Retrieval Practice

When I first joined Twitter, I dipped my toes into Twitter chats by participating in #eduread. This small group of math teachers shared and discussed educational books and articles, and although some resources were content specific, most books focused on great educational practices.

Right before I changed jobs, our summer book was Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Because I was in a career transition, I did not participate in the chat, but I did read and study the book. (This new phase in my life coincided with my beginning of listening to podcasts. I discovered The Cult of Pedagogy blog/podcast with this episode, where Jennifer Gonzales interviewed Peter C. Brown, the author of Make It Stick.) Because I was teaching adults, rather than children, I wasn't able to try any of the strategies from the book with my own students, so I only occassionally grabbed the book to review and share a learning strategy.

Fast forward a couple years, and another Cult of Pedagogy podcast episode grabbed my attention, and this time, I am determined to make it stick. In this episode, Gonzales interviewed Dr. Pooja Agarwal about the power of retrieval practice, and the research and the implications on learning blew me away. Even better, Dr. Agarwal shares many ideas you can try tomorrow in your classroom, and they require very little prep or materials.

I started practicing retrieval in my PD sessions by changing one slide. For extended trainings (all day or mult-day) I typically provide a bullet-pointed list of "Remember, here's what we covered earlier." This information puts information into participants' heads.
From this slide...

Here's how I changed my slide to pull information out of participants' heads to provide the exercise of retrieval. this one!
Notice the "Without peeking" part of the instructions!

This very minor tweak allows me to demonstrate retrieval, and then start our conversation about how it could look in classrooms.

Dr. Agarwal founded, and her site contains resources, research, and ideas...but at the very least, sign up for her newsletter. You can also glance at the newsletter archives to see all the learning goodness she shares. Her work is definitely relevant and classroom friendly. (You may have seen Dr. Agarwal's interview during the Ditch Summit, but unfortunately, that video is no longer available.)

This information and research is so important, so I'm trying to share her work with as many people as possible. I even brought up the idea at my dinner group (all teachers, so school talk is the norm) which led to a fun follow-up. One of my friends reached out to a former student who is now a cognitive scientist, and this was her viewpoint:

One last related resource: The Learning Scientists are contributors to the Retrieval Practice site, but they also have their own podcast and resources. They're working their way through the Six Strategies of Effective Learning, and they have two podcast episodes per strategy.

Have you read and applied the work from Made to Stick? What are you doing to improve learning in your work?

I'm always learning (and working to make it stick!)


Quick Wins

One of our vendors (Clarity BrightBytes) calls strategies "Quick Wins" and "Game Changers,"  and my teammates and I enjoy using those same phrases in our work. Colleagues request my go-to tools, so I started a list of my own quick wins. These ideas require only one-click, little set-up, or very low prep.

You can use four out of five of these quick wins for feedback or formative assessment. Three of these tools allow you to include video responses in your work.


I shared this strategy in an earlier post, and now I discovered that using this non-verbal assessment is as effective with adults. As shared in this video, educators can use fist-to-five for both social and academic check-ins, pre-assessments, quick exit polls, etc. My usual questions are:

  • How are you feeling today? (0 - 5 = worst day ever --> lovin' life!)
  • How do you feel about technology in general? (what's a smartphone --> I love all gadgets)
  • For Google training: How do you feel about Google apps?
  • What do you know about differentiated instruction?
When using fist-to-five with my students, 5 = I can teach someone else. After a few uses of this strategy, the kids start using the same language to assess themselves. Win!

As with all formative assessments, the key is to use the "data" to make instructional decisions. When my training session consists of participants who rate themselves as 4-5 with technology, I can move a little more quickly with the tech. The session attendees are more likely to click and experiment with the tools with very little prompting.

First-to-five is a quick win because it requires no prep, it can be used at any time, it's low risk, and it provides me with good information.

Google Docs Quick Create

This Chrome Extension allows you to create a new Google Doc, Sheet, Presentation, Drawing, or Form with a single click. I don't need to go to my Drive or type anything in the Omnibox...simply click and start a new document. One click is definitely a quick win!

WebCam Record

Alice Keeler shares a lot of information about the importance of immediate, specific feedback. She created this Chrome Extension for video feedback, and her tools are so efficient! Click the extension, click start, and the video immediately begins recording. You may record up to 90-seconds. Once you stop recording, the video saves in a folder in your Google Drive, and the video's shortened URL is automatically copied to your clipboard. Here's my sample video, and here are Alice's posts and suggestions about using her Webcam Record Chrome Extension. One-click + an efficient feedback tool = quick win! 


