James M. Lang, author of Small Teaching reminds us that teaching involves a feedback loop of constant improvement. His premise: small tweaks can make a big difference in student success. Here are a few of the simple, innovative ideas he proposes to enhance learning and retention.
- Retrieval Bookends: When you begin class, ask students: “What was the most important concept from the previous class?” When closing, ask them write down the main thing they learned. These repeated retrievals help to cement concepts in memory.
- Learning Closet: Lang says the challenge with learning is not getting ‘new stuff’ in, but going back and finding it later, similar to looking for an item in a disorganized closet. Repeated opportunities to recall and apply new information, such as with a quiz or practice activity, helps students to organize their ‘closet’ for better retrieval.
- Connection Notebooks: Ask students: How do new concepts connect to your existing knowledge? How do they relate to last week’s important concepts, or to another course, or a book, movie or current event? Have them document these mental connections to build a cognitive web of memory and learning.
- Connection Sharing: Connecting concepts can be even more powerful when we ask students to share them verbally, or in an online discussion forum, which can lead to fresh ideas, new interpretations and socially meaningful learning.
- Choice & Control: Students learn more effectively when they have a sense of control over their learning choices. Providing multiple assessment options for demonstrating learning can motivate students, encourage growth, and allow for more creative expression.