How can we reduce student anxiety?

Retrieval is great. But how do I get my students on board?

This is a question we get often – for good reason. Retrieval is associated with assessment, and assessment is associated with anxiety. We know that retrieval practice is a learning strategynot an assessment strategy, but our students may feel otherwise. How can we "package" retrieval practice for our students?

How can we flip retrieval practice from a negative to a positive?

Here are some recommendations and research we'd like to share on reducing students' anxiety. How do you do this in your classroom? Share your strategies on Twitter and via email. It's time to flip retrieval to a positive.


Flip Retrieval From a Negative to a Positive

In order to flip retrieval practice from a negative activity to a positive strategy, here are four recommendations:

  1. Start a discussion about how we use retrieval in everyday life – thinking about what we did last weekend, remembering a quote from a favorite movie, etc. Ask students: Do these types of retrieval activities feel negative? Do they make you anxious? Why not?

  2. Emphasize that retrieval in the classroom is similar to retrieval outside the classroom. Drawing on students' explanations from the first point helps draw this parallel. When retrieval is no-stakes, we can learn from our experiences without consequences.

  3. Acknowledge that the process of retrieval can feel challenging. This is a good thing for learning! Retrieval is a "desirable difficulty" that has large benefits down the road.

  4. Explain that, based on decades of research, retrieval practice helps students learn more and learn longer. This means that students may study outside of class less because they're remembering more of what they learned during class.

In a large survey of nearly 1,500 middle school and high school students over 7 years, 72% of students reported feeling less anxious in their classes with retrieval practice compared to their classes without retrieval practice by the end of the year. Pretty cool, right?

As some added encouragement, here's a quote we received from a college student: "Our weekly retrieval practices were a really great way to reinforce what we learned and I feel like they also set us up for better grades in the class!"

Let us know how you implement the recommendations above and help us brainstorm more classroom strategies.

"Classroom-based programs of retrieval practice reduce middle school and high school students' test anxiety"
Pooja K. Agarwal, Laura D'Antonio, Henry L. Roediger, III, Kathleen B. McDermott, & Mark A. McDaniel
Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (2014)


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 Want more strategies for the classroom?

Our Retrieval Practice Guide has information on the survey we mentioned above, as well as more recommendations for classroom implementation. Download it, print it, share it! (Same goes for our Interleaving Guide, too.)