Recently I listened to a great webinar by Dr. Sandra Aamodt, Using the Neuroscience of Memory to Optimize Teaching and Learning. Dr. Aamodt is the co-author of the book Welcome to Your Child's Brain. Some of the points which stood out in my mind I Tweeted but wanted to expand on them more.
Dr. Aamodt talked repeating things at different times during the week, month or year for optimal retainment. Maybe it could be named Rule of Delay, but students are able to recall more when they are given gaps between learning. Dr. Aamodt mentioned that 1/20 to 1/10 is a good number to remember when determining how often to repeat new material and a student's long term ability to recall it. For example, if you practice something a month apart, the student is likely to recall it for a year or two. If you practice something a week apart, the student is likely to recall it for 10 to 20 weeks. Similar to scaffolding but remember, even construction workers who climb the scaffolding every day have to go up and down at least twice a day. Scaffold the learning but put delays between asking students to recall the new material or reteaching the new material. Dr. Aamodt mentioned testing does improve recall but NOT multiple choice tests, only fill in the blank or short answer type tests. Dr. Sousa, author of How the Brain Learns, stated that new learning which can not be recalled after 24 hours is gone and needs to be relearned. One way I have tied the two ideas together in my classes is to give students weekly quizzes which are corrected in class. This not only improves learning but students understand their mistakes immediately and I can better understand why they are making the mistakes. With a 15 week semester that is a lot of quizzes so I tell students they can pick 5 of the quizzes that become part of their final grade. Then each month I give them a comprehensive test that automatically becomes part of their grade. I have found that students are doing better on the comprehensive test each month and recalling more material later in the semester.
Another point Dr. Aamodt mentioned was the Principle of Desirable Difficulty which Carol Dweck has written about. Students should understand that studying should be hard and they should be screwing up while they do it, otherwise they are not learning as much as they should be. So how do we instill this idea in our students? Students are so worried about doing well and getting a good grade, how do we teach them that learning is a process of achievements and mistakes? This is not easy, especially in Japan where rank and grades are everything. I do not have an answer for this, but when Dr. Aamodt mentioned it really made me think.
Finally the idea of presenting learning in different contexts for stronger memories. Mix-up the learning to help improve student recall. Dr. Aamodt gave the example of two baseball players, one practiced hitting only fast balls, then curve balls, then sliders. A second player practiced by mixing up the pitches, so a fast ball then a curve ball then a slider then a curve ball then a fast ball, etc.. The second player did much better than the first player and mixing it up also helped this player recognize fast balls from curve balls and sliders. Mixing up the learning with new material and old material helps students to be able to recognize old material as well as make connections between the old and new material. To incorporate this idea into my teaching, the weekly and monthly tests I give my students now contain old and new material. For every 3 new material questions I ask I make sure to ask at least 1 or 2 old material questions. Sometimes old material questions come first to help recall for the new material questions. Having just begun I do not know how students will react but I am confident.