THE SCIENCE OF LEARNING: "Learning How to Learn" Week #2

Week #2  of “LearningHow to Learn” was all about breaking down the art of learning. For this ADHD coach, it is one of the biggest concepts for learning in short bursts – a personal favorite for my clients once they have the basics. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, you are probably asking, “Kate, what the heck is it!?!?”

Chunking is the process of breaking a big picture concept into smaller, bite-sized pieces of information. When all of the chunks are put together, the full concept is complete and can be connected using the diffuse mode of thinking (problem-solving). For example, if you were studying the Battle of Gettysburg (Big Picture) you might chunk this battle into several chunks of information such as the key players, dates and locations, battle strategies, and the strategies used. Once you have committed each chunk to memory, you can understand the significance and logistics of this battle.

Chunking breaks a larger concepts into smaller buckets of

information that, once mastered, can be married with the 

bigger picture through context.

Chunking requires the use of 5 mental exercises in order to commit something to a memory chunk:

  1. Focus on the idea. This requires no distractions and a clear focus on the details to be learned in the chunk. Distractions make it harder to memorize information due to divided attention that makes it harder for your working memory to solidify the chunk.

  2. Understand the main idea: understanding the concept needed or the bigger picture can help shape the chunk and tag it mentally for relevance when you are ready to retrieve it later. Without understanding, the chunk is useless in the future because there is no way to relate it to the larger concept. A Rapid Picture Walk through a chapter before reading a chapter can help you understand the bigger picture and chunks needed for a concept.

  3. Understand the context: Knowing when the chunk of information will be useful helps to create a mental “tag” for when it will be used or NOT used.

  4. Recall: recalling the information builds neuron hooks that solidify the data in your memory/brain. This can be taken 1 step further by recalling information in different places (i.e. – bedroom, classroom, library, kitchen table). Recall will speed up your learning with practice.

  5. Practice: putting the learning concept into practice yourself will create the firmer understanding.

Note-taking is a great way to put chunking into practice on a regular basis for students. Taking a “picture walk” through the chapter to be covered in a lecture or before reading it can provide a student with the main ideas and concepts covered – headers and bold text can offer the key concepts. From there, a student can fill in the blanks for each of these big ideas. In order for the notes to be effective in making concrete learning memories stick, each chunk must tie into the main idea and it must be used through strategies such as recall (i.e. -flash cards) or practice (i.e. -math problems).

Another great concept covered in this week's concept of "chunking" is interleaving, which plays particularly well into the hands of ADHD students. Interleaving requires a bit of jumping around between concepts or somewhat-related subjects, creating/recalling/practicing different chunks of information – allowing the flow of more diffuse mode learning connections between the concepts.  For math, this might mean graphing, calculations and word problems intermingled instead of performing all of one concept before moving to another. For a history class or foreign language it could mean moving between vocabulary, short-answer and writing an essay. I can’t wait to suggest this on to my own kids! This technique could have ended so many homework tantrums (for both parties) in our early school years – permission to skip around granted! 

Sustaining effort for a small chunk and shifting to another idea plays well to the ADHD brain’s need for novelty – BONUS: According to ProfessorBarbara Oakley, the act of skipping around also increases learning flexibility and creativity. I also wonder if my high-powered thinkers who dabbling in several things are just natural interleavers?

Interested in learning more about this class? You can read my blog post about week #1 HERE. Better yet, sign up for the next class session for FREE:

You can also read more about interleaving here:

Kate Barrett