If you need longer videos, check out Loom. There are a lot of screencasting tools available, but this (new-to-me) Chrome Extension takes one click to start and stop, requires very little set-up, and includes these extra features:
  • You can add timestamps.
  • There is a text box underneath your video.
  • You can add comments that are time stamped.
  • You can set permissions for viewing the video (with a password or with a link).
  • You can choose where to position your webcam "circle," the size of the video-cam, or to have no video at all!
I used Loom for this quick screencast about another tool, but if you watch on Loom (click the icon in the upper right corner) you can see the video, comments, and text box.


Last year's tool with the most buzz was Flipgrid. With their amount of social media interactions and responses to this product, the company built an enthusiastic community of educators. There are now more features and options for set-up, but Flipgrid is definitely a quick win because it is so easy for the user; click the green button and start recording! Flipgrid has a large number of possibilities for classroom and school use, such as introductions, reflections, and formative assessments. A colleague has used Flipgrid with the littles (PK-K students) and I ask even the most tech-timid to try Flipgrid...and all groups experience success with this tool.

Time is a precious resource for educators, so I'm always eager to share ways we can save even a few seconds. When a simple strategy or tool provides a lot of bang for your buck, it definitely needs to be shared! What are your favorite quick-wins?

Always learning...

Podcast Love

I'm kind of a podcast rookie (I missed the whole Serial excitement) but now that my work often includes quality time in my car, listening may be one of my favorite ways to learn. I recently noticed how often "I heard in a podcast..." creeps into my conversations!

I used to watch the news before work, but now I keep a podcast playing during my morning routines. I know listening and learning is a much more positive way to begin the day! At home, I sometimes use a small Bluetooth speaker that connects to my phone; otherwise, I prop up my phone in the kitchen window and listen while preparing meals or doing chores.

I subscribe to a lot of podcasts, and I keep others in my feed in case I run out of content. My rule is to stop listening if I'm not enjoying the episode. (I often feel like I have to finish that book, but it's easy for me to delete a podcast that I'm not enjoying!)

My favorite, non-educator specific podcasts:

  • For positivity and self-improvement, my top choice is Happier by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen and her sister Liz Craft co-host this podcast, and I love their conversations, the podcast structure, their rapport, and even their word choices! (You can tell they're both writers!) The length of time is perfect for me (30 - 45 minutes) and I know I can finish an episode before I leave for work. It makes me happier to wake up on Wednesday mornings and anticipate a new episode! And understanding Gretchen's Four Tendencies framework is so useful for working with students and colleagues.
  • Gayle Allen's interviews on Curious Minds are thought-provoking and interesting. I want to know more, read the author's works, and keep learning! I realize I'm already biased because I'm such a fan of Dr. Allen's book, The New Pillars of Modern Teaching (see my post about it) but she is an incredible interviewer, and she is so knowledgeable about her subject's work; you can tell all parties enjoy the conversations.
  • Note to Self, "the tech show about being human," is relevant to my job, since I'm a Digital Learning Consultant, but the host Manoush Zomorodi provides us with information and ideas to help us control our technology, rather than the other way around. She creates one big listener challenge a year and follows up with research, solutions, and predictions. The results from her Bored and Brilliant project even became a TED talk and a book!
  • One of the reasons that I enjoy Pop Culture Happy Hour is that it is pure brain candy. The roundtable discussions are lively, fun, and interesting, and I hear a lot of fantastic book, TV, and movie recommendations...but I doubt I'll use this information during one of my PD sessions. 
For educator specific, my go-to's are these very popular podcasts: Cult of Pedagogy, Google Teacher Tribe, and 10-Minute Teacher with Vicki Davis. I also can't leave out my team's podcast, Digital Learning Radio! (Check out this episode where we interview Gayle Allen.)

For those who don't (YET) listen to podcasts, this video with Ira Glass and his friend Mary is priceless! They share and show how to listen to a podcast:

Of course, This American Life is the premier podcast, and I bet many podcast hosts secretly aspire to be like Ira. :)

For listening, I use the Overcast app, and I like how easy it is to share an episode at a particular minute.

I know audio isn't for everyone, but I find that podcasts meet my learning preferences and they're easy to share. For my professional learning sessions, I try to play at least a minute or two of audio, and I now add podcasts (or particular episodes) to my resource pages.

I'm always on the lookout for recommendations, so what are your favorite podcasts? Do you use podcasts for learning?