October 12, 2016 | By Pooja Agarwal, Ph. D.
How can we foster and encourage successful learning, where students apply knowledge, build connections, think critically — and retain important knowledge over time?
In this second Digital Promise Research@Work video, we share a learning strategy called retrieval practice, which is based on more than 100 years of cognitive science research. It is a powerful evidence-based tool that significantly increases the learning of foundational knowledge, as well as higher order skills, for diverse students of all grades. By retrieving, or bringing information to mind, what we know is put to use and learning is strengthened. Watch the video to learn more about how retrieval practice works:
As educators, we can use retrieval practice by helping students pull information “out” of their heads, rather than spending time and effort getting information “into” their heads with lectures, note taking, and re-reading textbook chapters. Through retrieval practice, students use what they know, gain comfort with the challenge of retrieving information, and form a better understanding of what they know and don’t know (also called “metacognition”).
In addition to specific activities like writing prompts and no-stakes quizzes, we can encourage retrieval by making small adjustments to our teaching, without requiring additional grading or preparation. For instance, when we use cold calling and ask one student to respond to a question, it’s likely that not all students are retrieving the answer. If we instead ask all students to write down their answer and then call on individual students, chances are greater that almost all students will have engaged in retrieval.
As another example, we can ask students to discuss what their key “takeaway” was from the previous class (or any other discussion topic). Students can discuss their takeaways in pairs, small groups, or one at a time. In this example, all students engage in retrieval practice when they provide a response.
Whether you use one of the strategies mentioned in the Research@Work video, one of the small adjustments described above, or an approach tailor-made for your classroom, retrieval practice works when we focus on drawing information “out” of students’ heads, rather than pushing things “in.” When we harness the science of learning and use retrieval practice, learning becomes durable, deeper, and successful.