As the author of a book solely dedicated to retrieval practice I often get asked questions by teachers, students and parents about this teaching and learning strategy. People are also keen to discuss retrieval practice with me and share classroom resources that they have used for recall, whether that be one of my original ideas or they have created their own. I am obviously very interested in this area of cognitive psychology and as part of the writing process for my book I carried out a significant amount of reading and research. During these conversations about retrieval practice I often reference and share the works of others so I have decided to put all those suggestions and recommendations in one place, here on my blog!
Flash cards are a very useful revision activity for many reasons. They work across all subjects, they can be used with the recall of facts, dates, quotes, definitions and more. They are a very simple technique for learners to use – low effort but high impact. As well as being an effective learning strategy flash cards are also popular with students. In a research survey carried out in 2018 more than 50% of college students reported that they do use flash cards to study.
The TPACCK model first featured in my book Love To Teach: Research and Resources (2018) but it is based on the research and work of others. I felt there was something missing from the previous models that I wanted to develop further. The feedback to the TPACCK model, from people that have read my book or attended presentations I have delivered, where I discuss this model, has been very positive with different teachers and leaders telling me that they have applied this in their schools to support and shape teaching and professional learning.
In recent years retrieval practice (combined with spaced practice) has completely changed my teaching practice – for the better. I have seen many of the benefits of Retrieval Practice first hand, which go far beyond the ability to recall information from long term memory. I have fully embraced the research and this evidence-informed strategy, as have many others around the world. However, there are still some classroom teachers and students that are quite sceptical and wary about the hype surrounding retrieval practice.
It can be argued that Dual Coding is a teaching and learning strategy that teachers have been using for years and years. Yet the term and the discussion around this approach has only become widespread in recent years (despite the work of Allan Paivio with his dual coding theory dating back to 1971 and he states that dual coding has its roots in the practical use of imagery as a memory aid 2500 years ago!). There are now lots of videos, blog posts, podcasts and presentations shared by educators about how dual coding can be used effectively in the classroom.
The exam season is fast approaching and this can often be a time of stress, anxiety and pressure for students and teachers alike. I have taught GCSE and A Level throughout my career and whilst some aspects have become much easier, for example in the first few years of teaching I would have fears that I wouldn’t teach all of the required content in time … but I always managed to with time to spare. Careful planning, confidence and experience can help teachers with these worries but I like many other experienced teachers are teaching new exam specifications for the first time. This has brought new challenges such as being the first year to sit the new exams, meaning limited examples of past papers and a lack of clear grade boundaries.
I didn’t fully engage with educational research at the start of my career but in recent years it has transformed my teaching practice and further built my confidence in the classroom. As a trainee teacher I was told that educational research informed us about VAK learning styles and the idea of the learning pyramid! This so-called research is now better known by many in education as edu-myths, theories that have been debunked because they are not supported by the science and research as initially claimed. This post isn’t about debunking myths but if that is something you are interested in then I can highly recommend the work of Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul Kirschner and visiting the popular blog by US educator Blake Harvard.
I discovered a quote by Jennifer Gonzalez where she interviewed Cognitive Scientist Pooja Agarwal “Retrieval practice: The most powerful learning strategy you’re not using” (you can listen to the podcast interview here) and this resonated with me because it wasn’t a strategy I was using for many years during my teaching career. Teachers often have so much content to get through that little time can be spent revisiting prior learning and subject content previously covered – I was guilty of this. Each lesson or week I would work my way through delivering new content on the specification or scheme of work and return to recall knowledge and understanding at a much later date. On reflection, it seems obvious that revisiting a topic 12 months later (or longer!) in the classroom just before the exam won’t be as effective as regular recall and retrieval.
The comic strip has often been a popular go-to resource and activity for teachers. They can provide an overview of events, tell a story and so on. However, the comic strip task can also be an activity that is a time waster and not support learning – wasting precious lesson time and simply keeping learners busy which of course is not good. The issues with the comic strip are that pupils can spend too much time on the illustrations and colouring rather than focusing on the captions and information, although many pupils can effectively communicate their understanding and knowledge through illustrations too. When using technology to create comic strips pupils can again place the focus on the layout, design and other features rather than the actual content. Dual coding ( combining written information with visuals to support) has become a widely recognised as an effective strategy to support learning and comic strips are a great example of this. I do believe that with guidance, clearly explained success criteria and a modelled example the comic strip can work very well in the classroom. You can watch an excellent video explanation of dual coding by the learning scientists here.