Cumulative practice can help educators boost students' math retention

My simple strategy for long-term math retention

To break the “learn-forget, learn-forget” cycle, educators can mix in a review of earlier content as students learn new concepts and provide targeted practice

Even the best math teachers have had students who ace the chapter tests just to go on and struggle with that same content on the final exam—or students who have a hard time grasping more advanced concepts because they’ve forgotten the foundational learning that came before. As a high school math teacher for more than 15 years, I’ve seen it happen again and again.

Long-term math retention can be elusive. For students to succeed in math, they need to master precursor concepts—foundational, grade-level skills—yet traditional classroom routines focus more on cramming in new information. As a result, while students might be able to recall newly learned concepts for an immediate assignment or end-of-unit assessment, their grasp on these concepts fades over time.

Ensuring that math concepts stick is critical because so many new math lessons build on the information that has come before. If students don’t transfer this knowledge to their long-term memory, the consequences can be detrimental to their achievement in the future.

Luckily, there is a simple, proven strategy teachers can use to improve long-term math retention—cumulative math practice. I’ve used this strategy in my math classroom for many years and have seen phenomenal results. Here’s how to use cumulative math practice to improve long-term math retention.

The key to success: Cumulative math practice

To break the “learn-forget, learn-forget” cycle, educators can mix in a review of earlier content as students learn new concepts and provide targeted, individualized practice.

Cumulative review doesn’t have to take time away from instruction. For example, in my algebra classroom, I give students practice problems that focus not just on the latest skill or concept we’ve recently covered, but also on concepts from prior units of instruction.

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