Speaker write-up from Learning and the Brain Conference, February 12-14
Making it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning and Memory, Henry Roediger author of Make it Stick
I first heard Henry Roediger speak on an American RadioWorks podcast. He argued that students today often study in a way that helps them remember just enough information to pass a test (i.e. cramming), but not in a way that really puts the information into our long term memories.
His solution: Spend as much time (or more) testing yourself as you do reviewing. He argues that the best way to learn something new is to practice getting that information out of your brain rather than focus only on getting it in. Students often spend their time highlighting and re-reading notes and class materials in an attempt to memorize the information. He argues that this leads to an “Illusion of Mastery” (a state in which the learner thinks they know the material because they have reviewed it multiple times), but in fact only discover once they practice it what they know or don’t know.
Rather, students need to spend more time testing themselves on the material so that they will more quickly understand what materials need further review and practice and the testing helps move the information from their short to long term memory. Testing techniques include using flashcards, writing out or talking out answers to essay questions, teaching others and working in study groups. In the ideal situation students test themselves in the way in which the teacher will assess them.
Roediger also points out that it’s best to space out study sessions over multiple days over a week rather than cramming it all in one night before. The brain has the capacity to remember information on a short term basis but without doing activities that practice getting it out that information will quickly disappear.
Teachers can support student learning by incorporating regular low stakes assessments in their pedagogy. This provides students retrieval practice of key concepts, lessens text anxiety due to increased frequency of assessments, and holds students accountable for material covered in class and at home. Regular assessments provide teachers insight into what students have or have not learned and increases student engagement because they know they will be responsible for knowing materials covered both in class and at home.