As introduced in the first and second articles of this series, Mind, Brain and Education, this educational theory has been tested and confirmed and is now considered an entirely new discipline used to describe how the brain processes information for later recall: what we refer to as “learning.” Principles of this theory can essentially be distilled into three areas of practice: quality homework assignments, spaced repetition and “retrieval practice.” Having discussed what quality homework assignments and spaced repetition entail in our earlier articles, we will now explore the theory and process of “retrieval practice.”
A Brief Review: Quality Homework Assignments and Spaced Repetition
The first aspect of the Mind, Brain and Education theory discussed in this series was that of quality homework. Utilizing principals such as disfluence, interleaving and other means that force a student to think alternatively, the learning process is made more difficult. Despite the increased difficulty, however, this type of lesson improves comprehension, long-term learning and knowledge retention. The second aspect of the theory involved is that of spaced repetition, a regular–often daily–five-to ten-minute study or review of information that helps solidify the studied subject into the student’s long-term memory.
What is Retrieval Practice?
Retrieval practice refers to testing—through a teacher’s questions during interactive classes, a student’s self-testing for practice or school-administered testing to assess a student’s level of knowledge or progress. The term “test” is so familiar to us that we fail to realize the enormous implications of the process upon students’ brains. Thus, using the term retrieval practice may remind us of the cognitive aspects of testing. During tests, students are required to retrieve information laid down in neural pathways via classroom instruction, textbook reading, study with quality homework assignments and spaced repetition.
As emphasized by the Behrman House Consulting Group, however, the effect in the brain goes far beyond reaching into a cabinet and pulling out an index card with the answer written on the back. As Terry S. Kaye of Behrman House explains the process, “[e]very time we pull up a memory, we make it stronger and more lasting, so testing doesn’t just measure knowledge, it changes learning.” Considered this way, our analogy might have the student retrieve the card from the brain cabinet three or four times during the first series of tests, glance at the cabinet during the next two tests for clues to the answer and spontaneously remember–”know”–the answer spontaneously on the next test.
The Efficacy of Retrieval Practice on Learning
As Annie Murphy Paul writes in her article, “The Trouble With Homework”, students using retrieval practice for science class study retained a full 50 percent more information than untested students. The tests need not be formal, official or require a number two pencil. Rather, it’s the practice of actually retrieving information that influences learning and memory.
The Mind, Brain and Education theory and the practices suggested to take advantage of our brain’s means of preserving memory are efficient, effective and inexpensive. All they require is effort—and that in short, regular doses.
This guest post is contributed by Lindsey Harper Mac. She can be reached at Harpermac11 (a) gmail.com or @harpermac11.
Tags: Annie Murphy Paul, Behrman House Consulting Group, brain, education, Lindsey Harper Mac, mind, retrieval practice, The Trouble With Homework | No Comments »