By Krista Chambless

In my webinar “Teaching for Long-Term Memory Part 1” I present the first 3 steps of the learning process and how they apply to the WL classroom. “Teaching for Long-Term Memory Part 2” is the continuation of my discussion of the learning process. These presentations are based on the book How to Teach so Students Remember  (second edition) by Marilee Sprenger. 

This book presents the seven steps in the learning/memory cycle. In an effort to improve my teaching I am applying these steps to my Spanish classroom. I recognize this is a process and I have chosen to focus on one step at a time over the last 2 years. I have seen a tremendous difference in student learning. Here I will briefly discuss the next remaining steps in the learning process as determined by research.

As a reminder:

Step 1 is to Reach and Teach using some type of emotional hook; 

Step 2 is to provide time for Reflection; and 

Step 3 is to help students Recode information. 

If you would like more information on these steps, please see my first post on Teaching for Long-term memory. 

Step 4 is Reinforce. Reinforcement is when there is some type of verbal or symbolic reward for academic performance. Research has demonstrated that instructional reinforcement improves learning. Feedback (if done well) is one of the most effective forms of reinforcement. It should encourage students and strengthen what they know. Moss and Brookhart (2009), suggest that feedback should “feed forward.” That is, it should be used by the learner to improve performance. 

There has been much research on different types of feedback as well as how and when it should be given. However, here I will only provide a few tips as the topic of feedback could be a webinar in and of itself. The purpose of feedback is to reduce the gap between where students are and where they need to be. So, as you are giving feedback, ask yourself two things: “Is your feedback helping to bridge the gap in the student’s knowledge?” and “Is what you are saying helping or hindering the student’s performance?”. 

Personally, when giving feedback I have found the sandwich approach to be very effective. I start with something positive, then tell them what they should work on and end with another positive. As Rick Stiggins states “Students need continuous access to descriptive feedback that describes their work and informs them about how to do better next time”(2017). Feedback is not to be a grade! Grades come at the end of the process; while feedback to be successful must come at the beginning and throughout the learning process. Thus, many formative assessments should be given so that teachers can see a student’s thought process and help correct any errors in that process.

Step 5, Rehearsal, is the mental manipulation of new information and is crucial in moving information into the long-term memory. Rote learning is a type of rehearsal and is best used for memorization of facts such as multiplication tables, state capitals, etc. Elaborative learning, the second type of rehearsal relies on creating meaning and is more effective for teaching semantic information. 

Marzano, Picking and Pollack (2011) found that skill learning requires AT LEAST 24 practices (rehearsals) for students to reach 80% proficiency. This has major implications for classroom teaching. I know that I cannot provide 24 rehearsals of all skills during class time. Therefore, I must make both classwork and homework meaningful and important. I realize that homework is a controversial topic for many and I do not wish to debate its merits here. I only wish to point out that in order to get 24 rehearsals of a particular skill, I choose to give homework in a limited capacity. 

Another important part of rehearsal is variety of practice. If we want students to be able to access information in a variety of ways it must be practiced in those ways. This will ensure storage of information in different parts of the brain. This step expands connections for conceptual, procedural and factual knowledge, allows change to take place in the brain and solidifies neural connections which aid in transfer of information to long-term memory. 

Step 6 is Review. Reviewing is thinking or talking about something again. Why should we review? It helps prevent “tip of the tongue” phenomenon when you remember “learning” the information but cannot recall it. Review also aids in retaining the information over a long period of time and prevents misattribution which is associating a memory to the wrong situation or source. It encourages retrieval from long-term memory and in many cases prevents a student from procrastinating and cramming. 

Review should be built into our classes naturally. Marzano, in his book “The New Art and Science of Teaching” (2017) discusses 8 specific strategies for review: Cumulative Review, Cloze Activity, Summary, Presented Problem, Demonstration, Brief practice test or exercise, Questioning, 

and Give one, get one. I’m not going to discuss each of these, but I highly recommend reading the book to help with planning reviews. Additionally, reviews should match instruction and assessment by practicing similar questions under similar conditions.  It should also provide opportunities for high level thinking skills and strengthen existing networks of knowledge.

The last step, Retrieval, is the ability to bring a past event or prior knowledge to one’s mind. It is this step that we practice during assessment. We hope that if we have followed the previous 6 steps, retrieval will be successful. To help students with retrieval, the assessment must match instructional strategies. We must also make sure that we provide strong enough cues to accelerate memory retrieval. If retrieval is unsuccessful we must reevaluate. Here are some questions to ask yourself if retrieval fails. 

Are your students reflecting throughout the unit?

Are you providing enough reinforcement?

Are you varying rehearsal strategies?

Are you spacing reviews appropriately?

Have you reflected on your teaching experience?

Again, I would like to say that I realize trying to implement all of these steps at once can be overwhelming. Remember, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and I would add, “Rome was built laying brick after brick one upon another”.  In our classrooms we should all be doing the same: laying bricks of knowledge, brick by brick, layer by layer. So, I encourage you to choose ONE step to focus on, or even one part of one step. When you feel you have mastered that part well enough, then choose something new to focus on. It could be that you spend all year focusing on one step. That is OK! Teaching is about laying bricks!

Watch the webinar here!

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