Strategies for effective learning with examples for the classroom

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by Shaminder Ahluwalia – Design Technology and Art teacher

For a full copy of this presentation (with images) click HERE

Spaced Practice

Spacing involves distributing studying over time (Benjamin &Tullis, 2010) rather than cramming studying before an exam, which is the more common behaviour among students (Weinstein, Lawrence, Tran & Frye, 2013)

Before you understand how the spacing study method works, there’s another important part of the equation: the forgetting curve.

The forgetting curve is how much knowledge is lost over time when our brains don’t put in any effort to remember it. Just learning something once isn’t enough. You need to revisit that material and review it over time in order for it to really stick. Unless you review the material you have learnt, most of that material will be forgotten in a matter of days or weeks.

HOW DOES SPACED PRACTICE WORK?

The purpose of the spaced repetition method is to give you a chance to (almost) forget before you revist the material. It sounds backwards, but it’s actually important to forget in order to remember!

When our brains have almost forgotten something, it makes them work harder to recall that information. Spaced learning gives your brain a workout each time you revisit the material.

In a cram session, all the information is stored in your short-term memory (and quickly forgotten). When you use spaced learning, the material is able to make its way into your long-term memory instead.

That’s why spaced learning works. Eventually you won’t need to work to remember, you will be able to recall the information quickly from your long-term memory.

The first couple sessions, your brain will be working hard to recall the material. As you revisit the material, it will become easier to remember and build upon.


Interleaving

Interleaving involves switching between ideas or types of problems rather than studying one idea or type of problem for too long; this encourages better discrimination between ideas and procedures (Taylor & Rohrer, 2010).

Unlike blocking students can switch between topics and study them in a different order, noting what new connections they can make between them.

Interleaving is a process where students switch between topics within a subject whilst they study in order to improve their learning. For example, an interleaved maths task would consist of a set of questions in which no two consecutive problems required the same strategy. The opposite type of study process is called blocked practice. This is when students study one topic fully before moving on to another.

Interleaving is often only helpful if the content being studied is related in some way. The more similarities between them, the easier it is for students to make connections between the two.  For example, interleaving will be more effective if used when learning different types of trees, as opposed to switching between poems and algebra equations, which is a common interleaving mistake.


Elaboration

Elaboration – specifically, elaborative interrogation – involves students asking (and attempting to answer) “How” and “Why” questions (Pressley, McDaniel, Turnure, Wood, & Ahmad, 1987).

How do you elaborate?

Explain: simply expand on your established point in clear, straightforward terms. Illustrate: provide a specific example that shows your idea in practice. Describe Literally: write about the subject’s qualities/elements in concrete language.

What is an example of elaborate?

The definition of elaborate is done with great or numerous details. An example of elaborate is a wedding with a horse drawn carriage, a chocolate fountain, perfectly matching linens and a carefully executed theme. An example of elaborate is a chandelier with many branches, hanging crystals and other decorations.

Elaboration is the technique of helping students make connections between their lives, and what they’ve previously learned, to grasp new concepts and lessons. More specifically, the elaboration strategy emphasizes that students explore a deeper understanding of what they are learning by asking “why” and “how” questions.


Concrete examples

Concrete examples help students grasp abstract ideas (Paivio, 1971).

Students can imagine and explain by providing a real example of why something is the way it is.

To exemplify this, If you wanted to teach students what a Pomelo fruit (pictured below) was, when first describing one it would be better to say: “It is like a large grapefruit but with green skin and pink flesh”, rather than: “It is 30cm in circumference, green and weighs about 100 grams.” In this example the grapefruit is the concrete example.

Think about an airline company. If you were to try and book a flight four months in advance, the ticket prices would probably be pretty reasonable. But as it gets closer to the date of travel, there will be fewer seats left on the plane (the seats are more rare). This scarcity drives up the cost (value) of the tickets. This is a concrete example of scarcity, which is an abstract idea.

So, when you’re studying, try to think about how you can turn ideas you’re learning into concrete examples. Making a link between the idea you’re studying and a vivid, concrete example can help the lesson stick better.

Where can you find concrete examples?

  • Collect examples your teacher mentions in class
  • Search your books, notes, and other classroom materials for additional examples
  • Look out for examples around you as you go about your day
  • Share examples with friends

Dual Coding

Dual coding combines words and visuals, giving students two pathways by which to retrieve information later (Paivio, 2007).

“The process of combining verbal materials with visual materials. There are many ways to visually represent material, such as with infographics, timelines, cartoon strips, diagrams, and graphic organizers. When you have the same information in two formats – words and visuals – it gives you two ways of remembering the information later on. Combining these visuals with words is an effective way to study.”

Dual coding is an evidence-based teaching strategy from cognitive psychology that involves using illustrative images together with words to teach content. Students can look at a visual while hearing a verbal explanation, or they can view an image with corresponding written labels or descriptions. Assessment tasks can also ask students to use dual coding to demonstrate their learning. Students can be asked to illustrate descriptions or to describe or provide labelling for a diagram.

Dual coding is pairing relevant, illustrative images with words.

Examples of dual coding include:

  • Diagrams
  • Timelines
  • Cartoons
  • Graphic organizers
  • Simple drawings with labels
  • Infographics

Retrieval practice

Retrieval practice involves bringing information to mind from a memory, which is a technique that is much more effective at promoting long term learning than the more common technique of re-reading class materials (Roedigar & Karpicke, 2006).

Retrieval practice is a strategy in which bringing information to mind enhances and boosts learning. Deliberately recalling information forces us to pull our knowledge “out” and examine what we know.

For instance, recalling an answer to a science question improves learning to a greater extent than looking up the answer in a textbook. And having to actually recall and write down an answer to a flashcard improves learning more than thinking that you know the answer and flipping the card over prematurely.

Often, we think we’ve learned some piece of information, but we come to realize we struggle when we try to recall the answer. It’s precisely this “struggle” or challenge that improves our memory and learning – by trying to recall information, we exercise or strengthen our memory, and we can also identify gaps in our learning.

Examples you can use in the classroom

  • Multiple choice starter questions on prior and future topics
  • Flashcards, mind maps and knowledge organisers
  • Past papers or read and write
  • Students write their own questions on previous topics and quiz each other
  • Knowledge rally – Put students in groups tell them a topic and ask them to jot down everything they can remember about it
  • Heads up / Taboo / Kahoot / wordsearch / crossword / think pair share