Do these strategies improve more than just memory?
Yes! When students engage in retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback as learning strategies, research demonstrates that improvements in long-term learning are flexible. These four strategies:
Improve complex thinking and application skills
Improve organization of knowledge
Improve transfer of knowledge to new concepts
In other words, these strategies don’t just lead to memorization - they increase understanding. Students can adapt their knowledge to new situations, novel questions, and related contexts.
How often should I use these strategies?
The more the better, and space it out. Practice makes perfect, and the more the retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback the harder it is to forget information. In addition, spacing it out makes retrieval more challenging, and the more challenging the retrieval practice, the better. Students might forget in between spaced sessions – that’s normal. Students will also improve their learning more quickly each time they engage in retrieval practice.
Should I provide retrieval practice before, during, or after a lesson?
Retrieval practice is most robust if it takes place after a lesson. Students and educators should be encouraged to know that the precise schedule of retrieval practice can be flexible. Also, don't give students homework on what they learned in class earlier that day – challenge them by providing retrieval activities on content learned the prior week.
Should I include feedback after retrieval practice?
Yes! Feedback helps improve students’ metacognition and transfer of knowledge. Without feedback, students don’t know what they got correct and what they got incorrect during retrieval practice. Feedback does not mean more work for you, grading more quizzes and assignments. Simply discuss or display the answers and have students self-grade their own retrieval practice. Also, the more elaborate the feedback (e.g., with explanations), the more powerful.
Should retrieval practice questions be fact-based or more complex?
Use a variety! Research demonstrates that different questions improve learning in different ways. If you want to boost fact learning, use fact-based questions. If you want to enhance complex thinking skills, use concept-based and higher order questions. Try to avoid using only one type.
Should retrieval practice questions be multiple-choice, short answer, or essay?
All of the above! Our research demonstrates that both multiple-choice and short answer retrieval practice enhance learning. In classroom research, the retrieval benefits from multiple-choice vs. short answer quizzes appear to be similar. In other words, use what's easiest for you. Computer software, online websites, and mobile apps are typically used for multiple-choice questions. Short answer writing prompts that are quick to complete and easy to follow up with feedback are also very beneficial.
Should I give retrieval practice for a grade?
No! In fact, providing retrieval practice without points or a grade and keeping it low-stakes will maintain focus on retrieval practice as a learning strategy, not an assessment tool. Students will feel less pressured and more comfortable when making mistakes (which is good for learning!), you can implement challenging retrieval practice without worrying about negative consequences to grades (and you’ll likely see grades increase!), and parents won’t worry that retrieval practice is standardized testing in disguise (it’s not!). Provide feedback, not grades or points, and keep it low-stakes.
Does retrieval practice increase test anxiety?
No, in fact it decreases test anxiety! Students not only become used to the process of retrieval, but because learning increases, they become more comfortable with course content and less anxious about upcoming exams. Our surveys of middle school and high school students confirm that 72% report a decrease in test anxiety by the end of the school year.
If I spend time using retrieval practice, how can I cover the same amount of material?
Retrieval practice doesn't take more classroom time - it involves using classroom time more effectively and efficiently. Think about the activities you currently use in class. How can you be sure that students are learning when you present material? Swap less effective activities with retrieval practice strategies. You'll spend the same amount of time teaching, but your strategies will be more effective and efficient.
Do I need to change my course design?
No! You can keep your course design exactly the same. We simply suggest that you insert retrieval practice activities during or after your lessons to improve students' learning and metacognition. You can teach and use your typical activities in exactly the same way as you have been doing, just add a few opportunities to help students retrieve and get information “out.”
Do I need to change my textbook?
No! Retrieval practice works with any textbook materials, especially those that come with practice questions. In our research, we used teachers' textbook materials and we consistently found that retrieval practice was better for learning than was re-reading or re-studying textbook material without retrieval practice. In other words, we did not need to change the instructors textbooks, course materials, or curricula in order to demonstrate large benefits from retrieval practice on learning.
How is retrieval practice different from cold calling?
Teachers often use retrieval practice in their classrooms by simply asking questions throughout their lessons and calling on students to provide a response (also known as "cold calling"). Teachers in our focus groups said that they preferred retrieval practice strategies because they engage the entire class. The standard cold calling procedure, on the other hand, allows students who were not called to be "off the hook." By engaging every student in retrieval practice, every student reaps its benefits for long-term learning.
What questions would you like us to include? We appreciate your feedback!