P. Agarwal and P.Bain, Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning

What I loved about this book were its many suggestions for how to do retrieval practice effectively. I use a lot of short answer quizzes and have certainly found these a powerful teaching tool but Agarwal and Bain will enable me to add further techniques to my reportoire.  Retrieval methods I am looking forward to trying out in lessons are:

  1.  Brain dumps (AKA free recall or stop and jot for those who can’t see themselves using the phrase ‘brain dump’ in their lesson) – halt your teaching and ask each student to write down as much they can remember from the content of the lesson.  Evidence suggests that doing this will increase a student’s ‘learning of past and future content’; their ability to organise their knowledge; their confidence with the material and their ‘inferential learning’.  Agarwal and Bain write that there is no need to collect in or read what students have written.   They do, however, suggest that it is useful for two students to compare the content of what they have written and discuss any similarities or differences in what they have remembered.  Presumably, there are times when it would also be helpful for students to check what they have written against the information in the textbook.
  2. Retrieve taking – rather than asking students to take notes as you teach, ask them to do this after you have finished speaking.  The same technique can be applied to taking notes from a book – read a section, close the book, jot down what you remember.
  3. Blast from the past – this is a easy way to revisit something you taught a while ago because all it requires is for students to pair up and discuss what they remember about that topic.
  4. Dice Game Strategy – put students in pairs and give each pair two dice and a numbered list of questions.  The students then take turns to roll the dice and answer the question related to the number rolled.  Since this would inevitably lead to some repetition of questions and answers, it would be particularly useful for key pieces of information you want all students to know really well.
  5. Retrieval cards – give each student four cards, each with a definition written on it.  Get them to write down the word defined, putting a * by it if they are sure their answer is correct and a ? if they are unsure.  Then get them to check ALL their answers in a textbook, verifying that the *s are correct and changing the ?s if necessary.  The student can then keep the cards to use for revision at a later date.
  6. Power tickets – these, which follow the format below, are a quick way of getting students to recall facts from a variety of topics.

Capture 2

One of the reasons the particular methods cited above are so powerful is that they directly engage all the students in the class.  This matters because research by Tauber, Witherby, Dunlosky et al has shown that doing retrieval practice in your head (merely thinking about the answer) does not lead to an increase in learning in the way that articulating or writing down the answer does.  Teachers need, therefore, to get all students actively engaged in recalling content and, as Agarwal and Bain have shown, that could not be easier.

Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning: Amazon.co.uk: Agarwal,  Pooja K., Bain, Patrice M.: Books