An Explicit Conversation with my Students

I had a great conversation with my students this week. It was one of those somewhat rare moments in the classroom when you finally have the perfect example to demonstrate what you’ve been preaching for the entire semester. Allow me to set the scene:

Monday – We covered information (direct instruction) on Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective…id, ego, superego, defense mechanisms, psychosexual stages, et cetera.

Tuesday – I was absent and my students first reviewed (retrieval practice) the information from the previous day. Next they were instructed to look forward to tomorrow’s lesson, read through the information on humanistic psychology, take notes on the information, and answer some review questions.

Wednesday – To begin class, students were given a quiz (using the brain – book – buddy method). There were 8 questions from the psychoanalytic information and 8 questions from the humanistic information. Both sets of questions were equal part recall and recognition questions.

Results of the quizzes? 54 of my 59 students scored better on the psychoanalytic material than the humanistic material…91.5%. That’s pretty strong. There are a really important points that I made with my students that I believe (and hope) really hit home for them with respect to how they view their schoolwork, homework, studying, practicing, in high school and at college. So, a conversation ensued where I explicitly discussed these factors:

  1. Over 90% of my students did better on the material that was covered in class by the teacher. I instructed and they listened. They took notes. I asked questions. They asked questions. I clarified and gave examples, when appropriate. Moral of the story, here? Go to class. I know it’s difficult to make your 8:00 and/or 9:00 class in college…you need to go. Class attendance “has a strong relationship with both class grades and GPA. These relationships make class attendance a better predictor of college grades than any other known predictor of academic performance…” (1). The most popular excuse for not attending your college classes will be that the professor simply restates what’s in the book. This can be a good thing for learning, though. If you look over notes or the book prior to class and then go to class to hear your professor restate those points, you may find that you incorrectly understood some of the material, you omitted some of the material on accident, or your professor threw in some extra information that actually wasn’t in the book (2). These reasons also confirm why saying that ‘you’ll just sleep in and read the section later’ probably isn’t a good idea, either…I mean, are you really going to read the material later? Probably not. In addition, this spacing of learning (spaced practice) has also shown evidence of increasing retention of material.  
  2. Spacing out your practice and covering the material multiple times can increase retention of the material. Another important point is that over 90% of students performed better on the material they were seeing for the third time (over a 48 hour time period) than on the material they were only encountering for the second time (over 24 hours). I try to impress upon my students quite regularly that the more times they can think about and work with the material in class, the better their chances are for remembering that information…and it doesn’t have to be a monumental endeavor to create these chances for studying/practicing. I’ve written about some pretty easy ways I create informal assessment opportunities for my students that they can, and should, replicate in their other classes in high school and college here, here, here, and here. Space the studying out. 15 minutes here and 10 minutes there. While it may seem a little cumbersome to take time out of your day more regularly for studying or class prep, it can actually save you time when compared to cramming for hours the night before a big exam…and you’ll probably have better results when you space the studying, too.

Although my students are quite bright and over 90% attend a 2 or 4 year college after graduate, I do not take for granted that they just know this information. It seems obvious to me, but it certainly is not to most of them. Sometimes a very explicit conversation is needed to properly explain not only the ‘how to’ of classwork and studying, but also the ‘why’ of it all. And because spaced practice can enhance learning, sometimes you need to have the conversation multiple times throughout the semester. 🙂

What explicit conversations do you have with your students about class and studying?

What other points could/should I add to this conversation?

  1. Credé, M., Roch, S. G., & Kieszczynska, U. M. (2010). Class attendance in college: A meta-analytic review of the relationship of class attendance with grades and student characteristics. Review of Educational Research, 80, 272–295. https://doi:10.3102/0034654310362998
  2. Putnam, A. L., Sungkhasettee, V. W., & Roediger, H. L. (2016). Optimizing Learning in College: Tips From Cognitive Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(5), 652–660.

5 thoughts on “An Explicit Conversation with my Students

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  1. I’m dipping my toe into using Retrieval Practice. Spaced Practice, and Interleaving as my go-to sub plan. Given that I never have enough time for all I want to do and the fact that I loathe creating sub plans for Spanish, using these three strategies seems a perfect fit for a sub day. It’s material they already know so they don’t need the same support as they would were they learning it for the first time. Thankfully, I’m not out enough that leaving these strategies ONLY for sub days would be enough but it feels like a win-win-win — kids get the rehearsal they need, I don’t need to waste time creating plans for a sub who doesn’t know upper level Spanish, and I could have sub plans that are basically “ready-to-serve” saving me time.

  2. I love this exercise and plan to incorporate it in my teaching. I teach courses in developmental science and use the memory portion of the course to conduct a live depth of processing experiment. Students are Read a list of words without knowing they will be tested on recall. They are divided into groups and each groups is given a set of instructions about what about the words they should attend to. Two groups are given superficial characteristics and one group is assigned to attend to what the word means to them personally. The third group always outscores the other two groups on recall and I use this to illustrate why it is important to make a deep connection to study material and to relate it to their own experience (personal, in other classes in this class) to improve their chances of remembering it. I use the performance of the other two groups to illustrate that superficial processing (skimming the text, flash cards) provide less support for recall.

  3. I love the spirit of this exercise, but it’s impossible to know if it was the retrieval practice or the direct instruction or both that improved learning. It would be more effective if you only varied one of these factors.

  4. Hi, I really enjoy your blog. Thank for sharing your knowledge and experiences. I have a question about this post:
    Isn’t it possible that your students performed better in the lesson that you personally taught because you made them focus their attention on what you were going to ask in the test?

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