Since school started in September, teachers and administrators at our high school have been making their way through the essential book, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The book is our Big Read this year and over the past few weeks, we have tackled chapters two and three. (I wrote about chapter one here.) When planning our Big Read with Make It Stick, we decided to space out reading and discussion over a few months to reinforce one of the central concepts from the book, what the authors call “spaced practice.”
In spaced practice, learners space out practice over a long period of time in what is ultimately the antithesis of cramming–identified in the book as “massed practice.” The authors write that “embedding new learning in long-term memory requires a process of consolidation, in which memory traces are strengthened, given meaning, and connected to prior knowledge–a process that unfolds over hours and may take several days.” Spacing out our reading of Make It Stick ensures that a little forgetting has occurred in between reading and discussing. While forgetting is often viewed as a negative in education, the authors ensure us that forgetting information and retrieving it actually has a positive effect on the learning process. “The increased effort required to retrieve the learning after a little forgetting,” they write, “has the effect of retriggering consolidation, further strengthening memory.”
Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? I hope so! But I really owe it all to Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel, the authors of Make It Stick. However, I’m not the only one dropping terms like “spaced practice” into my routine. Many of us at the high school are becoming fluent in the ideas from the book. “Retrieval,” “varied practice,” “interleaving,” and “reflection” are being casually tossed around during discussions as we dissect the text and examine how the ideas in the book can help our teaching. If you are interested in assessment theory and cognitive development in learners, I highly recommend you pick up a copy and follow along with us. Here’s what we did with chapters two and three for our Big Read:
For chapter two, we used the discussion questions above in small groups to help everyone come to a better understanding of the chapter. Then, we got together to discuss each small group’s answers. One trick when reporting out answers in a large group is to assign each group a number and use a random sequence generator (like this) to select speaking order and make each subsequent group identify something new that other groups did not address. This obviously gets difficult as more groups present, but it is a great way to encourage deeper insight as each group will try to think of something unique to share with the large group during their discussions.
For chapter three, we divided into eight groups and had about thirty minutes to create short visual presentations in the style of PechaKucha. PechaKucha is a relatively new presentation style that originated in Tokyo in 2003 and is designed to ensure people give short, visual presentations. The traditional PechaKucha model is 20×20–a presenter gives a 20-slide presentation and has 20 seconds for each slide. We modified the traditional model to a 5×1 where each group had to present 5 slides with about a minute for each slide. To make presentations go smoother, each group simply added their five slides to an already created presentation outline on Google Drive so we did not have to change files in between each presentation. This is a great tip for anyone who is looking to maximize class time and is sick of losing time to computer changes during group presentations. By having all groups add slides to a Google presentation, no changing of computers or files was needed. Another benefit of PechaKucha is that text is avoided in favor of images so presenters are more inclined to engage with the audience as they won’t be staring at a presentation slide. The PechaKucha from chapter three were fascinating, and since many of the topics have been addressed at various points throughout chapters one and two, they seem to be getting ingrained into our memories.
Throughout three chapters, Make It Stick has given us all a common language to discuss how we teach our students. As I visit classrooms, I see teachers encouraging students to write reflections about what they have learned in class and to predict what will happen next in a text or history –both are important lessons from the book. Our Big Read is already paying dividends. The best part? We still have five chapters to go!