GUEST POST: When Implementing Retrieval and Spaced Practice in the Science Classroom, Change Won’t Happen Overnight

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GUEST POST: When Implementing Retrieval and Spaced Practice in the Science Classroom, Change Won’t Happen Overnight

Again, I was dissatisfied in the results. I knew practice quizzes had been effective for other courses I taught, yet the correlation was not evident. I shared these data with Megan Sumeracki to see if she could give me any insight. I also had a discussion with my students, where I shared the above graphs and asked them if they had feedback for me.

Evaluating and Making Changes

Megan thought the questions on the practice quizzes might be too challenging. So, she recommended I allow students to use their notes until they received a proficient score and then wean themselves from the notes. She also suggested that I assign due dates for proficiency to provide more structure to their study schedule. Lastly, she suggested I introduce more (scaffold-free) retrieval into the classroom.

Interestingly, my students echoed Megan’s suggestion that the questions may be too hard. Many of them said that they were just guessing on the quizzes. They were taking the retrieval practice to heart and not using their notes, but as a result they were frustrated. I think many of them were ready to give up on retrieval practice, which further motivated me to make some changes to achieve better outcomes and greater buy in.

I had a conversation with my class about how they might need to scaffold at the beginning of the unit but as they approach the test date, they should attempt the quizzes without the notes in order to give them a truer idea of their knowledge. I added a survey question to the end of my practice quizzes: “I used my notes – scaffolding” or “I completed this without notes – retrieval” so I could keep track of how they were using the quizzes and so they could also keep track of what they were doing. Giving them the option of scaffolding helped with the frustration they were experiencing. Additionally, I found that my still-struggling students were typically the ones who were still clicking the “I used my notes” option the night before the test. These students were unable to fully utilize the retrieval for metacognitive purposes and were therefore not able to reap as many benefits of the quizzes.

To improve spacing I tweaked my practice quizzes to utilize older questions when students were taking practice quizzes on more recent material. I intend to further apply this concept in the future by integrating even older questions into in class retrieval and the practice quizzes.

In addition, I now make it a point to do daily retrieval in class, and have integrated different methods of retrieval practice (e.g., practice quizzes, brain dumps, list-amass-pass, sketch notes, etc.).  Adding retrieval to the classroom helps students who are not doing as much practice at home. This practice also demonstrates just how important I think retrieval practice is to my students.

New Results

Over the last several months, I have observed a shift in student attitudes toward retrieval and spacing. They became more receptive to these strategies. On our last unit test student participation in practice quizzes was nearly 100%, and many are taking them until they feel comfortable with the content (rather than simply taking the quiz to achieve proficiency (80%)). I have seen improvement in their grades and their confidence. Recently, several excited students came into my class to share that they were learning about retrieval and spacing in their AP Psychology class. One of my toughest students (not an eager adaptor) told me he explained how brain dumps worked to the rest of his AP Psychology class. Here are some data from a recent exam: