Keep It Simple Stupid: The Power Of 3 In Learning
There are 3 primary colors. The triangle is the strongest geometric shape. We operate and think in 3 dimensions.
The Three Little Pigs is an all time favorite. The Three Stooges entertain to this day. The Three Musketeers didn’t become The Four Musketeers when D’Artagnan proved himself worthy. No! They called themselves D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers.
The hat trick in pro sports is special. 3 point field goals win many football games. 3 strikes and you’re out!
If we are obsessed with the number 3, it’s for a good reason. When we group things in threes, we remember and learn better. We are more productive too, because our mind perceives tasks and goals as easier to accomplish. Focusing on 3 or fewer things is brain friendly. We feel in command and we can take control.
Let's use this simple principle in education. Here's how.
Stick To 3 Or Fewer New Concepts Or Ideas Per Class.
Students often feel overwhelmed because teachers try to do too much, talk too much, and give too much to do. This happens in a variety of ways. I will bring up an example, but I want to focus on organizing and simplifying things in a way that allows students to feel in control, be more productive, and learn more.
Consider a shopping list. A shopping list is long and you don't memorize it. You record it and take with you.
Now, think about learning. You don't want students to take notes and carry with them all the time. You want them to remember, understand, and use the concepts they learned. For this reason, learning should not be a shopping list we cross items off of and throw out after we pick up the items.
Why then, do we so often treat vocabulary learning as such? Surely, we don't want our students to memorize the terms and bubble in the right circle on a multiple choice test and then promptly forget that which they never really learned.
So instead, pick 3 (or fewer if more processing required) of those concepts and have students do deep work with them during one class period. Create 3 activities that prompt students to create something with them. This could be a piece of writing or speech, a video or a different digital product, a skit or another way of acting it out, a classroom game students design, or anything else that helps them learn it.
During direct instruction, stick to 3 main points in your presentation. If using a slideshow keep it to no more than 3 words per slide. Use images and design your presentation in 3 parts. First, an intro that mentions the 3 concepts students are about to learn. Second, the body that uses one slide per concept with supporting images. Elaborate on each concept in this part with speech and images, not text. Third, summarize the 3 main concepts and voila! You just crushed it.
By introducing the concepts first, you told your students what they need to know and prompted their brains to look for tucked away neural connections (prior knowledge). When you expanded on each concept one by one, you made neural organization easier and as their brains were already primed for it, information assimilation came more naturally. Summarizing provided the extra repetition and reinforcement. On top of it all, you avoided cognitively overloading your students by using more images and less text.
Less is more and repetition helps cognition.
You have the power to change the world. Use it often.
I love the number 3. I use the Power of Three in life and teaching. It works. It makes life and work easier and better organized. Counter intuitively, I get more accomplished when I apply its principles. It works so well that I've decided to write a book on the Power of Three. And I'm doing it in 3 days. Wish me luck.