting – but when environments were more egalitarian, friends are less likely to share certain genes, the researchers said."

Thought du jour

"He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper."

Story continues below advertisement

– Edmund Burke, Irish statesman and author (1729-97)

Report an error Licensing Options

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Please note that our commenting partner Civil Comments is closing down. As such we will be implementing a new commenting partner in the coming weeks. As of December 20th, 2017 we will be shutting down commenting on all article pages across our site while we do the maintenance and updates. We understand that commenting is important to our audience and hope to have a technical solution in place January 2018.

Discussion loading… ✨