#EduBookChatUK recommended ‘Make It Stick’ by Brown,Roediger III and McDaniel. A keen reader I quickly bought a copy and after the first couple of pages I was hooked. But here’s the thing, I’m writing the blog without the book next to me because I’m applying some of what I have learned from it to try and learn it better! Confused? Well read on for three of the nuggets of practical information that I have gleaned from the book and managed to recall. Hopefully this will be sufficient for you to then want to read it yourself, and you should because it there is so much more to it than what is in this blog!
The book sets out to debunk common myths about learning and to replace these myths with the ‘science of successful learning’. I suppose another title would be ‘how to help children to actually learn’ or ‘No, reading something lots is never going to help!’.
Here are the three points I can recall and which have already had a practical impact upon my own teaching.
So first I discover that re-reading a piece of text in no way increases learning. Nor does highlighting the text, regardless of how many colours you might use. Simply it seems re-reading keeps something fresh in our short term working memory but after a more extended period of time, when the text is no longer being read, the information has not been retained. Deep learning can’t be achieved in this way.
I know so many students who seek to ‘learn’ in this way. So what should they do instead. It turns out that retrieval of recently read material is a process that does help to begin to embed learning. By this we mean recalling and summarising something you have read without returning to the text itself. Hence me writing this blog without reference to the book! Evidently the effort required to retrieve information is the key. The effort itself is the important part in translating information from short term memory to deeper learning.
This brings us on to the significance of low risk testing. Research referred to in the book demonstrates that such testing after a week, then maybe two weeks significantly helps embed the learning. Basically yes to test!
Students can also self test. So rather than just summarising something they have read they can create questions to then check their learning. This process also helps the student to work out what it is they haven’t yet retained. In response to this I have had my A Level students read a summary of material from the summer term, write five questions and hand them in. Little do they know that they will be answering someone else’s set of questions next lesson with no notes to work from. Furthermore they will then mark each others answers from memory before finally checking against the original text. Not rocket science but cognitive science that has affected my teaching!
The book makes effective use of sporting analogies to make this next point. Often in sport a skill will be practiced in a block. That is to say the lay up shot in basketball will be the focus of a training session. The thinking being that repetition and focus on a specific skill will help the skill to be effectively learned. However this is also a myth.
Rather than block practice learning in any subject is better when the content is interleaved. For example in PE this may mean dipping into practicing a lay up shot for fifteen minutes of the session, then switching to dribbling and then to something else. Progress on these skills will be slower than blocked practice BUT the learning will be deeper. Again the effort required to switch between content, perhaps returning to something two weeks after originally looking at it, changes the learning so it is long term. Application in the exam is better as the research in the book demonstrates. In response to this I have switched from teaching my A Level unit on miracles and have moved to religious language, where as normally I would have gone on to religious experience. What I normally do is easier, and the switch has been challenging for me and the students. However when we return to religious experience our retrieval of miracles work will deepen their learning and over time should produce better results.
This next point in the book really struck me as I am a huge fan of problem solving in the classroom. The book thankfully tells us that problem solving can be a highly effective way of ensuring that students are learning. However I didn’t realise how arriving at the wrong solution can help to strengthen a students learning. Now I’m sure ,like me, you already know that building upon prior learning really helps build links in the students’ brains and this makes learning more effective. The book then explains that when solving a problem students will be working with prior learning to reach their solution. The process of retrieving the prior learning for application in the current problem is all the time deepening that existing learning. If the solution to the problem is correctly reached the challenge of achieving it necessarily increases the durability of the learning. However if the solution to the problem is incorrect the retrieval of the prior learning has already strengthened the route to the answers before the answer is corrected. Genius.
In fact that is it, brains are genius. This book just helps us understand that genius a little better and presents ways in which this understanding can then be practically applied. There’s a good dose of Dweck in there along with teacher and student tips at the end. Worth sharing with students and staff alike…no actually not just worth sharing but essential to share.