Three levels of practices that help learning: retrieval practice, teaching, re-creating

21 Jul

Copied from Scientific American, August 2015:

Retrieval practice does not use testing as a tool of assessment. Rather it treats tests as occasions for learning, which makes sense only once we recognize that we have misunderstood the nature of testing. We think of tests as kind of dipstick that we insert into a student’s head, an indicator that tells us how high the level of knowledge has risen in there — when in fact, every time a student calls up knowledge from memory, that memory changes. Its mental representation becomes stronger, more stable and more accessible.

Why would this be? It makes sense considering that we could not possibly remember everything we encounter, says Jefferey Karpicke, a professor of cognitive psychology at Purdue University. Given that our memory is necessarily selective, the usefulness of a fact or idea — as demonstrated by how often we have had reason to recall it — makes a sound basis for selection. “Our minds are sensitive to the likelihood that we’ll need knowledge at a future time, and if we retrieve a piece of information now, there’s a good chance we’ll need it again,” Karpicke explains. “The process of retrieving a memory alters that memory in anticipation of demands we may encounter in future.”

“retrieval practice” is simple, to use it wisely, teachers should design test that needs to retrieval the most important things. In elemental/high school, I hated test questions in history class that ask me to give exact date of a not-that-important event. I would give score D to all history teachers who do such things in class.

We all know that the best way to know something is to teach it. This is a much higher level memory practice than the simple retrieval practice. To teach something, you actually need to organize the knowledge and present it in a way that is easy to follow. It is no wondering teaching something is much more effective than retrieval practice.

An even higher level of practice is “re-creating”, e.g to try to prove a math lemma/law before you see the proof in textbook, to ask yourself why we need the concept after we read the definition of a math concept, to try to put your foot in the shoes’s of whoever created the concepts/theories — how would you solve the problem if you were him/her/them.

Update: after search online, I think this article from Time Magazine worth reading: The Protégé Effect

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