Science of learning: Retrieval practice

Retrieval practice is the act of recalling learned information from long term memory. Each time the information is recalled it strengthens the connections between ideas and changes the context they are viewed in, which develops a pupil’s ability to use the information in different situations.

Regular retrieval practice of prior knowledge can also help make knowledge become more available, accurate and accessible.

Retrieval practice can also benefit us as teachers as we can identify key gaps in understanding, and highlight misconceptions, giving us the opportunity to address the missing links to allow progress to be made.

There are three key elements to retrieval practice that ensure it is beneficial:

1.Vary the context in which retrieval practice occurs. Changing the context helps to trigger multiple pathways and enrich the context around core knowledge.

2. When using retrieval practice, its needs to be purposeful and link to the new knowledge that is going to be learnt.  As teachers we should also be highlighting the connection to prior knowledge and the new learning.

3. The knowledge being retrieved needs to be used and built on in the lesson or topic. There is no point retrieving and activating prior knowledge if pupils don’t then use it.

There are lots of ways to embed retrieval practice. What is most important is trying to connect it to the new learning taking place.

Retrieval practice examples:

Retrieval practice

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