Monday, August 8, 2016

#makeitstick - My first thoughts

At TMC I sat in Anna Vance's (formerly Hester) presentation about using the ideas from the book Make it Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel (here's her slides). The premise is how to run a class so that students more easily remember the things they have been taught. Because I know we've all been in both situtations:
1.  "We never learned this!" when referring to fractions/linear functions/factoring
2. "I don't remember how to do any of this" in the middle of a test.

I ended up ordering the book that evening as I sat in my dorm room in Augsburg.  It came pretty quickly, but life got in the way and I didn't even pick it up until heading to the pool today with the kids.

So now 102 pages in (the kids both had friends there to keep them occupied!) I have a lot of ideas.  For now I want to make note of some of the passages I've highlighted:
On pg. 3-5:

  • Learning is deeper and more durable when it's effortful.
  • We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we're not.
  • Retrieval practice - recalling facts or concepts or events from memory - is a more effective learning strategy than review by rereading.
  • Trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning...
  • All new learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge.
  • Elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know.
These were in the "Claims We Make in This Book" section and would be expounded on later.

At this point I was thinking about a student I had in class last year. He was a very curious, interested student (with horrible handwriting) and insisted on covering every page of fill-in notes with his own summaries of things. And then he'd tell me that he was going to go home and re-write and re-organize his thoughts. This boy asked a lot of questions. But you know what?  He got it. He demolished the exam.  And he was doing so much of what I was reading about today on his own.  I'm thinking about tracking him down this year (although he's the type that will stop by to visit regularly) to ask him how he got started doing this.

On pg. 16, in reference to a student who had studied diligently and done poorly on an exam:
"Had he used the set of key concepts in the back of each chapter to test himself? Could he look at a concept like "conditioned stimulus", define it, and use it in a paragraph? While he was reading, had he thought of converting the main points of the text into a series of questions and then later tried to answer them while he was studying? Had he at least rephrased the main ideas in his own words as he read? Had he tried to relate them to what he already knew? Had he looked for examples outside the text? The answer was no in every case."

I never learned how to study. I was lucky enough not to have to. But how many students also haven't learned how to study and do poorly because of it?  The authors are emphasizing that "studying" doesn't mean re-reading textbooks or notes. It means doing.

On pg. 20, when referencing the importance of testing:
"In effect, retrieval - testing- interrupts forgetting."

Now this doesn't have to be a major unit test. And it shouldn't. But what about a 2-question feedback only quiz the day after you learn something?  

On pg. 28:
"Retrieval must be repeated again and again, in spaced out sessions so that the recall, rather than becoming a mindless recitation, requires some cognitive effort."

It doesn't work to give a quiz in class after practicing the one topic for 3 days in a row. Sure, the students should do well on it, because that's the only thing they've been focusing on. But will they remember how to do that same thing in a week? Or 3 months later on the exam? Such is the importance of spaced out practice/retrieval of knowledge.

On pg. 32: 
"When retrieval practice is spaced, allowing some forgetting to occur between tests, it leads to stronger long-term retention than when it is massed."

On pg. 21:
"One of the best habits a learner can instill in herself is regular self-quizzing to recalibrate her understanding of what she does and does not know."

On pg. 43:
"When the mind has to work, learning sticks better."

Don't you find this to be true?!  If I struggle with something that I'm finally able to conquer I tend to remember my solutions more.

The next section in the book dealt with what they call "Interleaved" practice. Not just doing one thing at a time, but mixing up topics and making the students actually think about what they're doing and when they should do it.

On pg. 53:
"For our learning to have practical value, we must be adept at discerning "What kind of problem is this?" so we can select and apply an appropriate solution.

I try and do this, especially when dealing with quadratic equations. I make an effort to have the kids talk about what method of solving is most appropriate for different types of equations. Sure, you can use the Quadratic Formula 20 times in a row, but is that necessary?! Is it the most expedient, appropriate method of solving x^2 = 40?

There's also been a lot of talk in the book about giving feedback to students and giving them the opportunity to work through the material in their own words. But I hate to be too wordy and am going to save that for my next post. Hopefully it'll come with some more concrete ideas of what I want to do in class to help this process!


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