‘Tis the Season for Reviewing

In school settings, December frequently signals the end of the first semester. Whether the semester actually ends prior to the Christmas holidays or shortly after students return in January, many teachers find themselves using the time to help students review what they have learned over the course of the semester. This week’s OnPractice is devoted to looking at how to practically apply some of the recent research about the way the brain learns, remembers, and retrieves information.

The Research:

According to researchers Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger, III, & Mark A. McDaniel, “learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful.”[1]  Asking students to retrieve information is a far better way to help them learn it than simply having them review and re-read it. While retrieval practices—such as frequent quizzing—are initially harder for students, it is precisely this effort that helps the learning to stick. Even if students get the answer wrong the first time, they are more likely to get it correct the next time they have to retrieve it.

Some Practical Applications:

Turn frequent quizzing practices into games by adding an element of competition.

Around the World: Younger students often enjoy this quiz game where students attempt to move all the way around the classroom and return to their seats by correctly answering questions. To play, start with a pair of students in adjacent seats. Ask the pair a question. The one who answers correctly first moves on to challenge the person in the next seat. Those who answer incorrectly or who are beat to the answer sit in the seat of the winner. Play continues until one student has moved all the way around the world.
Head to Head:  In this game, students form two lines. The first person in each line is asked a question, and the one who gets the answer correct first gets to sit down (or, when used as an exit game, leave the room). The remaining person moves to the back of the opposite line. Play continues until all players have answered a question correctly.

Use quizzes as a means to review for a test.

A day or two before a test, give students a short quiz over the information. Correct the quiz in class. Don’t assign a grade. Students can use the quiz to help them determine what concepts they still don’t understand and to direct further studying. This can be a helpful tool—especially for older students.

The Research:

Another technique that research has shown to be effective in helping students learn is that of mixed practice. This goes hand-in-hand with the research on effortful learning. Students who are asked to discriminate among types of problems before solving them actually do better than those who have only seen the same type of problem or concept massed together. “Research shows unequivocally that mastery and long-term retention are much better if you interleave practice than if you mass it.”[2]

A Practical Application:

Shuffle the flashcards. In other words, don’t always review material in the same order. While it may make sense to teach new material in a specific order—some skills and content obviously build on prior learning—when you are reviewing, change things up. Throw in a word from a previous vocabulary lesson. Ask about a concept you learned two chapters earlier. Give the students a variety types of math problems to solve. Students will have to work to recall this information, and that effort will help cement the learning.

For more review ideas, check out the Dec. 4, 2013 blog.  If you would like to share review ideas with us, add a comment to the OnPractice blog.

Becky Hunsberger
Teacher Education Services

[1] Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger, III, & Mark A. McDaniel.  Make it Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning.  Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014.  p. 3.
[2] –.  p. 50.
Photo Credits:  Around the World.  Rex Pe via Compfight cc.  Chalkboard. 

via Compfight cc.

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