In my AP Psychology classroom, most of my students are great at memorizing facts and regurgitating them on quizzes/tests. I spend a considerable amount of time introducing learning strategies to my students and incorporating them into their studying/practicing habits. I discuss this further here and here. Under the umbrella of discussing learning strategies with my students falls the topic of assessment of learning. Most of my students are ill-equipped at understanding what they know and what they don’t know. I’ve found most of my students believe if they’ve heard the information, they know it or it has been committed to their long-term memory. While this may be true for some students and certain information, a great portion of the material presented will be forgotten. That isn’t really an unusual occurrence and is to be expected. What is detrimental to my students is their overconfidence or incorrect beliefs of what/how much they remembered.
To combat this overconfidence, I really focus on giving students the opportunity to apply the presented information. This can look like a quick, low-stakes quiz or really assignment that requires cognition. Yesterday in class we discussed explicit and implicit memory; the structures of the brain used with each and examples of each. To begin class today, I asked my students to create a hierarchy of the information presented yesterday. Before doing this, they are to assess their understanding of the material on explicit and implicit memory. This can be on a scale from 1 to 5 or they can give it any designation from “really well” to “not at all”. Then, I ask them to complete the hierarchy on paper using only their brains…no notes, no books, no assistance from other students. This shows their actual understanding of the material presented yesterday. A lot of the time, the students are overconfident in their initial assessment of the learning. Also key is a discussion that it’s quite alright, at this point, they left their hierarchy incomplete due to their fleeting memory of yesterday’s class. Completing this exercise now clues them into what they don’t know so they understand what to practice before the test. As I’ve stated in past articles, if the first time a student encounters or uses information presented in class is on a test, they’re probably going to do poorly. You’ve got to use or apply the material (cognition) in order to understand what you know and what you don’t know. After I use this time to really focus on their actual assessment of their learning, I instruct the students to now use their notes and then the text or other classmates to complete the hierarchy. This provides students with either a time to see/hear the material presented again or instruct others about the material. Both options can lead to a greater understanding of the material.
Before leaving this important activity on assessment of learning, I ask my students to reflect on what they did to practice the information between class yesterday and today. A lot of the time very little or no studying is done. I make a point to tell them they should expect the level of practice they gave last night to be quite indicative of predicting how much they will remember the next day. In other words, if you did a poor job of completing the hierarchy and gave little or no effort, expect those results every time. Conversely, if you did review or practice the material between the class meetings and did well, expect those results again. This, of course, isn’t always true, but it does highlight for the students the relationship between practice and memory retention.
While this process may seem tedious, I find it to be of great importance to further student’s understanding of memory processing and the learning process as a whole. Even though my students are quite intelligent and perform well on the Advanced Placement exam, they are still teenagers who require guidance in their learning. When students are aware of their biases and provided the tools to better assess their learning/understanding, they are able to be truer to themselves and focus on using effecting learning strategies to fill in the gaps in their learning. This is a main focus in my classroom, a worthy cause that I view as being just as important as the content I present.