True or false? Research into retrieval practice is older than Mickey Mouse who’s 93. It’s true. Mini (or Minnie) quiz over.
If you don’t believe it, read an illuminating blog by Prof Rob Coe entitled Does research on retrieval practice translate into classroom practice? This question is so good that, as part of my school’s CPD about memory and pedagogy, I decided to ask colleagues what they think about strategies they use to hone children’s retention and retrieval of learning.
The sequence of review, teach (explicit instruction), practice, apply is well established, especially for phonics. Colleagues can see that retrieval practice may help to strengthen knowledge in other subjects too. They also understand that chunking and revisiting learning is beneficial for all children, especially those with additional needs.
Quizzing is a popular review strategy. For example, in Geography, children name the continents and oceans at the start of every lesson. Spelling quizzes invite children to spot deliberate misuse of prefixes, there are Music quizzes based on previous learning (leading up to an end of unit quiz) and quizzes to review understanding of elements of Maths before introducing new concepts.
Some colleagues observe that quizzing is most effective for achieving short-term learning goals and for providing quick reference points to identify potential areas for revision. Others note that a lot of practice is needed before thinking that learning is secure. Nor should it be assumed that quizzing at the start of lessons alone can transfer learning from the working to long term memory. It needs to happen during lessons as well. This takes time and skill.
PE is rarely mentioned in the same breath as memory, pedagogy and learning. However, PE lessons incorporate carousel learning to ensure children practice skills weekly. It involves using a variety of activities within one session, swiftly moving from one activity to another to secure sports skills on the journey to autonomy. Questions are asked to aid retention and retrieval of key knowledge.
In school, care is taken to phrase questions concisely to reduce cognitive load. However, we need to check understanding as well as recall. Prof Coe’s article explains that the effectiveness of quizzing may lessen when learning material becomes more complex. Therefore, it’s necessary to create strong, challenging questions. A future EEF Teacher Choices trial – A Winning Start – aims to explore whether a quiz or discussion-based starter leads to better learning.
Alongside quizzing, children at my school engage in metacognitive talk with teachers and talk partners, explaining what they’re doing while doing it and explaining how they’d tackle questions. Children are more becoming confident about explaining their learning during discussions.
Some children struggle to engage with learning in class, so colleagues are supported to adapt lessons for delivery outside. Learners have a chance to shine in another environment. In time, this may translate into more confidence and improved behaviour in class.
As mentioned, the strategies discussed here were used before our CPD about pedagogy, memory and learning. They’re used extensively in many schools. Yet, just as children need to revise, adults do too. Longevity of practice can lead to complacency, but it isn’t inevitable. We’ll need to continually evaluate strategies to facilitate the best possible outcomes for children and our development as reflective practitioners.
Thanks to research, it shouldn’t take another century to learn more about what works.
Allison Carvalho is a Specialist Teacher and Dyslexia Assessor at Kaizen Primary School in Plaistow, east London.
EEF blog: Does research on retrieval practice translate into classroom practice? by Prof Rob Coe.
EEF Guidance Report: Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools
Trialled and Tested podcast: Metacognition and self-regulated learning
Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction