I am always looking for the magic key that will give my students the needed boost in recalling information in their coursework. I just ran across an article in my current “reading research file housecleaning” project that provided a good reminder of the value of strategic use of learning tools such as testing and reviewing, reframed as desirable difficulties in learning. Within the last year, I had also read an article that supported the effectiveness of testing at the end of a learning session as a way to strengthen later recall. In my earlier doctoral research I had studied Spitzer’s 1939 study that showed that with prose material, testing immediately after reading strengthened later recall. The current article reported research that supported the notion that if instead of immediate testing (perhaps summarizing or taking a short test within ten minutes of reading a passage), a learner would benefit by waiting longer for the first test strengthened recall later. This suggests to me that when students are learning a new concept, if they review their reading and lecture notes, quiz themselves, and then are tested later, they will more successfully integrate that information into their contextual understandings instead of immediately reciting information that may not have transferred into long-term memory.

So advice to my older students, read and study your newly acquired information, but be sure to include a delayed testing step later in your study schedule. This testing may take the form of term definitions, comparisons and contrasts, or other ways to manipulate information so that you can assess what you have learned and to identify what you need to work on. These researchers also suggest using equally spaced retrieval practice sessions as a way to increase recall. Both of these suggestions, delayed testing and sequencing of practice sessions may challenge the disorganized student. A good way to develop skill in planning schedules that will pay off in the future.

For my younger students grappling with word- and text-reading fluency, they will continue to be taught to use distributed trial sessions as they practice word list and story reading. Repeated reading which strengthens and enhances automaticity needed for fluent reading can be scheduled using carefully sequenced practice sessions. Overtime, retrieval of words increases both in accuracy and retrieval efficiency.

Karpicke, J. D. & Roediger III, H. L.(2007). Expanding retrieval practice promotes short-term retention, but equally spaced retrieval enhances long-term retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 33, 704-719

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