kitchen table math, the sequel: Make It Stick - is 3 the magic number?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Make It Stick - is 3 the magic number?

I'm reading Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel's Make It Stick in a mixed state of trepidation and fascination.

Trepidation because the wording is so incautious and, often, so imprecise that I think it's entirely possible we'll see Make It Stick touted as justification for bad teaching of every stripe.

e.g.: the preface spends a great deal of time denigrating "drill and kill," which the writers take to mean massed practice. Also, "easy" lessons are slammed on grounds that learning should be hard. (So drill and kill is too easy?) And at one point the text baldy avers, sans footnote, that "people do have multiple intelligences" while in the same breath asserting that there's no evidence learning styles have anything to do with anything. So instead of worrying about our learning styles we should all use all of our multiple intelligences all the time because you learn better when you "go wide," drawing on all of your aptitudes and resourcefulness, than when you limit instruction or experience to the style you find most amenable.

What can any of this possibly mean?

Hard is good but hard drill-and-kill is bad .... learning styles are meaningless but we should deploy all of our "intelligences" all of the time (dancing in math? math-ing in dance?) ...

And does the exhortation to "go wide" mean multisensory programs are always to be preferred? I'm completely open to that possibility myself, but there's no listing for "multisensory" in the index, so who knows?

But that's the preface.

The first chapter, on retrieval practice, is riveting.

Retrieval practice, or the testing effect, refers to the finding that taking a test -- any kind of test, in-class or a quiz you give yourself -- increases your memory of the material you are trying to learn. In other words, taking a test or a quiz is a form of practice in which you practice remembering.

What's more, simple retrieval practice is probably superior to the kind of "active," "higher-order" learning students are purported to do via concept mapping. It also appears likely that retrieval practice produces knowledge that is readily transferred to new contexts and to problem solving.

In short, memorization makes you smart. (That's not how Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel put it.)

What is shocking to me is the tiny amount of retrieval practice the middle-school students in Roediger's studies needed in order to recall the material they had covered in class: just 3 "low-stakes" (ungraded) clicker quizzes in all. One quiz at the beginning of the class (on material they were supposed to have read the night before), one quiz at the end of the class (after the teacher's lecture on the same material) and one before the unit test a few weeks later. Students scored a full letter-grade higher on quizzed than on un-quizzed material.

When Roediger expanded the study to 8th-grade science, students scored an average of 92% on quizzed material, 79% on un-quizzed material. They still remembered the quizzed material eight  months later, for the final.

After 3 ungraded quizzes no one had to study for.

Is 3 the magic number?

Here are Rawson & Dunlosky on "How Much Is Enough?"
The literature on testing effects is vast but supports surprisingly few prescriptive conclusions for how to schedule practice to achieve both durable and efficient learning. Key limitations are that few studies have examined the effects of initial learning criterion or the effects of relearning, and no prior research has examined the combined effects of these 2 factors. Across 3 experiments, 533 students learned conceptual material via retrieval practice with restudy. Items were practiced until they were correctly recalled from 1 to 4 times during an initial learning session and were then practiced again to 1 correct recall in 1–5 subsequent relearning sessions (across experiments, more than 100,000 short-answer recall responses were collected and hand-scored). Durability was measured by cued recall and rate of relearning 1–4 months after practice, and efficiency was measured by total practice trials across sessions. A consistent qualitative pattern emerged: The effects of initial learning criterion and relearning were subadditive, such that the effects of initial learning criterion were strong prior to relearning but then diminished as relearning increased. Relearning had pronounced effects on long-term retention with a relatively minimal cost in terms of additional practice trials. On the basis of the overall patterns of durability and efficiency, our prescriptive conclusion for students is to practice recalling concepts to an initial criterion of 3 correct recalls and then to relearn them 3 times at widely spaced intervals.
The chapter also says that short answer and essay tests are probably superior to flash cards and multiple choice, but flash cards and multiple choice produce superior retention, too.

Clicker quizzes work.

I need a clicker.


Froggiemama said...

I adopted clicker quizzes about two years ago in my introductory computer science courses. While they do keep the students awake, and that is a good thing, I unfortunately fine they have no effect on their ability to write programs, which in the end is the main result we care about. My theory is that clicker quizzes may help with retention of micro-facts (needing parentheses around the condition in an if statement, understanding the role of the counter variable in a loop) but they do not help with synthesizing those facts into something bigger. And in computer science, the need to synthesize the material to solve a computational problem dwarfs the need to remember small facts. Solving problems is by far the main task, not recalling information.

Jen said...

I'd guess that one of the best parts of clicker quizzes is that you get the answer right away.

That is with a clicker quiz, you are likely to get instant or at least very fast feedback on your answers. You don't have to wait for the answers until the next day or the next class or the next week.

Then again, maybe that's not how everyone does clickers?