Teaching to Remember Part 2

Answer Two: Early Review 

One of the most interesting, but perhaps overlooked, education researchers is Graham Nuthall. Nuthall’s findings, published in several places including the Harvard Review, proposed through a great deal of supporting evidence that students need to encounter a new fact, concept or proposition three or four times in two days for them to remember it a year later. This gained a certain amount of attention in the education research community but I doubt that it has been heard of in most schools.

What is so powerful about this is that it is so simple. It is not difficult to plan or implement. Many of us do it anyway, though perhaps intuitively. It means that an initial plan for reviewing a concept or fact can be scheduled with minimal effort. For example, I introduce a chemical ‘family’ in the periodic table. I give the students a short homework task to review that night, then incorporate a recap and a little (self evaluation) test in the next lesson (preferably the very next day). This won’t guarantee students will remember, but will increase the probability significantly. And it has cost very little time to establish this learning. Revisiting prior learning quickly is key to not having to waste time reteaching later.

There are  practical implications:

  • It might not be a good idea to introduce something new on a Friday or just before a holiday.
  • It is not enough to review learning at the end of the lesson and assume it’s stuck. It probably won’t unless it is revisited soon.
  • Using starters for recap can be very informative for the teacher and the students. Often they are surprised at how quickly they have forgotten. That’s helpful – it teaches them that they have to put in some personal effort.
  • Simple checks of prior learning  (a ten question quiz for example), help students to realise that what they learned in previous lessons will be required of them in future lessons.
  • Planning to apply that knowledge in successive lessons helps students to remember it, not least because they see it as connected and relevant.

It seems common sense. It’s hard to argue with. But I have taught – and seen many others teach – episodic lessons which were not clearly connected with prior learning. Then I scratched my head and wondered how students could have missed such easy marks in the exam.

Further reading:

Available from the Harvard Review  for $10:

Alton-Lee, A.G., Nuthall, G.A., & Patrick, J. (1993).  Reframing classroom research: A lesson from the private world of children. Harvard Educational Review, 63(1), 50–84.

Available from NZCER database:

Nuthall. G. A. (2000).  How children remember what they learn in school. Wellington, New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

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2 Responses to Teaching to Remember Part 2

  1. Pingback: Edssential » Teaching to Remember Part 2

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