Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the ‘most followed educators’on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the ‘500 Most Influential People in Britain’ by The Sunday Times as a result of…
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How can we use science to improve how we teach and learn?
Effective learning strategies are underused by learners, and often false beliefs about learning are embedded but ineffective.
In a new article, the science of effective learning with spacing and retrieval practice (Carpenter et al., 2022) research the psychology of learning with some straightforward ways to enhance learning.
This particular piece of research highlights a meta-analysis, and the benefits of spacing on the retention of information (over at least one day) can be sizable. This research ranges from three-year-old children learning basic concepts and categories, signposting Vlach et al., 2008 as one example.
Whilst we should continue to be excited about retrieval and spaced practice recommendations, as professionals, we should work hard to learn how recommendations can be applied in early years settings.
By doing so, we can support teachers working with children at the most critical time of schooling.
This aside, I’ve offered an important graphic from the research paper.
Knowledge vs Transfer
“Spacing is a way to structure or schedule learning activities over time, whereas retrieval practice is a learning activity that can be incorporated within a broader structured plan (how to learn effectively).”
Repeated practice opportunities spaced apart are more effective than the number of practice opportunities that occur closer together. When developing metacognition and critical thinking, we need our students to remember information and apply what they know in an unfamiliar situation.
If we take this example of the Pythagorean theorem, what we as teachers want our young people to do is the following:
Image: Carpenter et al., 2022
Knowledge retention: We need the student to know the relationship between the lengths of three sides of a right-angled triangle. A knowledge retention test would require students to remember some piece of information that they have learned about the theorem, such as the formula for finding the length of the hypotenuse (part a).
A knowledge transfer test would require students to answer a novel question demonstrating understanding or applying the learned information, in a new context. This might involve calculating the hypotenuse using values given for the other two sides of a new triangle (part b) or applying the theorem to a new situation involving a real-world example (part c).
In the superb book, Powerful Teaching (Agarwal and Bain, 2019) provides teachers with a book dedicated purely to retrieval practice, with a wide range of resources to support transfer, spaced and interleaving practice. You can download some of my resources inspired by the book.
Teachers must have clear curriculum plans that consider what knowledge has to be learned and how this connects to developing schema.
The research from cognitive science suggests that spacing and retrieval practice “reliably enhance learning” (Carpenter et al., 2022), however, these strategies are under use by students due to false beliefs about effective learning.
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