In the past, when I would ask my classes how they studied for any of our last tests, overwhelming they’d tell me that they reread their notes. That’s it. Looking at words on a page—that they’ve already seen before—is their idea of studying.
FAR TOO MANY STUDENTS THINK THAT REREADING (or RE-VIEWING) IS STUDYING.
So when I say, “Don’t ask student to ‘study’ Latin Word Chunks,” it’s not that I don’t want them to study. I do. I don’t, however, want them to waste their time with an ineffective method, get low scores on the assessments, and then lose all efficacy in their practice. When they don’t know how to effectively and independently study their course material, there’s no point in asking them to do it in the first place.
WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY?
My favorite Make It Stick researchers explain:
“Rereading has three strikes against it [as a study method]. It is time consuming. It doesn’t result in durable memory. And it often involves a kind of unwitting, self-deception, as growing familiarity with the text comes to feel like mastery of the content” (p. 10).
When “rereading” is the only thing hanging from students’ utility belts, they end up cramming the night before the test. Then “brain farts” stank up their scantron sheets on test day leaving kids blindsided because they just knew they were going to “ace this one, for sure!” Without much surprise, they see that studying—as they know it—doesn’t work. They blow it off entirely and bank on the teacher’s in-class instruction to carry the cognitive load, and students are quicker on this draw with this than many teachers.
We, of course, eat up the responsibility of this independent memory work and exhaust our class days with “test review” to cycle back through content that students should be tackling outside of class. Then, if you’re like me—and I know it’s too many of us go-getter, teachers—you feel the endless weight of guilt after you’ve taught to your full capacity, kids don’t perform well, and department data reflects negatively on your team.
Instead of re-teaching our course content, we need to allocate some class time to teach students how to study, specifically how to do retrieval practice on their own.
The Learning Scientists define it for students as the following:
Retrieval practice involves recreating something you’ve learned in the past from your memory, and thinking about it right now. In other words, a while after you’ve learned something by reading it in a book or hearing it in a class or from a teacher, you need to bring it to mind (or “retrieve” it). The word after is really important; you need to forget the information at least a little in order for retrieval to be effective! You don’t want to just immediately recite what you see in the book or what the teacher told you, but rather you want to bring the information to mind on your own, once it starts to get a little more difficult to remember what you studied.
This level of memory coaching is especially crucial for those of us that teach in low SES districts where students might not have families that can provide this kind of at-home study support.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE IN PRACTICE?
There are lots of ways to do retrieval practice. Namely, we need to help students learn to self-quiz. In regards to Latin Word Chunks, early in our process, I guide my students through a mini-boot camp of a few memory training methods.
As shown in the title photo above, I provide a set of LWC flashcards for my students at the start of our study. I used to ask kids to whip some up on their own as homework, but it resulted in both a disorganized mess from the apathetic and a revelation of more economic hardship for the “have nots.” Just take the few minutes to print a class set of flashcards and have your kids cut ’em out in class. Totally worth it.
Early in the program, take a few rounds of the original Memory game from childhood with students. Coach those lil’ cheaters to really quiz themselves rather than peek at the other side; otherwise, this method is no better than rereading. And sure! Researchers are okay with digital flashcards (my students use this set on Quizlet); however, consider the benefits of being able to physically shuffle the cards. This tangible manipulation allows students to link terms that share similarities and sort cards into different groups thus creating stronger conceptual frameworks. For example, my students always mismatch [de-] and [dis-, dif-, di-]. To uncouple this letter D pairing in their minds, they use their flashcards to hopscotch back and forth between other LWC pairs with similar meanings:
Actual printed/handwritten flashcards are the best way to create these adjustable self-quizzing stacks. No shock: they can get lost with our less organized students, so I give them an hole-punched envelope to house the cards in their binders.
Like the hidden trap-doors that occasionally appear in fiction, this self-quizzing method provides a concealed entrance flap to secret knowledge passageways below. In a far-less cheesy description, it’s when you cover up the answers on one side of a page and practice recalling the information beneath. My students use the original notes from their LWC Study Study Pack to do this. Of course, we talk about how this practice with trap-doors is more mentally engaged than just looking back over unconcealed notes because they have to generate the meaning (or the LWC) from blank space. They have to lift the screen in their brain to find the answer. I also try to teach students to pair this study technique with Cornell notes from their textbook reading in US History. If students create those separate columns for questions and facts as they take notes, they can later camouflage the hardcore content and—bam!—they’ve made their own recall practice quiz.
Clearly, this method of retrieval practice asks students to form a habit of assessing themselves. The verbal processors in my classes like to do a Q&A out loud with another student or family member while the internal processors in the group prefer to do this on their own. I suggest that they all hold on to previously corrected LWC quizzes from class or use any of testing variations on Quizlet (the Learn function is my favorite because it increases in difficulty over time and shuffles back in old terms).
Using the images already printed on the flashcards, those students drew in their Study Study Packs, or in some other variation, take time to coach students on intentionally pairing visuals with verbals. Talk it out. Model for them how to form mental images of their learning. Initially, my students struggle with [epi-][upon, on top of] until we fuse the LWC with the visual of an emergency allergy situation. I briefly describe how my sister has injected an EpiPen right up on top of her son’s thick clothing to quickly deliver the medicine into his system. Immediately, this strong visual/verbal cipher is locked into students’ memories.
Unfortunately whenever we talk about dual-coding, we still have to debunk the baseless claims students make about the need to address each of their personal learning styles. Unfortunately, far too many College of Education professors and K-12 teachers are still entangled in this misunderstanding. Again The Learning Scientists counter this claim:
…it is important to remember that a great deal of research has shown that assessing your learning style and then matching your study to that “style” is not useful, and does not improve learning… So, remember, regardless of any “learning style” you may or may not possess, or think you possess, matching the specific way you are studying to this style will not improve learning! You may have a preference for verbal materials or visual materials, but that does not mean that you learn better with those types of materials. Instead, students learn best when they combine visual materials (like pictures or diagrams) with verbal materials (like words from a textbook). So, even if you have a preference for one type of material or another, it is important to dual code and use both!
As a method of study, coach students to evoke their different verbal/visuals as they move through their retrieval practice. Even if their dual-coding is an ugly drawing or silly analogy, this interlacing is one key to content retention.
Even simpler than any of the other methods (and my go-to, #1, favorite) is a Brain Dump (I’ve written more about them here). I always tell my students that the vast white page before them is the most honest assessment of what they know and what they don’t. Essentially, all you do is write down everything you can remember about a given topic. With LWCs, students start by spilling out the confetti of terms and meanings that are teeming from the edges of their brains. As those easily recalled LWCs dry up, they have to dig deeper to generate the remaining terms. To do this, students start mentally organizing and sorting patterns to see where they have gaps. Because I teach the LWCs in first in sets of prefixes, roots, and suffixes, then—within that—groups of four terms at a time, and alphabetically, kids begin to delineate where they might be missing something. This is more regular practice in my class with complex concepts that require more than just vocabulary recall (e.g. the causes of WWII) because it asks students to elaborate and keep pulling back more layers of understanding.
Thanks . . . to Dr. Megan Sumeracki and Dr.Yana Weinstein of The Learning Scientists for helping translate a wealth of cognitive psychological science research into practice application for students, parents, and teachers. I especially love their videos!
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