Reflections on Chapter 3 of “Making is Stick”

I’m reading Making it Stick written by Brown, Roedigger, and McDaniel this summer. I’ve blogged previously about my learning here and here. Chapter three of this book emphasizes using various retrieval practice techniques. Here are a few takeaways from this chapter.

  1. Retrieval Practice should be spaced: According to the authors spacing practice initially feels less productive but in the long-term promotes “durable learning”.
  2. Retrieval Practice is most effective if is interleaved: Cumulative review and cycling back develops discernment skills and retention.
  3. Varying retrieval practice: Critical for discernment and long-term retention as well.
  4. Discernment promotes higher learning: Finding differences is more beneficial for learning and retention than finding common traits or similarities.
  5. When asked, kids still report they prefer massed learning: I guess teachers and learners both have some bad habits to shake off.

I am enjoying this text and am excited to try out my new learning with my classes and with my own children. I will be starting my 27th year very soon and hope to be a roll model for life long learning for my colleagues.

Still Getting After It,



Review Game Rebel

I don’t like using competition for summative assessment reviews. Kahoot and Jeopardy type games are fun, sometimes. Useful, sometimes. I don’t believe these type of reviews are valuable for many students. Learners who are competitive and already understand the material seem to be the ones who enjoy these games the most. As a student, I enjoyed these timed review games because I knew my stuff and wanted show it. I realized even back then, these type of games must be, at best, of limited value for many  and painful, at worst, for other students.

To score well on these games you must be quick and know the material. Well, if you already know the material, the games are not incredibly useful. If you still haven’t mastered topics reviewed in the game, it is my opinion there isn’t much improvement in understanding gained from a competitive game atmosphere. Have you ever noticed some of your students give up and stop playing? I have. When my own children report their review session for a test was spent playing a competitive game, my heart sinks a little. I know that the game may have been of little help.

We play Kahoot in my classes. It’s fun, and I like using it for a warm-up or a “break in the action”. I offer prizes for the leaderboard. When I do choose to play Kahoot I usually include several fun non-subject related games. They have many of those pre-made on the website. I do this so more of my students feel like they have a chance to shine and “win”. I also love to play Kahoot in my advisory class. It would be fun to make a Kindred Advisory game that is all about my students. Now, that would be fun and useful for building community.

So, what do I use for review? Sometimes just question and answer. I know this has limited value, also. I like to use review stations and scavenger hunts. I like to put representative problems on the white board and have groups solve and present to the rest of the class. Speed Dating  is another option. What do you use for review in your classroom?

Shaking Off Bad Habits

I wrote yesterday about my learning from Chapter One of Make it Stick. One of my take aways from this chapter that I struggled with is having students solve problems before instruction. I wrote that as a learner I would have had too much anxiety struggling with something that I haven’t been taught. I like knowing I can do some skill before concerning myself with the meaning. Backwards, I know.

While discussing this with my math teacher friend and mentor, @druinok, I admitted that this belief has likely held my students back. I mean, I’ve used discovery learning or inquiry learning with my students. I’ve even created a number of activities that allow students to explore topics before instruction or used some created by my amazing twitter colleagues.  But, I never really believed in their efficacy. I think my perceived past learning style biased me against these methods. That’s a shame. I wonder how many of my students craved exploration to make meaning while I was providing my meaning?

So, I’m going to stop imposing my perceived learning style on my students. I’m going to shake off my bad habits and commit to varied forms of instruction and inquiry to meet the needs of all learners.

I’m very grateful that twitter and blogging offer a safe and nurturing environment in which I may explore my thoughts around teaching and learning. I’m fortunate to have so many partners in mathematics education to hold me accountable and challenge me to improve my practice. Blessings to you all.


Hoping to “Make it Stick”

I’m joining the Blog August group. I’m not sure I can keep up the pace, but here it goes.

I’m reading Make it Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel as a part of a twitter book study. Except, I haven’t joined in on the twitter chat yet. I learned about the group while visiting an amusement park with my teenage sons and their friends. I quickly read a complimentary chapter while waiting for the teens to finish their day at the park. I wasn’t able to join the chat, but I still have some initial take aways.

My first reaction was this is something I can really use in my classes and at home. In fact, my new learning from this book may shake me out of some old patterns.

Okay, here are some of my take aways:

  1. Memorizing some things is critical.
  2. Learning is work.
  3. The harder the work to learn something , the easier it is to retain.
  4. Retrieval practice (self-quizzes) is a better strategy for knowledge retention than re-reading text selections or notes.
  5. Fluency with text or notes tricks us into thinking we are learning and retaining.
  6. Trying to solve a problem before teacher instruction is better for learning.

After my first skim reading of chapter one at the amusement park, I took issue with take away number six. My thought was that I would have experienced too much anxiety as a learner to gain anything from this strategy. I have this notion that I needed to know how to solve math problems before I can find meaning in the mathematics. I believed I needed to be certain I could do them and “get a good grade” first before I was comfortable to learn the context of the mathematics. I realize that is opposite of what we consider good pedagogy. I’m having trouble even writing these backwards ideas for my own learning. But, it gets worse…

More tomorrow on my epiphany.