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3 Simple Ways to Help Students Retain Learning

teaching Sep 19, 2018

Remembering what we have learned is ever the struggle in school and in life. As teachers, we never set out to simply check a box once we have taught a concept or skill. We want our students to be a able to recall and use the information in the future.

Here are 3 simple ways you can do that.

Mixed Practice

The goal of mixed practice is to mix up the types of problems or examples as we study so the brain has to work harder.

For example:

  • Math - Do different types of math problems on the same topic all mixed in together. Don’t study all one type and then move on to all of another. Mix them up. This challenges us to both recognize the type of problem and how to solve it.

  • Language Arts - When practicing recognition of parts of speech, we mix up our practice with each type. We can’t do all verbs and then move on to adjectives. Challenging ourselves to identify each part of speech (and how it relates to the others) in the same sentence instead of finding verbs in multiple sentences is more effective.

Retrieval - Quizzing

The goal of retrieval is to literally retrieve information or skills from your memory. This also provides an opportunity for the learner to find and self-correct or fill in gaps in their knowledge. This can be self quizzing just as easily as a quiz for the whole class. Both have a place in studying and long-term retention of learning. Quizzing is quick: 10 questions or less or 5 - 10 minutes.

Here’s a couple of individual or partner examples.

  • Students pause in their reading to ask themselves questions about the text.

  • Students work alone or in pairs with flashcards.

Here’s a couple of whole class examples.

  • Informal: Throw a beach ball around the room and pose questions to students as they catch it.

  • Formal: Teacher prepares and administers a 5-10 question math quiz for the class based on the learning from the previous day with a few questions from prior days.

  • Feedback immediately follows so self-correction can happen.

Time and Space

  • Studying information more than once but leaving time between sessions causes us to struggle a bit to recall information which strengthens pathways in the brain, making future recall easier.

  • Increase the amount of time between sessions once as we feel more sure of student retention. Stretch out the time between revisiting. We can revisit the info once a week or once a month instead of every few days.

Certainly there and many effective ways to study and help students retain information. However, there are many ways that we think are effective, but really aren’t. Constant repetition and study feels like it works, but it’s a lie. A little bit of forgetting and struggle to recall is actually a good thing in developing our long-term memory.

Give it a go and let me know how it goes in the comments.

Teach joyfully,






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