Making It Stick: How one Homeschool Program incorporates difficult learning in the classroom

Make It Stick Part 2–The Good News about Testing

My last post on “Make It Stick,“ covered “desirable difficulties” created by spaced, interleaved, and varied practice to help the brain hold on to new information.  One problem the authors noted over and over among students was a disconnect between what they thought they knew and their actual retention of new material. Their recommended remedy is one that we homeschoolers, me included, often undervalue or even resist: testing.

Before you stop reading, I’m not advocating for more standardized testing. Many parents have begun homeschooling partly out of frustration with the amount of assessment testing their students must endure, largely for the sake of validating instruction practices rather than improving learning.  Since students don’t receive specific feedback from these standardized tests, they can’t really learn from them.

But testing can be an indispensable tool for learning, revealing the disparity between our assessment of our own learning and what we actually know. Knowing what we know (and especially what we still need to work on) is a critical factor for successful learning. This may seem obvious, but our success-addicted culture has made us so uncomfortable with failure that we are reluctant to employ a strategy that will reveal our deficiency.

The Testing Effect

But it turns out, testing has more to offer than showing our weak spots. The simple process of taking a test results in better learning.  This phenomenon, known as the “Testing Effect,” is well documented. Research shows that simply testing students, even during or at the end of a class, increases retention significantly (28-32).

For example, in a study conducted by one of the book’s authors, researchers found that middle school students performed more than a letter grade better on quizzed material than unquizzed material a month after initial exposure (20).

Make Testing a Tool

Understanding testing as a tool for improving retention can help our students approach testing more positively. Self-testing is an extremely effective study strategy. Flashcards and Quizlet are obvious examples, but students can also train themselves to think of new material in terms of questions they might see on a test. Taking time at the end of a lecture or chapter to write down the main points without looking at notes is another way to self-test that increases retention. Spacing self-testing sessions so that some forgetting happens will make them even more effective.

So how can we homeschoolers reap the benefits of the testing effect? First, we can model a positive attitude about failure for our students, responding to their shortcomings and our own as learning opportunities. Second, we can teach our students to view testing as a tool for learning as well as for evaluation. Third, we can encourage self-testing as an integral part of study strategy, a way to use limited study time efficiently and to achieve stronger, longer-lasting learning.

Visit here to read Part 1 of Make It Stick.

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Psalm 127:4

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.