29 Nov 2017

Research School Teaching Tip – Flashcards

Research School Teaching Tip – Flashcards

As is customary in most schools, at Sandringham, we try to ensure that when all staff gather together that we take opportunities to focus on learning. Our Research School team have been providing monthly teaching tips in our morning staff briefings which aim to build teachers’ knowledge about the research on a particular aspect of practice, and propose suggestions for how to apply this in practice.

The first of these this year concerned flashcards. Flashcards are being used regularly by our students in Key Stages 4 and 5 to ensure their learning sticks. The Research School team took the opportunity to remind staff of some research behind why flashcards can form part of an effective part of a revision strategy. We also took the opportunity to consider how students were using them and how they could use them more effectively still.

You can click to see the presentation that we shared: Research School Teaching Tip – November 2017

In the presentation we reminded teachers of the research findings which suggest that flashcards can support learning because they:

  • enable students to self-test – what researchers call retrieval practice
  • enable students to recall information forcing them to pull their knowledge “out” and examine what they know
  • enable students to struggle when they try to recall the answer and it’s precisely this “struggle” or challenge that improves and strengthens their memory
  • enables students to see correct answers shortly after testing themselves which can check knowledge and prevent misconceptions setting in
  • enables to build knowledge about their own strengths and weaknesses i.e. it builds their metacognition.

The presentation then shares guidance on how to design flashcards effectively and how students can manage and elaborate on them once they have created sets.

For more information about retrieval practice, I would recommend reading these websites and books:

Dr Pooja Agarwal’s excellent website on retrieval practice: https://www.retrievalpractice.org/

The Learning Scientists on retrieval practice: http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/6/23-1

The Learning Scientists on using flashcards: http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/2/20-1

John Dunlosky’s much-read article ‘Strengthening the Student Toolbox: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf

Make it Stick: The science of successful learning: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Make-Stick-Science-Successful-Learning/dp/0674729013

If you have experiences of using flashcards, we would be really pleased to hear from you.