Retrieval practice is the repeated low-stakes quizzing of prior learning to help students learn new knowledge, and it is now a deservedly common practice in classrooms. Research provides a compelling case that spaced retrieval quizzing is effective for students in all subjects and of all ages. In their meta-analytic review, researchers Yang and Luo showed quizzing improved retention of learning in primary, secondary and post-secondary education across 18 subjects and for male and female students.
The Education Endowment Foundation’s Review of Applied Research in Schools and Classrooms reviewed a huge number of cognitive science studies and showed, “medium or large benefits from retrieval practice,” citing it as one of the most impactful learning strategies available to teachers.
How can teachers use Google Workspace to make retrieval practice as effective and efficient as possible?
Use Google Forms to easily create your retrieval practice quizzes
Google Forms is an amazing tool for creating quick, automatically graded, low stakes assessments and is therefore your best tool for retrieval practice quizzes for homework and in lessons. Some studies show that students generating their own answers is more effective than recognising a correct answer, e.g. from a multiple choice. Therefore, try to mix up your Google Forms quizzes by selecting from the Multiple choice, Checkboxes, Drop-down, Short answer, and Paragraph answer choices.
Use Practice Sets to assess your students’ understanding
Google Workspace for Education will soon launch Practice Sets, a new tool which uses artificial intelligence to assess and give feedback to your students. You set factual recall quizzes and comprehension activities through Practice Sets, and depending on students’ correct or incorrect answers, Practice Sets will provide timely resources (YouTube videos and weblinks) to aid the student in their understanding. The research, and common sense, show that if a student gets an answer wrong and is not quickly corrected, they can continue with that misconception well into the future and straight into the exam hall. With Practice Sets, those misconceptions will be rectified efficiently and without the teacher spending hours providing feedback.
Create a stand-alone Retrieval Practice Google Classroom
Both Google Forms and Practice Sets will feed directly into your Gradebook, fully incorporated into Google Classroom - but you may not want every retrieval practice to affect student grades. One smart idea is to add all students from a year group or class into a separate classroom, called “History Quizzes” for instance, which will help you more easily evaluate just their retrieval practice performance separate from their homework and other assignments.
When creating these quizzes, research suggests that retrieval questions should not be too easy, but also students should be initially supported. Rosenshine’s Principle of Instruction claims teachers should aim for students to achieve around 80% success in classroom tests. A 100% pass rate would be too high and show too little challenge, but lower than around 70% may lead to feelings of a lack of confidence and mastery needed to succeed.
Schedule the quizzes using Google Calendar
With everything going on in the school day and classroom, it can be easy to forget (ironically!) to retest your students on that crucial bit of knowledge that they need for their exam. Retrieval practice should go hand-in-hand with spacing. Scheduling the quizzes on your Google Calendar at the outset will allow you to ensure your retrieval practice is spaced for ideal retention. Schedule the same quiz for October, December and March, to save yourself time whilst putting the cognitive science research into action.
The research shows the retrieval should ideally come from long-term memory, i.e. what your students covered last month rather than last lesson. Spaced retrieval, at increasing breaks: 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 2 months, is shown to be very effective for long term memory
retention, and combats the ‘forgetting curve’ whereby we lose the knowledge we just learnt if it is not recalled.
Create a Google Sheet ‘menu’ of retrieval practice opportunities
Retrieval practice is not limited to quizzes or exams, but can include any exercise where students attempt to retrieve what they have learned from their memory. A Google Sheet shared with students of hyperlinks to quizzes (BBC Bitesize, Seneca Learning, exam papers, YouTube videos, etc.) can make an attractive menu of opportunities for students independently revising. It can also be shared very effectively among teachers of the same subject, phase, or year to increase retrieval opportunities for even more students than those just in your own class.
This article was featured in the Winter 2022 issue of the Canopy Education Magazine. Read the full magazine here.