Make it Stick

Make it Stick – The Science of Successful Learning

Chapter 3

During our early dismissal today, the staff read and discussed the chapter, Mix Up Your Practice.  In summary the authors are comparing the lasting effects of the standard practice/practice/practice and cramming forms of study to ones they term varied, spaced or interleaved.  The standard techniques of reviewing like problems endlessly and cramming massive amounts of information prior to testing provide nothing more than “momentary strength.”   The book provides evidence of final test scores increasing by 215% when problem types were mixed and practice varied.  This kind of research based information is crucial as we teach our students how and what to study.

The simple act of spacing out study and practice in installments and allowing time to elapse between them makes both the learning and the memory stronger, in effect building habit strength.”   The trick is to find the right interval and be sure to circle back before too much is forgotten making retrieval more like relearning.

I will admit it is a bit validating to read about the continued effectiveness of flashcards.  I know my own boys were pretty tired of hearing me ask them if they made flash cards to study from.  They think it’s funny now when they tell me I should use them to help increase my memory as I age 🙂  The book does offer an additional flash card technique developed by the German scientist, Sebastian Leitner – appropriately named the Leitner Box.  This series of four boxes contains categorized flash cards according to how well you know what’s on each one.  The cards that need the most practice go in box one and are practiced the most, the cards you are somewhat familiar with go in the second box and are practiced  – just not as much as box one and so on.  The idea being that what is furthest from mastery gets practiced the most.  While this  technique might sound simplistic – it is one that has been around for quite some time.  If you are looking for an additional way to help your student – try this – it absolutely works.  By mixing cards with varied information you can also experiment with the ideas presented above regarding varied and interleaved practice.

The bottom line is something I believe we all knew from the time we were in school – cramming is a short term relatively ineffective study habit if retention is a learning goal.


Peter C. Brown is a writer and novelist in St. Paul, Minnesota

Henry L. Roediger III is James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis

Mark A. McDaniel is Professor Psychology and Director of the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education at Washington University in St. Louis

Stay tuned !  Here is a YouTube summary of Make it Stick by Carol DeHart

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