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Teaching Skills Teaching Skills > How to Teach > Theory of Learning Series > Part 5 Assimilating
Summary: Fitting a new piece of information into our existing framework of understanding.


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The verb 'To Assimilate' has two distinct definitions:

1.To take in and appropriate as nourishment:absorb into the system.

2.To take into the mind and thoroughly comprehend.

Comparing the learning process to the process by which we take in food for nourishment proves quite a useful analogy. Indeed you may have heard the phrase: 'Read and inwardly digest' used in this context!

So just how do we assimilate knowledge and understanding? Well the first steps have been covered under the previous two articles in this series. You have to contact the subject and you have to apply mental processing to ensure that relevant points become fixed in medium-term memory.

You're not home and dry yet, however, because the mind appears to have a very efficient housekeeper who periodically checks through the medium-term memory banks and clears out any data that haven't been recently put to use!

So part of the process of assimilating is to associate new data with existing familiar data that does get used frequently.

Say you have got your student to learn the notes on the open strings: E A D G B E. You've done this by getting them to play each string and name them out loud one at a time (contacting the subject). You have taught them one of the standard mnemonics (Elephants And Donkey's Grow Big Ears) thus employing mental processing to help fix the note names in memory. The third stage is to help them assimilate this new knowledge by finding relevant links to other concepts they are already familiar with and using frequently.

This takes creative imagination on the part of the tutor. A good example of how you might go about this would be to use open chords (lets assume our student has already learnt to play A, D and E major chords). I would get them to play an E chord and then play the open E strings and listen to how they relate to the chord. I would explain that the E note is the 'Root' note of the E chord. (Most students will be able to hear the relationship between the root note and the chord)

I might then show some examples of how the root note is used say in finger-picking or flat-picking to enhance the sounding of an E chord. I would move on and apply the same ideas to the A and D chords.

Doing this thoroughly might take the best part of a whole lesson with some students. But this is teaching time well invested because the student will then assimilate this knowledge in a way that not only means you won't have to repeat the lesson later, but their level of certainty and confidence with the knowledge will ensure that subsequent steps like learning scale notes etc. will be that much easier to teach as well.

This is the way to build strong foundations that mean that the rest of your students' progress is enhanced and your job as tutor is kept relatively simple!

Assimilating new knowledge takes time. Just like digesting food. Don't be tempted to rush on to the next step too quickly. That's like spooning food into a baby's mouth faster than they can digest it. It doesn't take much imagination to see that leading to quite a messy result!

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Related Pages
.   How learning got a bad name for itself
.   Motivation Moves Mountains
.   Contact with the Subject
.   Mental Processing
.   Relative Importance
.   Information Overwhelm
.   Information Retention
.   Making and Breaking habits
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