Guest Post: The Science of Learning By Bradley Busch and Edward Watson

Why is it that some students learn more efficiently and effectively than others? Over the past two years, as part of our research for our book The Science of Learning: 77 Studies that Every Teacher needs to Know, we have been digging deep into the world of educational and cognitive psychology. After reading hundreds of research papers, it is clear to see that  how our students are taught something directly impacts on how likely they are to remember it at a later date.

However, one of the criticisms of research is that it is filled with scientific sounding jargon and does not easily cross-over to the day-to-day running of a classroom. To this end, we have highlighted seven strategies that we think are based on strong research that can be quickly and easily implemented straight away in order to help students maximise their learning: 

  1. Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is any activity that prompts students to generate an answer to a question. This can include past papers, multiple choice tests or answering questions verbally.  Recent research has found that students who study utilising this strategy outperformed their peers who simply re-read their revision notes by over 30%.

  1. Space out Learning

Spacing is technique in which students look to learn a little information often, rather than learning a lot all at once (i.e. cramming). Essentially, it is better to do one hour a day for seven days rather than doing seven hours in one day. Researchers are still exploring what the optimum time students should leave between study sessions depends on how far away a test is. The further away the test, the longer the gaps should be. This all suggests that forgetting (or almost forgetting) the material and then re-visiting it is key to long term learning.

  1. Interleaving

Interleaving involves students varying the type of problems they answer within a topic. The effectiveness of interleaving was demonstrated in a recent study, which found that when students interleaved the type of question they answered, they scored an average of 63% on a test a week later, whereas those who used blocking (where students answer the same types of problem), only scored an average of 20%. Interleaving is an effective strategy because it gives students an opportunity to practice using a range of different thinking strategies and helps them to identify the most appropriate and effective ones.

  1. Pre-Questions

Pre-questioning is where a teacher asks questions about the material, before they teach it. Research has demonstrated that when teachers ask pre-questions, not only is their memory of the material that was pre-questioned better, but also their memory of unrelated information. Therefore, if a teacher wants to enhance their students’ memory of the necessary material, they should begin their lessons with pre-questions, rather than the traditional learning objectives or lesson outcomes.

  1. Elaborative Interrogation

Elaborative interrogation involves students asking themselves questioning the material they are learning. This may include “why is this the case?” or “why is this true for X but not Y?” Elaborative interrogation aids learning as the more students have to think about and process information, the more likely they are to remember it.

  1. Dual Coding

Dual coding is a technique where students combine words and pictures when learning. Research has found that when students studied with both they correctly answered twice as many questions as those who studied with just words. Therefore, where try to present students with resources that include some writing and a graphic that captures the core message of the text.

     7. Reading Out Loud

If students do decide to revise by reading their notes, they should read them aloud rather than in silence, as this allows for much more of the information to be retained. Research found that when students read aloud rather than in silence, they recalled 12% more information. This is because when students read in silence, they often skim read the text, meaning they fail to interact with and process the information efficiently.

The Science of Learning: 77 Studies that Every Teacher Needs to Know (Routledge, £18.99) by Bradley Busch and Edward Watson is out now.  20% discount and free delivery available from the Routledge website – simply enter code A017 at checkout. Expires 31/07/19

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Categories: 1st POST, Exams, Guest Post, Learning, Primary, Research, Secondary, Teaching and Training.

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