Helping students remember

The forgetting curve: we need to remember classes better

Ebbinghaus forgetting curve from Wikipedia

Left to themselves memories of teaching wither fast. The shallow “forgetting curves” at the top of the diagram do not look too bad. But the typical case is nearer the bottom one. In bad cases, we lose 50% in half an hour. Which would mean in a three hour class at Carey very little of the “content” would stick unaided to the end of the lesson time :( We need to remember classes better.

There are lots of ways students can remember classes better. Basically by either repeating the material or better still by using it. We remember the ideas and information we use. We use ideas and information by working on them or with them :)

Donald Clark posted 10 techniques to massively increase retention (HT Jane Hart). He lists three of these techniques for students. He also gives seven things that teachers can do to help. I’m not sure all his ten are workable in my setting. So I’m selecting, and in one or two cases improving ;)

How studentscan remember better

  • blogging your courses. This has all the benefits of getting you to put the key ideas and information in your own words. (Cf. “take notes” below.) It may also add interaction with others – not least potentially your teacher who may correct your misunderstandings ;)
  • take notes: Carey provides copious notes to students. We produce these books as replacement lectures for distant students, but give them to everyone. Sadly, this helps ensure only “good” students remember the contents because most are not noting the ideas and information in their own words :(
  • use loo summaries: Summarise the material from each week onto one sheet of paper. Keep this in the loo, there you will have peace, and enough time to cast your eye quickly over the summary every day, brilliant for memorising.

Teachers helping students remember classes better:

  • repeat yourself: ideally do this less as you go along. But do use the “tell them what you’ll tell them”, then “tell them”, finally “tell them what you told them” approach, and then summarise last week’s class before starting this week
  • record the class: this allows even students to run over the material again (or at least the bits they need to). Even those who are poor notetakers (as I was) or too lazy to take notes (as most people are, given the chance – like Carey’s big blue course books). It is easy to do. I used to use an MP3 player on the lecturn, now I use my phone (the noise reduction technology helps make a clearer recording). The only disadvantage of the phone is it records as AMR (a highly compressed format, that needs Quicktime to play) but I can just drag that to the Miksoft Media Converter and it makes an MP3…
  • make students process the ideas: Set assignments, or in class exercises, or online discussions… Force students to engage with the material, reuse it, do something new with it… that way they will forget less.

I know I am not good at these things. That’s why I have prepared this post – maybe this time I won’t forget, but will actually use this information ;)