Retrieval practice and why it works 🤩
Retrieval practice is a strategy of deliberately recalling information, which forces us pull our knowledge “out” and examine what we know. Retrieval practice works because learning is deeper and more durable when it is effortful. Retrieval strengthens the memory and interrupts the ‘forgetting’ process.
How can I use retrieval practice to make me a better tutor? 💡
- Ask questions. One of the most effective ways to use retrieval practice is to ask your students questions about the material. This can be done through oral review, written practice problems, or quizzes.
- Complete practice exams without notes, under time pressure and hand-written. This way, they are training under exam conditions and are forced to retrieve from their memory any knowledge they have on the topic. This is also a very fast way to identify which areas a student needs to focus more on.
- Show your students how to revise their study notes with active recall. Re-reading notes again and again can feel productive, but it doesn't actually help students recall information and is not useful for their learning. Instead, ask students to look at one section of their notes, look up from their notes, then close their eyes and try to recall what they have just read inside their head or out loud (talking to themselves). The more effort needed to recall the information, the more they'll be able to retain the information.
- As students re-read their notes, ask them to note down things they don't understand or questions they have. Take the following example: ‘The loss leaders pricing strategy involves a business selling its products at or below the cost of the good/service sold. This means that the business will not make any profit from each unit sold unless the customer also purchases other products/services with it." After reading this, a student may write the question: ‘Why does the loss leaders pricing strategy have the potential to increase a business’s market share/encourage customer loyalty?’ The idea is for students to write down pertinent questions that jog their memory of the important points.
- Encourage self-testing. Encourage your students to test themselves on the material, either through self-quizzing or by creating their own practice problems. This can help to reinforce the material and improve retention. Flashcards are a useful tool for retrieval practice.
Examples of advanced retrieval practice ✍️
When your students need to remember something important (e.g. Syllabus keywords/points), acronyms can be very useful and they can also be used together with retrieval practice techniques for enhanced memory. For example, students could create acronyms in the ‘notes’ section of their phone, and then screenshot these notes and make it their lock screen. Then, every time before they unlock their phone, they have to revise what the acronyms mean in their head.
Another powerful technique to memorise key information such as the Syllabus is to advise your students to place a copy of it on the fridge or above their desk (somewhere they will always look). Next, tell them to start looking at it and reading it out loud to themselves once in the morning as soon as they get up, and once at night, right before they go to sleep. By breaking the syllabus down into chunks they can focus on memorising a little bit at a time.
The KEY is this: Once they read it out loud once, they should turn away and try to remember the words they just read out. If they can’t remember, they should look back again, then look away and try to remember again until they get it right.
Retrieval practice doesn’t have to be as complicated as any of the above. It can be as simple as a student trying to recall in their head (or by writing it down) everything that they have studied in class when on the bus/train home from school every day.
Be patient and supportive 🤝
Retrieval practice can be challenging for students at first, as it requires them to recall information from memory rather than simply reviewing it. Be patient and supportive as your students adjust to this new way of learning, and provide extra support and encouragement as needed.