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What Is Retrieval Practice and How Can Teachers Use It?

Retrieval practice is a learning technique that involves recalling information from memory rather than simply reading or hearing about it. The idea is that by actively recalling information from memory, you are strengthening the connections in your brain, making it easier to remember in the future.

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Improving memory, increasing understanding, and retaining information: this sounds like the pinnacle of learning for most teachers – and retrieval practice can help you achieve it.

When we think about learning, it’s easy to believe that most knowledge is taken on board during the initial stage of the process – as you give children new information through input, worksheets and presentations. In fact, cognitive science research tells us that most learning actually happens when we ask children to retrieve information that they have already been exposed to. This is called retrieval practice.

 

What Is Retrieval Practice?

Retrieval practice is a learning technique that involves recalling information from memory rather than simply reading or hearing about it. The idea is that by actively recalling information from memory, you are strengthening the connections in your brain, making it easier to remember in the future.

Retrieval practice is not a new concept – it has been around for centuries. However, in recent years, there has been a growing body of research that has shown its effectiveness in improving learning outcomes for children. For example, a study by Karpicke and Roediger (2008) found that students who practised retrieval by taking self-tests on the material they had studied performed better on a final exam compared to students who simply re-read the material.

 

Why Does Retrieval Practice Work?

So, why is retrieval practice such an effective learning technique? Scientists refer to the mental struggle that children face when they attempt to recall information as the “desirable difficulty”. This is because, while it can be tricky to recall information, it can also strengthen learning. When students repeatedly practice their knowledge, it solidifies in their long-term memory. This is opposed to techniques like ‘cramming’, which might seem easier at first, but do not result in long-term learning.

In short, retrieval practice can help students through:

  1. Active Recall – By actively recalling information from memory, you are engaging with the material on a deeper level, making it easier to remember in the future.
  2. Encoding – Retrieval practice helps to encode information into your long-term memory, making it easier to recall later.
  3. Overcoming the forgetting curve – The forgetting curve, coined by Ebbinghaus, is a term used to describe the natural decline in memory over time. Regularly recalling information helps to overcome this decline and improve long-term retention.
  4. Improved understanding – Retrieval practice helps you to identify gaps in your knowledge, allowing you to focus on areas where you need improvement. This can lead to a deeper understanding of the material.
  5. Increased motivation – Retrieval practice can be a fun and engaging activity, and students are often motivated to see how much they can remember. This can help to increase their overall motivation to learn.

 

How Can Teachers Use Retrieval Practice In The Classroom?

Now that you understand what retrieval practice is and why it works, you may wonder how to use it in your classroom. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Quizzes – Quizzes are a great way to incorporate retrieval practice into your teaching. You can create quizzes on specific topics, or you can use them as a review tool for material that has been covered in class. Don’t make your questions too hard or too easy – the aim here is to achieve “desirable difficulty”.
  2. Flashcards – Flashcards are a simple and effective tool for retrieval practice. Write a question on one side and the answer on the other. Students can then use the flashcards to test their knowledge.
  3. Recall questions – Recall questions are a form of retrieval practice that involves asking students to recall information from memory. For example, you could ask them to recall the main points from a recent lesson or chapter. Some teachers have used a “brain dump” activity, which requires students to recall all the information that they learnt in the previous lesson or even the whole topic.
  4. Homework assignments – Homework assignments can also incorporate retrieval practice. For example, you could ask students to write a summary of a recent lesson or to recall key concepts from a chapter.
  5. Group activities – Group activities that involve retrieval practice can be a fun and engaging way to incorporate this technique into your classroom. For example, you could create a scavenger hunt where students have to recall information from previous lessons, or you could play a game of trivia where students have to recall facts and figures.

 

Incorporating Retrieval Into Your Teaching And Learning Strategies

Incorporating retrieval practice into your teaching and learning strategies can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Whether you use quizzes, flashcards, recall questions, homework assignments, or group activities, the key is to make retrieval practice an integral part of your teaching.

To get started, try incorporating retrieval practice into one or two lessons each week. As you become more comfortable with the technique, you can gradually increase the frequency and complexity of the activities.

It’s also important to be flexible and adaptable. Not all students learn in the same way, and what works for one student may not work for another. By being open to trying different approaches, you can find the best methods for your students and create a learning environment that is both effective and engaging.

 

In Summary

Retrieval practice is a powerful learning technique. Not only can it help improve students’ memory, but also increase understanding and boost their retention of information. Whether you use quizzes, flashcards, recall questions, self-tests, homework assignments, or group activities, retrieval practice is a simple and effective way to incorporate this technique into your teaching.

If you’re interested in learning more about teaching and learning strategies, Teach HQ Limited offers a range of courses that may be of interest. These courses can help you develop your skills and knowledge and give you the tools you need to create an effective and engaging learning environment for your students.

In conclusion, retrieval practice is an evidence-based learning technique that can help you improve your student’s learning outcomes and boost their retention of information. Whether you’re a seasoned teacher or a new educator, incorporating retrieval practice into your teaching and learning strategies is a simple and effective way to help your students succeed.

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