The next time you need a gift for a college-bound high school graduate, forget Oh the Places You’ll Go and buy this book instead. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel contains advice for how to study that’s counterintuitive but that makes sense once you understand how the brain and memory work. We think we’re studying hard when we reread the textbook and our notes, underline and highlight, and then reread the marked up parts. According to the authors this strategy is not only ineffective, but it gives us the illusion that we have mastered material when in reality, we didn’t “make it stick.”
Rather than rereading, the authors suggest that students practice retrieving the information from memory by self-quizzing, taking practice tests, and using flash cards. This retrieval practice should be spaced and interleaved with other content because working hard to retrieve what you have learned will help you retain it, and varying your practice helps you transfer learning to other situations. The book contains several explanations and examples of how this works in the classroom, in the workplace, and for lifelong learning. Other strategies like reflection, elaboration to connect new knowledge with what you already know, and generation (trying to solve a problem before you are given an explanation) are also addressed.
At first I thought this book would appeal only to teachers who focus primarily on memorization and test preparation, but I can recommend it for any teacher and any learner. Even in an inquiry-based or project-based classroom, there are times when we must build background knowledge and practice skills. The strategies discussed in this book have relevance for everyone, and the more we understand about cognitive science, the more effective we can be as educators.
If you read this book (or have already read it) use the comments to share some examples of how you might use some of these strategies in your teaching.
School is starting soon, but I think I’ll have time to read at least one more professional book this summer. I’ll be reading Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success by Regie Routman this week, and I’ll continue to make my way through 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Gene V. Glass.