Simply hearing or reading information is called passive review. Passive review is not the best way to study material in order to remember it later. To remember it, Jessie has to practice actively recalling it from her own memory and not reading it out of books or her notes. Typically, active recall is initiated by asking the student a question such as “What year did Andrew Jackson start serving as the President of the United States?”

The question challenges Jessie to actively recall the fact, making the memory stronger if she gets the answer correct, or re-teaching her the fact if she gets it wrong. Active recall consolidates long-term memory. To create brilliant students, encourage them to actively recall information they have learned.

Brilliant Student Secret #4: Build Knowledge Nets

It is possible to hear a fact once, and then remember it correctly days, weeks, or even months later without studying. It is possible to turn your students’ brains into knowledge nets that catch knowledge, as a fishnet catches fish. Have you ever seen a fishnet? Even though it is very light, and even flimsy looking, a fishnet can catch a great deal of fish in just one pass. 

So exactly what is a knowledge net? It is a carefully selected set of facts on a given subject. Since knowledge nets exist in our brains, they are also made of knowledge. The kind of knowledge used to make the net determines the kind of knowledge it will likely catch. Create a different net . . . catch a whole new field of knowledge. 

If you are studying United States history, for example, use a “U.S. presidents” knowledge net. This net might hold the name of each president and the year in which each one began his presidency. Learning these presidential facts in essence creates a “net” around United States history, starting in 1789 and continuing to the present day. These facts help students capture even more U.S. history. For example, in learning about the presidents, the students learn that Abraham Lincoln’s presidency started in 1861 and ended in 1865. Later, when these same students learn about the U.S. Civil War, they will instantly recognize the time frame of the war; this is a knowledge net in action.

A knowledge net of U.S. presidents may even help students remember dates and events that are unrelated to U.S. presidents. One student reported remembering that La Amistad was captured in 1839 after hearing that fact only one time. The student cannot explain why he remembered that date, except to say that he remembered that Martin Van Buren started serving as President in 1837 and La Amistad just seemed to stick to that fact. Indeed it did stick—like a fish caught in a net.

Brilliant Student Secret #5: Seek to Make Associations

Brilliant students actively seek to make new associations with knowledge as soon as they acquire it. They do this by actively looking, reading, and researching to try to find knowledge they can associate with something they have learned. 

As soon as your homeschool students start building knowledge nets, it is possible for them to begin rapidly catching new knowledge. In practice, students catch information both intentionally, i.e., when they are deliberately studying something, and incidentally, i.e., when they are doing something else. Either way, they learn by connecting new knowledge to knowledge already in the net. 

Unlike actual, tangible fishing nets, which are weakened by increased use, knowledge nets become stronger the more they are used. Cognitive researchers call this activity “making associations.” Making associations is about connecting one piece of knowledge in a student’s long-term memory with another piece of knowledge, which is also in his long-term memory. This process makes both memories stronger.

Your homeschool students should actively seek to make new associations. For example, if they learn that John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States, they should seek to learn a little more about him. They may read a brief biography or encyclopedia entry. They may watch a video about President Adams. They may look for his name or picture on a poster of the U.S. Presidents. They may even arrange a field trip to visit his former home.