Retrieval Practice for the Busy Teacher

On a daily basis, integrating interval spaced, interleaved retrieval practice can be a lot of effort for the harried teacher. Making up new quizzes, figuring out how long it’d been since it was practiced, grading quizzes–I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in frustration. I’ve got other things to do today.

So, I turn to Leitner boxes. This is a concept from classical education, an old idea made new again. Memorization has always been a goal for classical educators, and so they’ve developed some great techniques–and surprise! They’re backed up by cognitive science.
It’s really very simple. At the beginning of the year, I show students this video:
and have them set up a memory work box. I do this for my own children at home with index cards and something like this, but you could absolutely have students cut up copy paper and dole out rubber bands and paperclips.
Then, as I prep lesson plans, I note the vocabulary, procedures (yes, you can have Ss recite the steps for long division, for example), and other facts they absolutely must know. On the first day of the unit, I have them write the item down on an index card and tuck it into the daily recitation section for them to practice.
You can assign retrieval practice for homework, as a bell-ringer, as a time-filler for students who finish fast–whenever it works for your classroom schedule.

Teaching online? Quizlet (flashcards only, not interval spaced or interleaved), Anki (interval spacing, interleaved, free), and TinyCards (owned by DuoLingo, free) are my three favorite websites/apps.

As students memorize the information, it gradually moves to the back of their recitation schedule, but it never entirely disappears. At the end of the year, they’ve built up a considerable body of knowledge with individualized practice based on their own interleaved, interval-spaced retrieval practice–and all you did was write the definition on the board, once.

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