This morning I finally caught up with “To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test”, the The New York Times article discussing the conclusions of “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping,” a recent Science article on the advantages of test-taking over studying for comprehension and inference-making.
To quote from the abstract:
The advantage of retrieval practice was observed with test questions that assessed comprehension and required students to make inferences.
Our findings support the theory that retrieval practice enhances learning by retrieval-specific mechanisms rather than by elaborative study processes. Retrieval practice is an effective tool to promote conceptual learning about science.
I wonder about retrieval practices versus meaning-making ones. I’d agree from experience that asking students to do something with new learning is better than asking them to put it away. However, I’m curious about how the learning gains from retrieval practices compare to those from applicative, synthetic, and evaluative practices.
While I’m sure the Times article will stir a little hubbub and give rhetorical weight to the already hefty testing regime, we should remember here that we’re comparing the learning effects of note-taking to test-taking. While this is science, it’s not rocket science or any kind of higher-order thinking. I am constantly bemused by the tautologies of testing: students who test more do better on tests. Well, yes, of course.
The tests started in the military and now the military bemoans the “products” of a school system built on testing. So does the academy. So do employers. So do we. Paradigm shift, anyone?
In trying to “produce” graduates that do what we want, we’re failing. It’s time to graduate students who are capable of doing what they want to support themselves, their families, and their communities.
- The decision to follow students’ learning is a deliberate one, not without cost.
- School divisions should share that cost with teachers, students, and parents by working to create a system that incubates amazing, joyful, original work.
- School is not a fetch quest.
Retrieval is an appropriate end for viral marketing, but it can’t be the de facto end goal of any school system that wants to build happy schools, protect our democracy, strengthen our neighborhoods, or save our planet. If we could just do a better job of protecting kids’ curiosity, creativity, and sense of justice, we’d be well on our way to the lives and communities we all deserve.
One suggestion: decentralize big schools into handfuls of inquiry, service, and community-based schools-within-schools that enroll statistically insignificant numbers of students for AYP sanctions. Let teachers, students, and volunteers self-organize by interest, philosophy, readiness, shift, and structure. Let the schools be run democratically and represented by lead disruptors who are otherwise at present siloed in their schools and classrooms. Let the lead disruptors and any interested parties attend monthly colloquia on action-research happening in the schools. Count learning on- and offsite as seat time, since the government has already established that the two are one and the same.
This isn’t that big a shift. We already have departments. We already have tracking; all public schools that track have their own internal test-prep charter schools – they just won’t admit it. We already have PLCs.
Let’s repurpose how we atomize our efforts to better serve students’ diverse learning; let’s stop insisting that students serve us. Students are not retrievers and should not be treated as such, no matter how cute retrieval classrooms look. Students are us. They are the inheritors of our successes and failures.
We won’t move schools out of the failure column by concentrating on the tests. We won’t have successful schools by insisting someone fail.