Learning is complicated – students need to build knowledge, skills and great habits if they want to flourish across the diverse and often packed curriculum. This makes it vital for us to support our students with effective learning strategies.
But what exactly are these? Today, we’re looking to the science of learning for an answer…
What does the Science of Learning say?
Cognitive psychologists have found that most learning strategies students use are relatively ineffective. Techniques such as cramming or re-reading prevent students from learning the content in-depth, hindering their long-term knowledge and skill development. This in turn, leads to lower academic performance.
Many have since recognised the need to better understand effective strategies to maximise student learning. In a paper published recently, they identified a specific suite of learning strategies known as the Learner’s Toolkit that have the greatest impact on enhancing learning (and subsequently, academic achievement) when adopted by students.
A deep dive into the Learner’s Toolkit:
The Learner’s Toolkit presents students with five reliable and practical strategies they can use for lasting learning.
These strategies were chosen not only for the strong evidence supporting them but also for their compatibility with the design of most secondary school syllabi. So, let’s take a closer look at each component of the Toolkit and discover how you can implement them in your classroom…
Spacing refers to studying little but often. Research has consistently shown that most students need three to four opportunities to learn something, but also that these learning opportunities are most effective if they are distributed over time rather than delivered over a short period.
Try encouraging your students to create a monthly study schedule to help them space out their study sessions effectively and stay on track. You can give them a study plan template where they can fill in the amount of revision to do for each topic.
- Retrieval Practice
Retrieval Practice is any activity that forces students to recall information from their memory (i.e., generating an answer to a question). Research has found that this type of practice helps students consolidate information in their long-term memory and mentally organise it for better retention, recall and exam performance.
There are many ways to use Retrieval Practice, both in the classroom and at home. For example, you could get your students to answer short multiple-choice questionnaires at the end of a lesson, encourage them to use flashcards, or provide them with past papers to prepare for exams.
Interleaving involves mixing up concepts within the same topic when studying. This is the opposite of Blocking, which involves fully covering one topic before moving on to the next.
Interleaving is effective because it prompts students to think about the differences and similarities between each topic, which enables them to think critically about the information they are processing. This in turn, solidifies critical information in memory. As an added bonus, it also incorporates an element of spacing by requiring students to leave one concept aside while they work on the others.
One way to introduce Interleaving to your students is through homework assignments. If the textbook questions they use are arranged in topic blocks as they usually are, give your students a specific question order to work in (e.g. questions 1, 13, 43, 2, 37).
- Elaborative Interrogation
Elaborative Interrogation involves teachers asking “why” questions to students (e.g., “why is this true?” or “why do you think this is?”). Research has found that this questioning technique helps students consolidate their learning because it forces them to think deeply about the target information when generating an answer.
Elaborative Interrogation can be tricky to carry out, as some students may feel uncomfortable with answering questions in front of the class. Luckily, Think, Pair, Share is here to help. This three-step approach supports students in answering classroom question more effectively and confidently:
- Think – Each student thinks about the question individually and is encouraged to take notes.
- Pair – Students pair up to exchange and discuss their ideas.
- Share – Students share their validated and possibly extended ideas with the whole class.
Implementing Elaborative Interrogation through Think, Pair, Share helps ensure all students can practise and ultimately reap the benefits of this learning technique.
- Dual Coding
Dual Coding is the process of blending both words and pictures while learning. This works because visual and verbal stimuli are processed differently –seeing both together gives students two different representations of the same piece of information. Therefore, thanks to this strategy, students can create a stronger memory trace of the information.
You can introduce Dual Coding into your classroom by presenting your students with written materials supported with visuals, and visual materials with text descriptions. Examples include labelled drawings, infographics, and videos with subtitles and audio narrations. You can also make Dual Coding more interactive by asking students to create diagrams, timelines, and mind maps on the topic their learning about.
The biggest problem facing the Science of Learning is bridging the gap between theory and practice – i.e., between scientific evidence and its practical application in the classroom.
We hope the above suggestions can make this translation process easier, so your students can get the most out of the learning strategies.
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