Sarah Cottingham on Retrieval Practice and Diagnosing Teaching Problems – Education Rickshaw


In this episode, Sarah Cottingham discusses effective teacher professional development, as well as one of the most powerful strategies derived from cognitive science: retrieval practice.

First things first, what is retrieval practice? Retrieval practice is the use of practice tests or quizzes to enhance learning. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that having students “retrieve” or recall information from memory is more effective for long-term retention of the material than having students restudy the material or receive an additional presentation of the material. While many teachers (particularly those in the UK, it seems) have begun to experiment with using a variety of retrieval practice formats in their classrooms, such as partner quizzing, brain dumps, flashcards, and so on, I get the sense that retrieval practice is not being applied in American schools as widely as it could be.

In my experience, the main use of tests in US schools is to assess learning at the end of a unit, rather than as a tool for learning during the unit. And, as Sarah will explain in this episode, even in places where retrieval practice has been adopted school-wide, there’s always the risk of it being misunderstood and it drifting so far from the original research that it loses its effectiveness. Sarah will give some examples of so-called “lethal mutations” of retrieval practice, but a couple that I’ve seen in classrooms is students are tested on material that hasn’t been taught, or when students are allowed to check their notes during quizzing so that they do not have to rely on memory to retrieve the information. In order to prevent such lethal mutations from occurring, Sarah talks about taking a learning-first approach to teacher training, and developing shared mental models that allow teachers to identify problems and make predictions about what will work in their specific contexts. So, let’s jump right into episode 13 of Season 2 of the Progressively Incorrect podcast, featuring Sarah Cottingham.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @overpractised

Read Sarah’s fantastic blog, here

Check out the Ambition Institute here

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