Teaching Methods

Retrieval for Study

I love using retrieval practices.

And while the practice itself is valuable without the need to do more beyond the retrieving act, I really like to add student discourse to the mix.

Today we did retrieval with a homework problem. I’ve also done something similar with notes from class. One of the keys in this activity is color coding.

My students were given an AP problem to work on over the weekend. When they arrived in class today I informed them we were going to discuss the problem but don’t pull it out! I proceeded to give students a blank copy of the problem. Students had 10 minutes to complete the problem using only their brains.

In phase two I had students discuss the problem within their table groups. At the beginning of the year I had put students in groups based on the scores of their cognitive reflection test. Students were initially in mixed groups with the hope that reflective ideas could spread. Unfortunately this backfired a bit as students on the lower end started taking passive roles. For this semester I put similar-scoring students together while also accounting for the personalities I’ve come to know. This means that I knew when I had students talking they were working in similar-ability teams. As students added or changed answers they highlighted the revisions with a highlighter.

For phase three I counted off students in groups of 4 so ideas could spread and mix. Again, students highlighted anything they added or changed with a second color.

Lastly, I went through the solutions formally, but because they had spent so much time on the nitty-gritty I was able to talk about the problem in terms of the big picture. Any lingering revisions needed to be coded in a third color.

When we finished I pointed out that the colors give them an idea of where their studies and focus need to be. Start with the first color: they have lots of resources to help them with those ideas. The second color required a spread of ideas and perhaps had a few more challenging ones in the mix.

Students commented on how they felt more confident about the work we are doing after this activity, and I just love that the paper creates a really clear visual of where they are. The best part is that this paper is just for them. No reason to feel shame because you’re in the middle of the learning process.


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