More Than Words, Ep 1

Just thinking about my Educational Psychology class in college causes me to immediately break out in a cold sweat. No matter how many hours I studied or how many times I reread and highlighted my text and notes, I still wasn’t prepared for the exams. So what did I do? I did what my well-meaning high school teachers taught me to do — I read the assigned text again, I made flash cards that I used to drill with the hopes of burning it into my memory, and then reread my notes three times. And lo and behold, I still didn’t do well on my next exam. 

I imagine that many of our current parents learned study techniques along these same themes. We were told to practice, practice, and then practice some more until we “had it.” It turns out that what teachers learned in preservice training, and what most of us learned as students, isn’t serving us very well. Thanks to the work in the educational neuroscience field this past decade, educators have learned so much more about brain research and how it applies to learning. For example, rereading text/notes over and over is an example of poor metacognition (awareness of one’s own thought process). All of this rereading gives us an illusion of mastery because we become familiar with the text, even though we don’t really understand the concepts. What we now know is that information learned during massed practice is short-lived and leaves our short term memory quickly. Research shows that when learning is harder for students, it’s stronger and lasts longer.

Finding out that many of the practices that we relied on growing up are really neuromyths, and that our practices need to be tweaked, or stopped altogether, can make teachers and parents uncomfortable. Identifying these neuromyths, studying brain research, and implementing new practices successfully takes educators who are willing to lean into this discomfort. Lower School teachers at CFA are committed to being a learning community that thrives on leaning in and challenging traditional methods with practices grounded in research. 

When I attended the National Association of Independent Schools conference this year, I was able to hear a presentation by Daisy Pellant, Director of Peter Clark Center for Mind, Brain and Education at The Breck School. She shared two great ways to boost student retention and build durable memories using intentional retrieval practice. While I found both of these very interesting, I absolutely love the video explaining the 5-box sort with flashcards in the second link.

Retrieval Practice

The Most Powerful Technique for Remembering What You Study

I plan to share more with you in the upcoming weeks as the Lower School teachers and I continue on our journey as lifelong learners. I invite you to lean in with us and keep an open mind to more meaningful, research-based approaches that will enrich your students’ learning.

If you have any questions about this or other topics related to education and teaching, you can reach me at or 910.218.7189.


Stephanie Medcalfe is the Lower School Director at Cape Fear Academy.
Stephanie and her husband moved to Wilmington from Indianapolis, Indiana where she was the Assistant Principal for Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.  Stephanie has taught in both elementary and middle schools and has been a Special Educator.  She graduated from Ball State University with a B.S. in Elementary Education and an M.E. in Educational Administration. She is responsible for the Lower School Faculty and the After School Program.