Retrieval Practice – you can’t afford not to!

Two inputs this week prompted this blog. One was a conversation with a science teacher on Twitter, who will remain nameless but I will paraphrase their comments. Another was catching up with the YouTube feed of Computer Science gurus Craig’n’Dave, in particular this video on the Forgetting Curve.

Back to Twitter. That science teacher indicated that she finished the content by March in Year 11, and switched to revision. I and others suggested slowing down, focusing on quality first teaching (teaching it the first time more effectively so they retain more knowledge) and retrieval practice (regularly revisiting prior material, again to retain more). Her response was “you can’t break a unit to revise; you’re sacrificing one unit to revise unrelated material”.

My response was that you can start every lesson with some retrieval practice and then continue with the new content. It’s a very powerful tactic that might extend your teaching calendar so you have less time to “revise” but you’ve been revising as you go anyway, so this is not a sacrifice at all, it is a powerful teaching technique.

I have worked in a department where we galloped through the material. I was aware they were not getting it, and those that were getting it were obviously forgetting it. I was powerless to change the curriculum back then. Now I am my own boss I can set my own curriculum. I have built in retrieval practice to every lesson, first prompted by this blog, and the students are retaining the knowledge as we go, as evidenced by my synoptic testing (testing “everything we learned so far” not just topic tests). I use these resources below, because I rarely make things myself, just use the best tools out there.

Adding retrieval practice to your lessons is not a “sacrifice” – you really can’t afford not to.


By mraharrisoncs

Freelance consultant, teacher and author, professional development lead for the NCCE, CAS Master Teacher, Computer Science lecturer.

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