Most of my lessons start with some form of retrieval practice. Usually 6 questions linking back to learning from last lesson, a few weeks ago and previous terms.
This has worked really well at supporting long term retention of knowledge, which was the aim. Everybody tries to answer the questions. Then I question some student on what they put. Finally I display the correct answers on the board.
The testing effect
The research into memory I read influenced this approach, especially the testing effect. The idea that testing people on knowledge they have previously studied is more effective than re-reading the information. Following up with questioning and correct answers helps to fill in gaps in knowledge and address misconceptions.
This approach also helped to connect old learning to new. By reviewing older content that connected to what we planned to cover deeper connections could be made. It is hard to really test the effect of this approach. I do feel that my students have better retention of key facts than previous years. There is also evidence from testing that indicates key term knowledge has improved.
A simple change
Having returned to re-read some articles and research into the testing effect and retrieval practice a different approach also stood out as something I wanted to try. I often provide students with some ‘expert explanation’ from me and then ask them to use key resources to take notes or answer questions on this content. This will then lead into some opportunities for practising the use of this new knowledge. The change I decided to trial was adding some retrieval practice in after the ‘expert explanation’. Simple really, why had I not done it before? After listening to the key information students need to write down all that they remember before using the available resources to check their notes. They then have the opportunity to add those parts that they missed. I feel that this change has really tightened up this aspect of my teaching and supported student understanding. There is more incentive to really listen closely to what I am saying as well. Students also have the opportunity to focus their reading on just the parts they were not able to recall.
Overall a simple change to the structure I use when delivering new content has had a positive impact on both what I do and on student understanding. This seems like a quick win to me!