Make It Stick - The Science of Successful Learning

Join Steve Thygesen, Middle School Principal on October 27 from 5-6 pm for the K-12 Parent Workshop - Make It Stick. 
Video Transcription:

One of the big questions we ask ourselves as teachers at PRA is not what are we teaching, but what are the kids learning? The latter being the most important product of a school. It is imperative on all of us as a community to ensure that our kids are learning as much as possible. Regarding learning, it is just as important that our kids know how to learn, not just what to learn. If we can help our kids understand how to learn, it will be a skill that will yield exponential benefits in their lives. Make it stick. The science of successful learning is one of our favorite books because it uses empirical research to debunk the efficacy of our most popular study habits and offer strategies we can employ to foster true learning.

Today we're going to focus on the first four chapters of Make It Stick, that cover how learning is misunderstood, the importance of retrieval, how to mix up your practice, and how to embrace the difficulties in learning as a positive development. As parents, students, and lifelong learners, there is much we can do to improve our study habits in order to strengthen our retention and application. Learning how to study and how to learn will benefit our kids in the classroom and in their high stakes testing as we referenced in our last video on the importance of testing. We'll talk more about Make It Stick in the remaining chapters at our parent coffee on October 27th at 5:00 PM.

As we discussed in the previous video, yes, students will have purposeful homework. Yes, it might be up to 90 minutes by their eighth grade year, and yes, they should be using their study held time wisely. Learning to study is a skill and like every skill it needs to be practiced. Throughout these next few slides, listen with an open mind as much of this information is vastly different than what we previously knew and quite possibly how we as now adults practiced when we were young.

To learn retrieve, let's start by saying that we've been doing things wrong for as long as we've been students. Rereading texts and cramming notes has been the preferred method of study for most of us, but like a sugar high that produces a fake and fleeting burst of energy, their impact is short-lived and the knowledge we think we've gained is quickly forgotten forever. In spite of the evidence, cramming and rereading persists because they give us the illusion of learning and make us think they're effective. They're not, and there is a better way to study called retrieval.

Retrieval is the process of fully extracting information from long-term memory. What are the ways to practice retrieval? In a word, testing. "The power of retrieval as a learning tool is known amongst psychologists as the testing effect." Empirical research proves that practicing retrieval through testing makes learning sticks significantly more than reviewing and rereading original material. Repeat and recall appears to help memory consolidate information and strengthen and multiply the neural routes by which the knowledge can later be retrieved. In a 1978 study, cramming led to slightly higher scores on an immediate test, but resulted in faster forgetting compared to retrieval. In a second test only two days later, the crammers slash rereaders forgot 50% of what they recalled on the initial test. While those who practiced retrieval only forgot 13% of what they learned.

In another study where students heard a story that named 60 concrete objects, those who were tested immediately after exposure recalled 53% of the objects on an initial test and 39% a week later. Those who weren't immediately tested only recalled 28% of the information a week later, a lower performance by 11%. To further this study, a group of students who were tested three times after the initial exposure to information were able to recall 53% of the information a week later, the same amount of recall on the initial test.

Retrieval practice can be enhanced by the practice of spacing and interleaving. Spacing is the practice of allowing time in between testing, a process that leads a stronger long-term retention because it allows for some forgetting. That requires more effort to retrieve the information from long term memory. The additional effort required to get this information strengthens the memory for future use. An example of this would be to space your practice of flashcards or self quizzing by a day, than two days, three days, and so on. The longer you are able to space the practice while still being able to recall the information, the more entrenched the memories become.

Interleaving, or the practice of mixing up your study topics is another way to strengthen your retrieval practice. For example, if a student uses interleaving to practice for an exam, they would mix up the different types of questions while studying.

This is in opposition to the more common blocked practice that would have one studying the same type of question over and over. The latter seems easier and produces an illusion of learning that is always an enticing shortcut. As teachers, students, and parents, adding spacing and interleaving to our study and testing routine is a research based strategy for improving retention and learning.

No pain, no gain is a cliche we often apply to physical activity, but one that is just as apt for mental activity. We often confuse easy information as learning and perceive struggling to grasp a concept as a bad thing. On the contrary, Make It Stick demonstrates that effortful learning or struggling is a positive process that yields stronger and longer lasting learning. Embracing the struggle to learn is a good thing with the understanding that intelligence isn't fixed. It's a part of acquiring the growth mindset and our fundamental elements to learning and achievement. Let's work together as a community to help our kids acquire these values.

Today we touched on the strategies of retrieval, testing, spaced practice, and interleaving, but there is so much more to Make It Stick that will help you avoid the illusions of knowing, to get beyond learning styles, to increase your abilities and to find concrete strategies to help you and your student become better learners. Our first piece of advice is to read, Make It Stick. The clock is ticking and the learners in your life can benefit immediately by learning how to learn.

Our next piece of advice is to join us on October 27th in the High School Library Media Center from five to 6:00 PM so we can talk about the book and all things learning. This is your personal invitation to join Casey, and me, and your community members to learn from each other, have fun, and to talk about and Make It Stick.