3 ways to help students access their knowledge

Here's how teachers can focus on the third step of the learning equation

Agarwal and Bain urged attendees to incorporate some form of retrieval into their lessons every day. In addition, they suggested two more practices that in combination with retrieval can lead to increased learning. First, they advocated for spacing. Instead of teaching topics as one and done, teachers should call back to previous lessons throughout the year. This can reinforce the knowledge transfer to long-term memory. Second, they highlighted interleaving, which is mixing different subjects or topics with similar topics within lessons. The goal is to have students make connections across the subject and across the curriculum.

When teachers begin using retrieval, they should start small. For instance, rather than asking about the previous day’s lessons, teachers can ask students what they had for breakfast yesterday. The low stakes will get students used to the practice before the teacher starts prompting them to recall their lessons. Low stakes don’t mean that teachers shouldn’t check on the students’ work or offer guidance.

“Based on research, the most beneficial feedback for students when it comes to learning is elaborative feedback. So, providing explanations can be really beneficial, but any feedback is better than no feedback,” said Agarwal. “And actually, any retrieval practice even without feedback boosts learning. We often worry about students making errors. And that’s okay. Errors can be a good thing for learning.”

About the Presenters
Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D., is an expert in the field of cognitive science, passionate about bridging gaps between education and the science of learning. She has conducted research on learning in K-12 public schools for more than 15 years. As a cognitive scientist and founder of RetrievalPractice.org, Agarwal’s research has been published in leading peer-reviewed psychology journals; featured in The New York Times, Education Week, and Scientific American; and highlighted in numerous books and podcasts. She is an assistant professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, teaching psychological science to exceptional undergraduate musicians, and an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University, leading graduate-level courses for leaders in education. For more information, visit poojaagarwal.com and follow her on Twitter @poojaagarwal and @retrievelearn.

Patrice M. Bain, Ed.S., is passionate about student success using research-based strategies. As a veteran K-12 teacher, Bain recently completed more than 25 years teaching social studies at a middle school in Illinois. She is the only teacher-author of the popular practice guide, Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning, commissioned by the Institute of Education Sciences. Patrice’s teaching approaches have been featured on TV (PBS’s NOVA), radio (NPR), in popular press, and in multiple books. She frequently presents professional development workshops and webinars throughout the United States. She has taught education courses at the graduate level, and she was a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year and a Fulbright Scholar in Russia. You can follow her on Twitter @patricebain1.

Alison R. Shell is a research fellow on the Learner Variability Project team at Digital Promise. Her work focuses on digging up evidence to support the factors that underlie learner success. She also is currently finishing her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at the University of Maryland, with a focus on the cognitive processes that underlie language. Prior to moving to Washington D.C., she was involved in research projects in the Boston area, including investigating the biological underpinnings of autism and working to develop more linguistically sound reading assessments for young-adult readers. She received her M.S. in psychology from the University of Maryland and her B.A. in cognitive science from Vassar College.

About the Host
Barbara Pape is the communications director for the Learner Variability Project at Digital Promise Global. She has 20 years of experience in strategic communications, writing, and policy analysis, primarily in education. Previously, she served as executive producer of the award-winning Teaching & Learning conference, sponsored by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, where she developed content and oversaw outreach and communications. As a writer, she has written for numerous publications, including Harvard University, the National Education Goals Panel (U.S. Department of Education), and Parents magazine. Pape also served as editor and publisher of the first electronically delivered education newsletter, the Daily Report Card. She earned an EdM at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and launched her career as a middle school language arts teacher.

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This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Digital Promise. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

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