Revisiting retrieval practice

Recently there has been a huge spike in views of this post from 2018 where I shared a selection of retrieval practice starter activities which could be used in MFL lessons. At that time I was doing a lot of thinking and writing about this, in fact a quick look at the posts tagged with retrieval and retrieval practice or memory on this blog will show you it was something I was quite interested in. Looking back at that 2018 post now, I see some activities that I’d be less likely to use now and others that I still frequently turn to. In fact I’m not the only one – check out chapter four of Making Every MFL Lesson Count by James Maxwell where a selection of these activities are mentioned (p102/3). (The whole Making Every Lesson Count series was featured on episode 10 of From Page to Practice.)

My concern, and reason for this updated post, is that the post that is being shared somewhat encourages the view that retrieval is all about a starter activity. This is not the case!

Since writing this post a lot of time has passed and retrieval has become much more of a “buzzword” than it was then, although it was clear that it was growing. A whole book has even been written about it to introduce teachers to the research and a range of resources to put it into practice in their classroom, (Retrieval Practice by Kate Jones was featured on a recent episode of my podcast).

Other books that have been featured on the podcast that mention retrieval in some way are:

And I can promise you, I’ve not done this on purpose! It’s just the way a lot of edubooks have been heading of late, which should give a hint towards the potential impact on practice.

For me, I’d say the way my thinking has moved on now is that it’s less about the particular resource or activity that I plan for the lesson, although those original ideas are still a useful tool. The main thing has been making retrieval practice into a habit, not just an activity. My students must think that I’m some kind of broken record for the amount of times I tell them they need to try and do things from memory before checking their resources. But I’m happy as long as it means they’re doing plenty of the kind of thinking that is going to help them commit their learning to long term memory. You know you’re getting somewhere with developing habits when some students now try something for the first time in one colour pen and then return to the parts they missed using their notes and another colour pen without being told. Don’t get me wrong, they’re definitely not all doing it but it’s something.

As always, this is just my thoughts down in a quick post and should only be taken as such. I know there are many methods, techniques and strategies and this is only one.

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