Author: Pooja K. Agarwal and Patrice M. Bain
APA Style Citation
Agarwal, P. & P. Bain. (2019). Powerful teaching: Unleash the science of learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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During this challenging time across the globe many teachers are asking themselves reflective questions in the midst of distance learning, such as “Are my students learning?” and “Are my teaching strategies effective and backed by research?” While these questions are a common practice, they are even more evident during times like these. Check out the Open Class with This Tomorrow Activity for an idea of using metacognition with your students. The authors of Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning guide you through effective classroom practices based on the cognitive science of learning.
Empirical research supports the use of four powerful teaching strategies: retrieval practice, spaced practice, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition. Use of these four strategies in the classroom boost engagement, increase higher-level thinking, and result in student learning. Each of the tools are quick, easy, and free to implement in your classroom. Authors Pooja Agarwal and Patrice Bain provide great examples and model the power tools throughout the book. For example, Power Up boxes are scattered throughout the text and encourage the reader to stop and apply what they are learning. You can use your own learning to help increase student learning.
The first powerful teaching strategy is retrieval practice where students pull information out of their memory. When we think of learning we often think of getting information IN, but perhaps we need to start thinking of getting it back OUT. Consider what type of retrieval practices do you use in your classroom besides formative and summative assessments? The authors use the analogy of a filing cabinet to compare these three terms. Retrieval practice is like organizing your files for the next time you need them, while formative assessment is like taking a quick look at what is inside the files, and summative assessment is like taking an inventory of the entire file drawer. Retrieval practice should really be used as a learning strategy as opposed to an assessment strategy, and it should be kept at no or low-stakes. Some retrieval practice strategies for the classroom include: brain dumps, two things learned, retrieval-taking, retrieval guides, and mini-quizzes. Authors Agarwal and Bain explain each strategy and how they implemented them in their classroom. They also reviewed research-based tips that support retrieval practice. Remember the cognitive science of learning supports each of these power tools.
The second powerful teaching strategy is spaced practice, referring to spreading out practice as opposed to crammed learning. Students need to be exposed to material and then refreshed on a regular basis. The authors suggest several strategies including pre-tests, blasts from the past, and big basket quizzes. A blast from the past can simply be listing a concept from last week and students then turn and talk about it. The key to learning is to allow a little time for forgetting to occur, but not too much. Students will often feel uncomfortable when they cannot quickly recall information. It is important to help them embrace this feeling and learn from it.
The third powerful teaching strategy is interleaving. This is mixing up closely related topics where students must differentiate material. It is not about presenting material in different ways or mixing up chapters. Instead it is about having students discriminate items that are very close to one another or connecting current content back to previously learned content in order to see the connections between them. For example, in psychology class having students compare the types of amnesia versus the types of interference. All the terms are close to one another and takes thoughtful consideration to differentiate.
The final powerful teaching strategy is feedback, which allows students to know what they know versus what they do not know. As students increase their metacognition they become more familiar with their learning and build their confidence. Students should make judgments of learning where they predict their future memory and they should make confidence judgments where they report their confidence in past learning. When they make these types of judgments, they should be aware of overconfidence and the illusion of fluency and illusion of confidence. Just because they are confident in their learning does not mean that it was accurate. We all know someone who studied for hours but then did poorly on an assessment. Agarwal and Bain review the research-based recommendations for feedback and offer several strategies including: retrieval cards, metacognition sheets, breathe and retrieve, and metacognition line-up. The metacognition sheet strategy is offered in our classroom activity to open your class with tomorrow.
These four main power tools should be used often and can be combined. If you are already providing low-stake quizzes, why not add elaborative feedback? If you are already spacing material, why not add interleaving of similar concepts? A specific example that can use multiple power tools is the power ticket where students provide three facts for topics covered in class across varying times. Using a power ticket for material from last week and the past unit can really enhance student learning. Most of these ideas sound wonderful, but as a teacher you may be thinking of implementation. Questions that come to mind include: how much time do they take, how much extra grading, how much do they cost, will I still be able to cover all of my material, what if the tools don’t help my students, can I use the tools with my diverse learners, and where do I start? The authors emphasize how all of the tools are quick, easy, and free to implement in your classroom. The tools will work and you just have to start with using one; it is better than using none.
Powerful teaching helps your students find success but these tools can also help reduce anxiety and strengthen community. Often in classrooms retrieval is infrequent, connected to high-stakes, and results in only a correct or incorrect answer. By providing an environment with regular retrieval practice with no or low-stakes, students begin to embrace desirable difficulties and take more chances on their learning. As you introduce the power tools you want to spark a conversation about learning, model the tools, and help students understand why they work. Students should be using the tools both inside and outside of the classroom. The flash forward strategy is also offered in our classroom activity to open your class with tomorrow. Before you close this academic year, use this quick but powerful strategy to learn from your students and inspire you for next year.
Now that your powerful teaching toolbox is filling up, what about everyone else? Authors Agarwal and Bain provide guidance for sharing these tools and building toolboxes with parents, students, and colleagues. Each step of the way they provide examples and research-based strategies. If you are ready to explore your own learning and teaching, check out Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning. During these challenging times of distance learning, continue to reflect on what works. Check out the Open Class with This Tomorrow Activity for an idea of using metacognition with your students.
Other Related Resources
Author website- Pooja Agarwal
Author website- Patrice Bain
Psychological Concepts and Figures
Illusion of fluency
Serial position effect
Transfer (Near or Far)