Friday, August 3, 2018

#MTBoSBlaugust Day 3: Thinking About Retrieval Practice

I try not to go overboard with how many instructional routines I change each year so I can make sure I actually follow through on the things I believe are most important. This year, retrieval practice is high on my list. Ever since I read Make It Stick, I've been on a mission to make retrieval practice part of my daily routine in class. This post from Class Teaching is a pretty good summary of the book's discussion of spacing and interleaving.

I screenshot this photo from Twitter on July 5th (and that is really all I know about it...This would not pass a test right now, I know) and I loved the structure that it presented for integrating retrieval practice as part of a routine in the classroom.

Mrs. Mahoney used this as a warm up with her classes and she was very positive about the results. I like her addition of a "conundrum," but don't want to take on too much too soon. It might be something I'll add in later. 

I also liked this post from That Boy Can Teach, where he advocates for the following when engaging in retrieval practice:
  • Make it challenging - ensure that it incorporates desirable difficulties ("certain training conditions that are difficult and appear to impede performance during training but that yield greater long-term benefits than their easier training counterparts" -
  • No grading - any form of grading, such as the teacher collecting in scores, will begin to make the activities feel like they are high stakes which has the potential to make students feel anxious which isn't conducive to remembering.
  • Mistakes are learning's friend - students will learn from their mistakes (as long as feedback is given which highlights their mistakes) and when asked to complete another retrieval practice exercise will be more likely to remember something they previously had got wrong.
  • Feedback must be given - see above; students won't know what they have got wrong or have missed out if feedback is not provided either by a teacher or a fellow student.
I do believe that some grading at specific time intervals could be helpful, but I like the idea of it being low stakes at first. He shares a lot of strategies that could be implemented easily and my wheels really started turning.

I felt very inspired by this post from Love to Teach, where she discussed using Retrieval Practice in her history class.  Each color corresponds with a time frame (Last lesson, last week, etc) and the further it was in the past, the more points it would be worth. 

These are some templates for challenge grids that could be adapted to any subject area. I like that these are already saved into different formats, depending on what you use. 

Here's what I've decided will be my start this fall:
  • I am adding a section like this to the bottom of each homework assignment. These will be brief questions, but will address a variety of mixed topics. Students can ask questions and see solutions throughout the week.
  • On Thursday or Friday of each week (I only see my students every other day), we will have a retrieval challenge. I anticipate coming up with the most witty name imaginable for this new tradition. Each of these will only cover material from the retrieval practice on the homework.  I have never been one of those teachers who says "it's all fair game once, no matter what"...probably because I was an anxious student and I think it's only fair to give some warning. 
I'm still working out the kinks, but see this as something that could be really helpful for my students and see pay offs in test scores and in how much they remember as they move forward in mathematics. If you use any strategies like this already, please feel free to comment below about what's worked for you! 


  1. I started doing interleaved retrieval practice for homework last year and I loved it! Students weren't forgetting things they just learned, and they were able to apply these skills as we moved forward with new concepts. I held them accountable for completing the assignments though, which was helpful for ensuring they actually got the review!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing- my gut tells me this is a better idea, but I like hearing that you saw results :) Did you just hold them accountable by checking for completion?