Review. Make it Stick: The Science of Succesful Learning. Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniel.

This book has transformed the way that I approach Teaching and Learning within the classroom and it has some great insights into how to improve students’ learning.

Importantly, “learning that’s easy is like writing in sand: it’s here today, gone tomorrow.”  The book stresses that learning is deeper when effortful.

Secondly, one of the most striking points for me is that testing can actually help students learn.  It appears that the act of retrieving information from the brain actually strengthens that memory.  The authors stress that retrieving information is always much more impactful than covering the same topic again or simply re-reading information.

The authors also discuss how spacing and interleaving topics is much better for long term retention of knowledge.  Spaced learning is when there is a deliberate break between learning episodes so that some of the learning is lost between teaching them again.  This has been shown to increase long term retention of topics.

Interleaved practice is when you mix up topics (ABCABCABC)  so that a student is not doing blocked practice where a topic is taught once before students move on (AAABBBCCC).  As you can see, interleaving also benefits from the spaced effect too as there is a small time interval before a topic is taught again.

Massed/Blocked practice is likely to lead to higher levels of  performance, which is why students and teachers often prefer to teach this way, yet it is an illusion as it is argued that it doesn’t lead to such gains in long term retention.  Alternatively, spaced and interleaved practice may lead to lower in-class performance but higher long term benefits so teachers should believe in their approaches and trust the benefits will be seen in the longer term.

This book has provided me with so many ideas to take into the classroom and I hope some of the comments and implications are useful.

Possible practical implications

1) Use low stakes tests frequently to provide opportunities for your students to practice retrieving information. By providing feedback, students strengthen their memories, enhancing long term learning.

2) Try and plan for activities or topics to be more spaced out.  By having an interval between teaching episodes, allowing some interleaving too, students should increase their long term retention.

3) Get students to struggle with problems before showing them how to do it.  The generation effect has shown students will better learn it and knowledge will be more durable.

4) Get students to write a reflective paragraph on what they’ve learnt.  It is a difficult skill to generate their own paragraph but it will help strengthen the knowledge connections in their brain.

5) Use tests to re-cap topics previously taught rather than simply re-reading or re-doing activities with them.

6) Instead of Visual, Audio and Kinesthetic (VAK) learning styles, it is argued that the best way of teaching is for the method of instruction to match the type of topic being taught.

Another classic Teaching and Learning book that every educationalist will take so much from.  A highly, highly recommended read for any teacher out there willing to learn more about the science behind learning:


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