Matt Miller’s Ditch Summit included Pooja Agarwal who works with Retrieval Practice. Ever since my methods class with my wonderful professor, I have been hooked on how the brain works. After the summit, I subscribed to the newsletter, and I make it a priority to read it each week. (And I only forward it to my principal 50% of the time that I want to!) The premise is that it is harder to actually recall information from our memory instead of just re-reading information again. However, the more difficult it is to recall, the more the information sticks in your brain. So even though it is counter-intuitive and your brain doesn’t like it, retrieval practice is more effective.
Since December, I have been more conscious of trying to weave some of these strategies into my teaching. I have discussed it periodically, but I wanted to put all of my thoughts in one post. One activity that I have used for awhile incorporates reviewing vocabulary in a brain dump manner. Students divide their paper into four sections, and then I give them a theme. They write down as much vocabulary as they can remember from each theme. At the end, we review what they wrote. Not only does this space out the practice, many times, students will add to their list as others are sharing their answers even though I don’t require it. Also, I have found that students who are reluctant to participate will participate more with this activity because it is so open-ended. Since I give students about 1 minute per square, the whole activity takes under 10 minutes.
This is also an activity that I like to do at the end of the year during exam time, but I expand on it. I give each pair of students a piece of paper with a topic or novel that we studied this year. They write down as many words as they can then pass it to the next group. That group reads the list and then adds to it. Then, I remind students that categories that they had difficulty with are the ones that they should review. After this activity, I have students write a response in Spanish to a question and reference the sheets that they just compiled. For example, if students are just relying on one verb, I will hand them the verb brainstorm sheet to use some more of those words. This also helps with my students’ proficiency as it helps them increase the vocabulary that they are using.
Another idea I used with our novel. Retrieval practice states that it is not as effective for students to re-read either their notes or the textbook. Instead, students should write as much as they can without any notes or book. We would do this for each chapter. (Although I should have done this more with my other novels!) I encourage them to write as much as they can remember from each chapter- main events in Spanish or English and any new Spanish words that they remembered. After that, I gave them a minute or two to consult their book and add or change anything. Overall, I noticed a greater recall of both vocabulary and facts from this book. With further reflection, I want to add in some sketch notes here to help my students remember even more.
The last brain dump type activity I used was with my Spanish V students. They had been studying information about Cuba. They each put different ideas that they remembered on sticky notes about any part of Cuba. Then, they grouped them by themes on the whiteboard. I also liked that they had a reason to read the other students’ sticky notes. Although I used this for an upper-level class, I want to reuse it with novels next year. I could have students write down as many facts as they can remember. Then, they can organize it on a timeline on the whiteboard. The key here is to make sure that they are writing down events from memory instead of using the novel.
How do you use brain dumps in your FL class? Make sure you subscribe to the Retrieval Practice newsletter if you do not already!