Teachers Should Read Research

Teachers should read research, on top of their teaching.
I know that teachers are always busy and the addition of reading academic research on top of the teaching/planning/grading load is unappealing. But hear me out. You will find that reading research saves your time, improves your teaching, and helps your students learn more. What’s not to like?

Through reading research on feedback, I found evidence that merely grading an assignment is not effective feedback. Now, I still must grade assignments, I am a teacher after all but I have been working on actually grading only summative type assignments. For formative assessments I have switched to completion based grading system with whole class feedback. When I apply this strategy, grading an entire class set of assignments takes 5-15 minutes depending on the type of assignment. And, better yet, my students are able to apply that feedback. I have more free-time and my students are learning more. It is great.

Through researching about cognitive science, I stumbled upon the Learning Scientists. From them I found out about spaced repetition and retrieval practice, among other strategies. I combined these findings with what I have learned about knowledge organizers, flashcards, and no-stakes quizzes.

Creating the knowledge organizers and flashcards was more work initially (Here is a how to blog I wrote on knowledge organizers and flashcards). But the payout for the effort has been tremendous. My students are using academic vocabulary to describe concepts instead of continuing to describe scientific concepts in everyday language.

For example:

Before After
When the convection current goes up it is because it weighs less when it is hot. It sinks when it is cold and heavier. A convection current rises because the heat lowers the mantle’s density. It sinks when the temperature is reduced and it becomes denser than the surrounding mantle.

Knowledge organizers, flashcards, and no-stakes quizzes are all great ways incorporate both spaced repetition and retrieval practice into your classroom. They are also a fantastically powerful tool to for vocabulary acquisition. Students with a better vocabulary will likely grasp the concepts you are teaching better and be able to more effectively think critically. This has opened new doors for my students as they can understand the concepts at a high level and now they have the vocabulary to not only answer questions properly (improving grades) but to ask much much better questions!

The Matthew effect is powerful. I try to teach my students as much as possible to leverage these effects for their benefit. It just so happens that I benefit too. 🙂

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6 Learning Strategies

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.

Spaced Practice

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

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.

Elaboration

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.

Interleaving

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:

  1. Environment, traits, reproduction
  2. Traits, reproduction, environment
  3. Reproduction, traits, environment

By studying the topics again in a different order, students will be strengthening their connections within and between the topics.

Concrete Examples

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

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.