Research to the Classroom: Daily Review - Part 2 - Teaching

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Hello and welcome to this episode of the Structured Literacy Podcast coming to you from Pataway Burnie right here in Tasmania. This episode is the second in this Research to the Classroom series about daily review and retrieval where we will unpack practical aspects of this practice and share tips for you to use it in the classroom. If you haven't listened to the previous episode about the research behind daily review and retrieval, I suggest that you go back and listen to Season Three, Episode Eight. There are many buzzwords and practices in education, and daily review could be one of them. People share PowerPoints and presentations, workbooks, and other resources, and we use them. Sometimes effectively, sometimes not. Today's episode is about helping you to get the most out of daily review and to really maximize student learning.

What Daily Review Is and Isn't.
So we're going to start our episode with a chat about what daily review is and isn't. Let's start with what it's not. Daily review is not a chance to front-load new learning. It's not an opportunity for new instruction. It's not the time to catch up kids who have missed out on learning for whatever reason. If you're using PowerPoints or presentations from somewhere, and it's taking you 45 minutes to conduct a basic daily review because you need to stop and teach every second concept before students can answer the questions, that's not a daily review. It's teaching, and it's not very effective teaching at that. Daily review is all about retrieval. If instruction is about getting information and concepts into students' brains, retrieval is about getting it back out again.

What Is Powerful Teaching?
To give you specific guidance about making retrieval and daily review really strong, I'm drawing on the book, Powerful Teaching by Pooja Agarwal, a teacher and cognitive scientist and Patrice Bain, an experienced teacher. When I picked this book up and started reading, I just couldn't put it down. My copy of the book has tabs with notes, highlighted sections, and notes in the margins that I made as I read. If you like tidy books, please don't look at a photo of books that I really like to read. If you're looking for a book to study at school, besides mine, of course, I highly recommend this one. They also have a website,, where you can find a bunch of free downloads of templates to use in your classroom. Now, I have no affiliate arrangement with these ladies or the publisher of this book. I just think that it's a great read and it's super practical, but let's pretend that you don't have time or headspace to read books (as if I didn't know that you don't) and I'll run you through some cliff notes of what I found to be really impactful. 

If You Can Forget Something, Did You Ever Really Learn It?
Firstly, the authors discuss a point that's so obvious that I felt silly underlining it, and here it is. Just because you know something once, it doesn't mean you'll always remember it. That might seem like the dumbest point in the universe to make, but have a think. How many times do we teach, assuming that just because we did something or just because students gave a right answer once, they know it? The question to that, my friends, is far too many times. 

For this next point, let's do a task. I'd like you to repeat this number, 5932. Say it again, 5932. One more time, 5932, and then say it to yourself a couple more times. I'll give you a second.  How fluent do you feel in remembering the number 5932? Chances are that you feel pretty fluent. That was easy, wasn't it? When we feel fluent in something, we assume that we aren't going to forget it, and so we stop practising it. So the point here is that when information feels fluent, we forget it. Relating this back to the classroom, how often have you taught a topic and felt like your students knew things? They were answering your questions, and you felt good about their growth, and then you stopped talking about the topic for a little while and came back to it a few weeks later, only to discover that the students had forgotten it. The question here is, if we can forget something in a few weeks or a few days, did we really learn it in the first place? We've all heard the saying, "Easy come, easy go" about money. Well, it applies to memory too. In order for retrieval to be really effective, there needs to be effort applied. Only asking children about things that are easy for them won't lead to the gains you're looking for.

What Kinds of Questions Should be Included in a Daily Review?
So what kinds of questions should be included in a daily review or in retrieval practice? In our last episode, I shared that a meta-analysis indicated that a mix of multiple-choice and short-answer questions yielded better results than either of these question types on their own. In Powerful Teaching, the authors shared details of a study where including both facts and application questions resulted in the best outcomes. That's pretty consistent. So what can we take away from this? Well, include a mix of basic and higher-order questions in your retrieval work where possible. This could mean that you might ask basic questions like, "Is the following sentence a simple or a compound sentence?" With a follow up question of, "This sentence is a compound sentence because dot, dot, dot" and have the students complete the answer. A third question could be to write a compound sentence about Jack and Jill using the coordinating conjunction. So what we're doing here is we're talking about facts. We're asking students to analyse and we're asking them to apply. The great thing about asking students to evaluate and apply through retrieval is that it helps to build knowledge, which further enhances higher order thinking, which further enhances knowledge, which further enhances higher order thinking, and it goes on.

What are Some Simple and Effective Techniques for Retrieval?
When it comes to specific ways that you can conduct retrieval in the classroom, the authors of Powerful Teaching have some super simple, highly effective techniques to share, and I'm going to share some of them with you. The first one is the brain dump, which is simply asking students to write down everything they can remember about a topic. The proper term for this is free recall. According to Agarwal and Bain, free recall or brain dumps have been shown to boost student learning of past and future content, boost organisation of knowledge, and boost inferential reasoning. There is no need to collect what students write, just get them to think and write, and then you move on. It's a way of engaging them in thinking about the learning you were hoping they were doing. As you were teaching, you might choose to have students swap their writing with a partner and then ask them to add something that wasn't already written down. But that's kind of an optional extra.

Another technique described in the book is two things. This involves, at any point in the lesson, asking students to share two things they've learned so far, to share two things I learned yesterday or two things that you learned today that relate to something you've previously learned. This can be used to begin a lesson, during a lesson, or at the end. You may have heard me talk about getting students to sum up their learning from the lesson as a way of making sure that your instruction has hit the mark in a previous episode of the podcast. This technique is super simple and zero prep other than perhaps thinking about where this might be effective within your lessons.

