Swiss Cheese Learners

“Monday they’ll be perfect, Tuesday they’ll be perfect, and Wednesday they have no idea what you’re talking about,” This is what one online tutor commented on her experience with some of her students. Renowned American psychologist Patricia Tanner Halverson calls such students “Swiss cheese learners.”

Swiss cheese is a generic name in North America for several related varieties of cheese, that is hard and pale yellow and that has many large holes. We have heard a lot about the “gaps” and the “holes” in our students’ learning. Swiss cheese learning is learning that has full of holes and gaps. For instance, this metaphor of “holes” and “gaps” presupposes that real mathematical knowledge is a filled-in, completely solid progression. Students learning multiplication sometimes rely on skip-counting, sometimes repeated addition; sometimes move easily between the two.

They are constantly learning, and it is not like filling in a colouring book. Instead, one thing they know leads to another, to another, like paths in a landscape.
By leading the students through the curriculum before they get the basics of the topic registered thoroughly in their mind, they will develop “Swiss cheese gaps” in their understanding of a specific subject. Ideally, those gaps and holes shouldn’t be there. If any gaps exist, it must be filled by the joint effort from the teacher and the student. These holes do not seem like big issues initially, but later on, as they progress in their studies the fundamental gaps become impossible to ignore and will catch up to them.
Learning is built upon each other. Some of the skills in the fundamental learning may be prerequisites for later achievements. Never let your students down by the conventional teaching methodology of moving to the next topic before they fully master the previous one.

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