Tag Archives: Retrieval practice

Blog of the Week: 26 March 2021 – Refining Retrieval – What does the evidence say about the testing effect?

Curriculum Team Leader

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I didn’t always include quizzes in my lessons. Quizzes, I believed, tested something superficial and English is far from being superficial. It seems strange to say this now when quizzing is everywhere.

It hardly feels necessary to state that retrieval improves retention. I’ve said this so many times to our teachers that I might need to stop saying it soon to avoid overstating the obvious.

But Yang, Luo, Vadillo, Yu and Shanks (2020) describe a small study from where the majority of teachers thought the main benefit of student self-testing was to find out what they didn’t know and only a fifth highlighted that testing would be better for retention than re-reading.

It made me wonder if the introduction of quizzes and knowledge organisers and all sorts of retrieval practices are understood or if I really understood the complexity of these things.

There is…

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Blog of the Week: 20 November 2020 – Connection Cues

Kat Howard

I’ve been thinking about how I use retrieval in the classroom, and how over time, this has become a much more responsive process, with a sense of automaticity that was certainly not there in the earlier years of my teaching practice. I thought it might be useful to share my thinking on how to set about the task of using retrieval in an organic way that pushes beyond substantive recall, and looks to achieve perhaps a little more than that at a conceptual level to aid delivery of the curriculum.

I wanted to explore the core components of the way in which I use retrieval in my explanation and questioning with students, as opposed to an isolated event at the start or close of the lesson. To be able to ascertain the process, I sought to first establish the stumbling blocks of why, whilst retrieval to engage students is effective…

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Blog of the Week: Low stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 4


You can find the first three posts about retrieval practice here: one, two, three.

Everyone seems to be doing retrieval practice now and there is an abundance of research  in support of the effectiveness of self-testing as a learning strategy, particularly with regards to increasing long term retention. Ever since retrieval practice has become popular amongst teachers, there has been a notable concern about how it is being approached and whether or not it really is as effective as its proponents would claim. One line of criticism is that the questions-often closed, recall questions-are nothing like the final performance that students encounter when they take an exam. Merely asking students something along the lines of ‘What word means excessive pride or ambition?’  is, on its own, not going to help students with their understanding of Macbeth. However, understanding the meaning of ‘hubris’ (even in this most restrictive…

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Blog of the Week: 27th March 2020 – Making meaning

Making meaning is the core principle in learning, on which all other principles build. Consequently, a lot has been said in education about how meaning making looks like in the classroom, what is meaningful learning, deep processing, transferable knowledge and how to achieve them. And yet it is also an elusive concept: the operational definition of ‘meaning’ is nontrivial and occasionally the importance of meaning is shadowed by other (also important) concepts in learning.

I wish to share here my operational conceptualization of ‘meaning making’, then highlight two instances where meaning is sometimes shadowed: when discussing Cognitive Load and Retrieval Practice, and altogether make the case for why we should consider meaning first.

What is ‘Meaning Making’?

Processing information meaningfully is known as the key factor to remembering learned information for the long-term, as was formulated by Craik and Lockhart (1972) in the …


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Blog of the Week: 6 March 2020 – Making the most of quiz books


Myself and Andy Lewis are proud to have some GCSE religious studies quiz books published by John Catt. I thought I would share what they are and some ways in which these might be used.

What are they?

The books are based on all GCSE specifications for the new, reformed GCSE religious studies courses.

They have quizzes on the main topics for each religion, repeated 6 times, but with the questions in a different random order. Students should complete a quiz, check their answers and write their mark on their mark tracker. At another point in time (see below) they should complete the quiz again and record their mark. The aim is for them to improve each time if not get full marks.

