Retrieval Practice - Pupils Need More Tests!
Generally, tests are considered for assessment purposes only. Teachers, in the main, have a negative perception of testing due to the significant increases in the number of tests that pupils now have to take during their school careers. However, they turn out to actually be one of the most effective tools for learning; quizzing and low stakes testing are crucial to optimise learning.
Testing has to be thought of as in a pedagogical sense. Testing, when used this way, engages learners in practicing recalling memories (information learnt). ‘The act of retrieving a memory changes the memory, making it easier to retrieve again later’. Repeated recall appears to help memory consolidate into cohesive representation in the brain to strengthen and multiply the neural routes by which the knowledge can later be retrieved. Research proves that practicing retrieval makes learning stick far better than re-exposure.
Retrieval practice is one of the most successful strategies for learning and the more effortful the retrieval the stronger the benefit. The greater the effort to retrieve learning, provided that there are high rates of success, the more learning is strengthened by retrieval.
The following examples outlines some suggestions of how you might provide your pupils with opportunities to engage in retrieval practice.
Retrieval Practice Strategies for the Classroom
Regular low stakes quizzes - Possibly the easiest way to provide opportunities for regular retrieval practice is through low stakes quizzes/tests to your lesson that test knowledge that has previously been taught. Low stakes means that little emphasis is placed on the scores. Pupils’ results don’t have to be shared or recorded, it is the process of retrieving previously learnt information that is important.
Whole Class Quizzing - Create multiple choice quizzes that will engage pupils in retrieving information. You can use simple methods such as RAG pages or mini-white boards to ensure that pupils are individually accountable for answering question. This not only engages pupils in recalling learnt information but allows you to quickly assess their knowledge.
Interleaving Quiz - Regularly start a lesson with a low stakes quiz that allows pupils to revisit previously learnt information, using the following format:
1. Question from previous lesson.
2. Question from previous week.
3. Question from previous topic.
4. Question from previous term.
5. Question requiring pupils to make a link between what they are currently learning and what they have previously learnt.
Quick Fire Questioning - This strategy simply involves asking a number of questions that require pupils to retrieve information. Consider how you make all pupils individually accountable for retrieving the memory. This could be achieve by providing pupils with some think time and insist on no hands up.
Writing to Learn - This task requires pupils to recall as much information as they can about a topic/lesson/term etc. Pupils are provided with a short period of time and asked to write as much as they can about a topic/lesson/term etc.
Homework - Forgetting is key to remembering and therefore spaced retrieval is an effective strategy. The setting of homework is a great opportunity to encourage retrieval practice and to ensure it is spaced retrieval. Rather than set a homework relevant to the learning that has taken place during the lesson or that week why not provide pupils with a task that will require them to revisit previously taught content?
Self-explanation - Pupils are challenged to consider how new information can be linked to what they already know. In order to make links the pupils must engage in retrieval practice to recall all the previously learnt information.
Knowledge Organisers – There are a number of ways in which pupils use their Knowledge Organiser (KO) as a resource to help engage in retrieval practice.
· Peer Quizzing - Using their KO, as a resource, pupils can quiz each other in pairs. One pupil can pose questions from the KO and check the pupils answers whilst the other is challenged to answer the questions. To help with this process encourage pupils to use Tip-Tip-Teach. If a pupil incorrectly answers a question their peer should give them a tip to help them recall the correct answer, followed by a second tip and then teach the correct answer if necessary.
· Cover – Write – Check - Correct - They cover the KO and aim to write down as much of its content that they can recall. Once pupils have recorded as much information as possible they check and correct their work.
· KO Starter Activity - Displaying one section of the KO with some information left off. Pupils are required to fill in the blanks, identify the key terms, complete a process or recall the precise definitions etc.
Cooperative Learning Strategies – There are a number of Cooperative Learning Structures that can be used to engage your pupils in retrieval practice. The main benefits of these are that all pupils are individually accountable for engaging in the activity and that half of the class are simultaneously answering a questions/recalling information at any one time.
· Rally Robin & Pair Share – Basic structures. Pupils can recall information such as key words or speak about a topic.
· Quiz – Quiz – Trade & Inside Outside Circle - Involves pupils pairing up and, in turns, answering and asking a question that requires pupils to recall information. Pupils can create their own questions or you could use exam questions and mark schemes.
· Rally Coach - This cooperative learning structure involves partners taking turns; one solving a problem and the other coaching. This usually works best when the teacher has previously modelled a process for working out a problem e.g. Maths problem or answering a question with multiple steps.
Technology – There are number of ways in which you could use technology to help engage pupils in retrieval practice.
· Classroom Apps - There are a number of apps and software that can be used to engage pupils in retrieval practice. Regularly used examples include Kahoot, Socrative and Google Forms. They allow you to create multiple choice quizzes to engage pupils in retrieval practice.
· Flashcards Software - Here is a list of flashcard software that you can use to create your own flashcards for pupils to use (shared by @AceThatTest). These allow pupils to track their own progress, prevents them having to create their own and there are often a number of sets that have already be created that might be of use.
· Subject Specific Software - There are a range of subject specific software which actively engages pupils in retrieval practice. These can be used as a high impact/low effort homework strategy that requires little workload. Some examples of subject specific software include; Linguascope/Memrise (MFL), Mangahigh (Maths), My PE Exam (PE) and Pearson ActiveLearn (various subjects).
Conditions for Effective Retrieval Practice
Success Rate - In order for the above strategies to be effective pupils must have a medium to high retrieval success. If the tasks are too difficult pupils will not be able to recall any information.
Feedback - immediate feedback must be provided. Although the process is more important than the results it is still essential that pupils are provided with feedback to the non-recalled or incorrectly recalled information. Providing immediate feedback increases the likelihood that information will be stored to memory.
Space Out Retrieval Practice - It is important to leave a considerable amount of time between sessions of retrieval to take advantage of forgetting.
The misconception is that massed practice can lead to embedding something into long-term memory. Although this might lead to increased performance it is not conducive to learning. This is because when retrieval strength is high additional study has no effect on storage strength. When ideas have been forgotten the effort to recall them reconstructs the learning from long-term memory and makes the idea more memorable and connects it to other knowledge more recently learnt.
Educate Pupils on the Process - One of the most effective strategies for improving pupils’ ability to retain information is explicitly educating students about the research on effective learning strategies. Teachers are encouraged to be transparent about the frustrations but the importance of the ‘testing effect’. Educating pupils on the benefits of regularly testing and self-quizzing is likely to improve their motivation for such tasks and will also help them develop their own effective learning habits.