Thursday, May 3, 2018

One Year in AP: Retrieval Practice (Week Thirty-four)

By Mark Heintz

Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Thirty-four: Answer the Question

This week, the content focus was reviewing. How do you get students to know what they know from the entire year?  What is the most effective way to get at that?  Also, how do I know what they know to provide resources to them other than just saying, "study?"

Provide Specific Evidence: 

I spent most of the week practicing their writing, but the focus of this posting will be on the content.  Too often have I given the students too much information to go over in the final weeks of the course.  Whenever I hand out packets or review guides, students feel good that they were given a tome to review. But, they don't do anything with it because it is too much. It is overwhelming or unapproachable. I use retrieval practice to get at the vast content they have to know and recall.  This method is useful because the students have "memorized" content, but have trouble accessing the information.  If they can't access it, then they don't own it.

To give an example,


I asked the students to recall the time periods, major events that occurred in the period, and an example of gender roles in each period.  As I walked around, I observed what facts students could recall and what they struggled with.

Additionally, the exam they are being tested with is not always what you know, but what you can access. Therefore, every day I "tested" them with prompts and asked what information they would use.  Afterward, the students talk to one another and evaluate each other's responses.


I attempted to have the students recall very specific information.  For the BINGO activity above, I had twenty different questions that would recall very specific information.

Explanation

Reviewing is tough.  If students don't know what they don't know, reviewing turns into lecture or just covering material for the sake of covering material.  Students will often go over notes without testing their ability to access it.   They keep covering the same material in the same manner.  Often, that process yields very little growth.  Furthering the problem, the students want to be told what to study or what to know.  However, the problem is I don't know the exact things that would be on the exam.  The exam is not a straight memorization or recall test.

Therein lies the beauty and problems of reviews.  Prompts are not prescriptive and worded in a difficult language.  The review needs to address students ability to make sense of the material they know and to identify a few areas they need to cover.  For me, the best way to help students is hearing their conversations and reading what they come up with.  Hazel Mason has told me numerous times, conversation and observations.  It is the cornerstone of how people learn.  As a teacher, these two things are the biggest tools in our arsenal to help our own understanding of student learning.  They help students figure out what they know and struggle with.  So much can be gained from these two things. However, they are often touted as "soft" practices.  It is hard to quantify things through conversations and observations.  But in the end, the students have so many other validations, having them work through their understandings through conversation is a natural low-stress method that is perhaps the most effective one.

In the bingo example, the students attempted to recall the information without accessing anything.  This forced great conversations and got the students to realize what they knew and didn't in the specific time period.

Impact

I need to set-up protocols that allow for more conversation through the year.   It needs to be reflective in nature and centered around recall practice.  They need to starts challenging their ability to access the material from day one.  And this needs to be more informal.  It cannot be only on a test or quiz.  If they get to the point where they can talk through their understanding and write about it, the rest of the issues will take care of themselves.

You read week thirty-five here. 

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