They are knowledge quizzes. They aim to help students to learn and retain key facts, quotations and reasons. They are the foundations for being able to…

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Blog of the Week: 7 February 2020 – Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice Part 1


When I began teaching, I thought that a starter activity was there to ‘engage’ students in the learning, perhaps by providing some form of irresistible conundrum or puzzle for them to work out or maybe a multi-media, pyrotechnic laser show to wow them into compliance, competency and submission. By creating overblown and incredibly time consuming activities, I thought that my lessons would be memorable, burning themselves into the minds of my awestruck students and ensuring 100% retention. The lesson was everything: I thought of learning in 60 minute episodes. Learning over time, and by implication the notion of long term retention, was not something that I really considered, dazzled as I seemed to be by the allure and promise of engagement, novelty and the hallowed ‘hook’.

Oh how wrong I was! Not only was this desire for novelty and edutainment exhausting, but it implicitly sent the message to my students that…

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Blog of the Week: 17 January 2020 – Going Goal-Free During Formative Assessment

I’m making a simple modification to some of my formative assessment this semester. I’m incorporating the goal free effect. The concept behind this effect isn’t very tricky at all. Basically, instead of asking questions this way:

1. List and describe the function(s) of the following parts of the eye:

  1. Iris
  2. Cornea
  3. Retina
  4. Lens

I’ll simply ask this in this manner:

2. Tell me everything you can about vision.

This may seem like a somewhat negligible change, but the second option really provides a better opportunity for more working with the material to be retrieved from memory. With option 1, students have 4 very specific goals. Hopefully, students will know those four structures of the eye and their function(s). This is somewhat limiting. They will perform this task and nothing more. Don’t get me wrong, if they can do this, that’s fantastic…much better than not asking them to retrieve any information. But, with option 2, students may include the four structures and functions from option 1 and then also include more information; perhaps they also state the functions of the pupil, rods, …


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Blog of the Week: 15 November 2019 – Retrieval Practice in the Classroom: Is Asking Questions Enough?

By Cindy Nebel

In our workshops, we often recommend that instructors start by making small changes in their teaching, instead of trying to do a massive overhaul to a curriculum or design from scratch. One possible way that an educator may choose to incorporate retrieval practice into their classroom is to simply stop and ask questions throughout a traditional lecture. By asking students questions, they will all be in engaging in retrieval practice without the instructor taking too much time out of their class to develop or grade quizzes. But is that enough? In today’s post, I review a study that asked just that question and has implications for student group work as well.

In this study (1), Magdalena Abel and Henry Roediger had students study Swahili vocabulary words in pairs. First, both students sat at a computer while the Swahili word was presented with its English equivalent (study phase). Some of the words were …

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Blog of the Week: 18 October 2019 – An “Ah-Ha” Moment with Spaced Practice in the Classroom

I’m sometimes asked by other teachers how I show my students the positive effects of spaced practice. By definition, it takes time to see the results of spacing out your practice of material and this fact makes it more difficult to demonstrate in class. This past week, however, I was granted that perfect moment of instruction when it all came together and I was able to say, “See…I told you this stuff works.”

Please allow me to set the scene. We began class one day this week by completing a ‘Last Lesson, Last Week, Last Month’ review. Here it is:

I combined answering these questions with the ‘Color Coding Recall Attempts’* strategy.

Pretty simple. Answer three questions from differing units of material spaced out over different amounts of time. Intuition tells me my students should remember the material …

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Blog of the Week: 5 July 2019 – 10 Techniques for Retrieval Practice


Image Credit: https://emptechgroup.com/the-internet-of-things/

I’ve written about retrieval practice several times in other posts but here I just want to make it easy to lay out various alternative methods for the process of reviewing your students’ knowledge and understanding.   Before doing that, I would suggest that there are some key principles:

  1. Involve everyone:  Good techniques involve all students checking their knowledge, not just a few and not just one at a time as you might do when questioning.
  2. Make checking accurate and easy:  it should be possible for all students to find out what they got right and wrong, what they know well and where they have gaps. Every technique involves students testing their knowledge and then checking their work for accuracy and completeness. (This is not the same as giving students extended mark schemes to mark longer assessments which, for me goes beyond a simple retrieval practice activity)

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