2 Evidence-Based Learning Strategies

As teachers, we often teach concepts, ideas, and facts, but we can neglect to teach our students how to study. For some reason, we just think they will “get” how to study, but this is inherently not true. Teachers need to teach students intentional study habits to produce success time after time. Two evidence-based learning strategies have been proven by science to help, and they are pretty easy to incorporate into daily teaching.

Spaced Practice

Spaced practice refers to a method where students study material over several days, or even weeks, to have the time to form connections and thoughts about the concepts. Studying over time with regular reviewing makes the concepts easier to recall later. 

While it may seem contradictory, spaced learning is planned in intervals so that the student almost forgets what he learned. Then, when the information is recalled, the brain must work harder to retrieve the information, causing the material to “stick” better.

A plan for spaced practice looks something like this:

  1. Study the material over a span of several weeks to months, i.e., concepts from the beginning of class until Christmas.
  2. Allot 10-15 minutes of study time each day for the concepts.
  3. Study the concepts for 2 days, then take 3 days off, then study for 2 more days.
  4. Review the oldest material first, then add new material.
  5. Each study session creates a summary of the concepts recalled.

Retrieval Practice

The second learning strategy is Retrieval Practice, or studying a list of words, then retrieving them. And, doing that over and over causes the information to be stored in long-term memory, to be retrieved when they need it.

The American Psychological Association cites that recent research has established that repeated retrieval enhances learning with a wide range of materials, in a variety of settings and contexts, and with learners ranging from preschool ages into later adulthood. 

Students practiced retrieval practice with a science passage where they read the passage and wrote down everything they remembered. They then repeated this practice again. The second set of students read the passage and made concept maps of the information. When tested, the retrieval practice was almost twice as likely to provide meaningful learning. 

Retrieval practice can work for any subject which requires reading. 

There are two additions to these two evidence-based learning strategies. The first is Distributed Practice, which is the when of studying. Data shows that students often end up cramming for tests and quizzes, which rarely results in any long-term retention. In a study that compared two groups of 7th-grade math students, one of whom worked large groups of problems to prepare for a test and the other worked some of each type of problem every day for nine weeks. A surprise post-test showed that 72% of the spaced practice retained the information, while only 38% of the other group retained the math information. 

The second is Successive Relearning, which is practicing until the student gets every question correct. In a study of this strategy, students who practiced successively relearning scored up to a letter grade higher on the test. 

According to the University of Arizona, to maximize educational outcomes, the spaced practice should be combined with retrieval practice to force the brain to search for related information and create new connections which improve the quality of learning.

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