The third technique suggested is mini quizzes through a basket of clues or questions. Simply have students write the numbers one to five on a piece of scrap paper and ask them five random questions that you have previously prepared. Now, they're not random questions just from anywhere in the universe; they're questions prepared ahead of time and based on what you want students to know or be able to do as a result of instruction. So as you're teaching a lesson today, you'll prepare questions, then ask these of the students tomorrow. Once you've asked questions, collect the papers and then put all of the questions back in the basket. You then, according to the book, run through the correct answers so the students are getting feedback straight away. But they're not feeling like they need to go and correct their answers. It's not a competition. Now, later on, you can analyse student responses to see how well they've retained what you taught, and in that way, you're able to adjust future teaching in response to what you see from the students. But it's not a high stakes test. It's just simply a check in.

How Spacing and Interleaving Can Yield Better Results.
Let's now make some connections between this episode and the last one and talk about why these techniques work and what we need to do to get real bang for our buck. The first reason that these techniques work is spacing. In the last episode, we heard that spacing has been consistently shown to yield better results than massed practice. That is, practice that happens all at once. So when you randomly draw out questions about content from previous lessons, or you have students write everything they can remember from previous instruction, you're automatically engaging in spacing, and the thing about the spacing is that over time, the space between asking the questions gets progressively larger. So that when something is new, you revise it more frequently and then as the students become familiar with it, you space out the amount of time between the questions. This enables the material that's been learned to be almost forgotten before you're asking students to retrieve it and it's that point of getting to almost forgetting and then retrieving that's really powerful. A further factor to consider in preparing for retrieval or review is interleaving. Interleaving involves mixing up questions from the same subject area. For example, if you're a Resource Room member and you use our text-based units, you have access to several follow-up questions to reinforce each word that's explicitly taught in vocabulary instruction. Put these questions on strips of paper and then put them into a box or basket and that means that when you draw a question out, the questions will be automatically mixed up or interleaved. We've got the same rough learning area, but the questions are kind of in a random order. In Powerful Teaching, we see that the technique of interleaving is powerful because it promotes a thing called discrimination. That means that students need to make a decision as part of answering the question. If you only ask four questions about the same word, one after the other, it would be easier for students to answer those questions but the learning wouldn't be as strong. Remember, retrieval needs to be a little bit effortful. Not so effortful that the students can't do it or it makes them stressed, but effortful enough that they have to work at it.

Do Your PowerPoints Cut the Mustard?
You might have noticed that none of the suggestions in this episode involved a PowerPoint presentation. There are a couple of reasons for me choosing to share these rather than recommended places where you can find prepared PowerPoints. The first of these is that I think there's a great temptation to grab a PowerPoint file, pop it into the classroom and say, "There we are, we are doing daily review. We are doing explicit teaching." The point of daily review or retrieval practice is that it's based on what you've actually taught, it's unlikely that someone else knows exactly what you've taught in any given area of instruction. This is where we run into trouble and end up spending 45 minutes on daily review where we're actually reteaching or teaching content instead of five to ten minutes, having the students, retrieve and practice. My view is that great daily review or retrieval is based on what you know of your students learning and that it's an opportunity to really respond to student need. If you know that students have struggled with a concept, you will want to revisit it more often. If you can see that students seem to be picking something up really well, you'll keep it in the mix. Remember that we can be fooled into thinking that fluency means long term learning, but perhaps not put as much emphasis on it as something else.

Now, you might have a large number of slides at your disposal and can mix and match them to create your own presentation. If you can do that quickly and easily, go for it, but don't fall into the trap of spending hours creating things and this leads me to my second reason to ask you to put the PowerPoints down. They just take so much time to create and yes, I know that it's ironic for me to say that, considering the number of presentations we have in the Resource Room, but preparing lesson resources is what we do for a full time job. You have so many other things to do, including spending time with friends and family on the weekends. So please don't spend your life making PowerPoints, because that's what you think you need to be doing. The ideas from Powerful Teaching show us that low-tech, low-prep options can be an incredibly effective way to bring evidence-based instruction to our classrooms.

Let's Recap.
There's nothing wrong with PowerPoints, as long as we remember that our life shouldn't be spent making them and we are making sure that the questions align with what we've taught and what we know students have learned. I said it earlier and I'm going to say it again. The point of retrieval is to get information out of students' heads. If the information wasn't in there in the first place, we aren't doing retrieval, we're putting kids into impossible situations by asking them questions about things they don't know. 

Daily Review seems like a new fad, but research into spacing and learning has been around for over a hundred years. We all forget things, and one-and-done doesn't lead to learning. Do you know how I know that? I'll bet you that you can't remember that number I gave you earlier in the podcast unless you've written it on your hand, and if you wrote it on your hand and you're about to read it back, you're not actually remembering. It was 5932, by the way. We can further enhance the impact of retrieval by mixing up question types with facts based questions and questions that ask students to analyze and apply, and mixing questions up from a similar area of the curriculum or interleaving them. 

Next Week's Episode
The next episode of the Structured Literacy Podcast is our teacher talk episode, where I speak with a school leader about how they are embedding review and retrieval into core instruction, not making it simply an add-on.

Until I see you next time, happy teaching everyone. Bye.


Agarwal P. K. and Bain, P. (2019). Powerful teaching : unleash the science of learning. Jossey-Bass.

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