Learning strategies are a new thing for me, but they shouldn’t be. I majored in elementary education, but found that I didn’t learn all that much about how students learn.
I stumbled upon learning strategies when I was doing a research assignment for grad school by finding the Learning Scientists blog. The blog essentially breaks down which strategies are the most effective along with why.
The most effective strategies are Spaced Practice, Retrieval Practice, Elaboration, Interleaving, Concrete Examples, and Dual Coding.
In brief, spaced practice says that repeated practice for relatively brief periods of time is more effective than cramming. Spaced practice should be practiced in conjunction with other learning strategies.
Retrieval practice is just like it sounds. Students should try and retrieve all the information they can using only their brain. An effective way for students to use this strategy is by having them write down all the information they can about the topic. Encourage students to go deeper than definitions, how are the terms and concepts related? After students finished this, they should use their textbook/notes to check for missing information and the accuracy of what they have written.
To utilize the elaboration learning strategy you should encourage your students to ask themselves how and why questions as they are reading or studying. After students have posed the how or why question, they should search for the answer in the material and discuss it with classmates. When doing this, students should intentionally work to make connections between different concepts that are related. Then students should analyze the ways those concepts are different. It is important that students are accurately explaining the concepts. So, train them to check their explanations with their notes or textbooks.
Think of interleaving like making a rope. A rope takes several pieces of thread and winds them together, making the whole stronger. In interleaving, students should take several topics and study them one at a time. As they go from topic to topic, students should work to make connections between the different topics. After students have gone through each topic, they should then go over the same topics but in a different order. For example, if the subject is Biology and students are studying natural selection, the topics may include environment, traits, and reproduction. The students could study the following topics as follows:
- Environment, traits, reproduction
- Traits, reproduction, environment
- Reproduction, traits, environment
By studying the topics again in a different order, students will be strengthening their connections within and between the topics.
The purpose of concrete examples is to make vague or new concepts more easily understood by students. For example, if you are teaching elementary science and the topic is ‘adaptations’ students may not immediately understand the term. You can help them by giving a concrete example: “An adaptation a bird has is its wings. The wings help a bird to fly.”
After students understand the concrete example, help them to apply the concept by guiding them into making their own concrete examples.
Dual Coding is a combination of written and visual examples. A common example of dual coding is seen in diagrams. Diagrams are essentially a labeled picture. When students use the dual coding strategy, they should look at the visual component and explain what it means in their own words. Another way to apply dual coding is for students to draw a picture/diagram of the concept they are learning. Then they can label/explain it.
As all these strategies are essentially new to me, I am still thinking about how to incorporate them into my teaching. I plan to explore each strategy in depth in future posts.