When people learn new things, new brain patterns are formed to accommodate the new information. With English language learning, students are constantly forming new patterns, testing them, and reforming these patterns.
In contrast, the grade and semester-based education system is best described as a staircase, with each step representing new knowledge gained and stored away.
Learning, however, does not follow this fixed, concrete model. Researchers now describe learning as “a gradual ebbing and flowing of the frequencies of alternative ways of thinking, with new approaches being added and old ones being eliminated as well… a series of overlapping waves, with each wave corresponding to a different rule, strategy, theory, or way of thinking.”
It is easy to get trapped in the staircase model, wondering why students can’t do something when they have already learned it, but by thinking about education as waves, constantly being refreshed, tested, and renewed, it is easier to understand how students learn, forget, and learn again.