Growing a Brain Dump

What is a brain dump?

A brain dump is a really simple, easy, and effective method for assessing students’ knowledge. Basically, the teacher provides a prompt that usually looks something like this:

  • List three research methods and tell me everything you can about them.***

Students are generally given an amount of time to complete. Simple and easy. It asks students to recall information and allows teachers and students to know what they know and what they don’t know. Hopefully, a conversation about how these results can impact future studies will follow. For more on brain dumps, check out this link to a great article and video by Dr. Pooja Agarwal and retrievalpractice.org.

Growing a brain dump

The idea of a brain dump as a lesson starter or review at the end of class is nothing new. But, what I’m starting to do is grow a brain dump for/with my students…one question at a time. This, in turn, becomes a nice tool for students to use when approaching a summative assessment at the end of unit of material. Here’s currently what I’ve got for my unit on research methods:

The first question is from Tuesday’s lesson, the second is from Wednesday, the third from Thursday, and question four was covered during Friday’s lesson. I pick the most important idea/concept from the previous day and use this content to start a brain dump the next day. So, for instance, tomorrow (Monday) my students will attempt to answer question four. Again, this is the material we covered in class Friday. After they complete four, they are asked to look back at three, two, and one and mentally work through those questions again. This allows the students to work through the most important material from everyday several times. Also, this creates a great time for discussion of this content daily and provides the opportunity for students to see how the information builds on itself from day to day. 

Cultivating Healthy Study Habits

Another benefit of growing a brain dump is the ability to demonstrate healthy study habits for your students. Everyday the brain dump grows by one question from the previous day’s instruction. At the end of a unit, when students usually ask, “Is there a study guide for this information?” you can tell them the class has been growing a study guide everyday. This allows students to see how a little bit of work daily can assist them with their studies. An added bonus to doing something like this? It isn’t subject specific. They can grow a study guide and practice the main topics in just about every class they attend…no matter the subject or level…and this doesn’t have to be teacher directed. It really doesn’t matter if you are in middle school, high school, or college, this is a very simple way to demonstrate spaced practice and cultivate more efficient, effective, and autonomous study habits.  

Last thing – a slight modification to make this even better? Have the conversation with your students about what they believe is the most important information you covered that day in class and have them go ahead and write the question(s) down. Get them thinking ahead and figuring this out for themselves a bit, after there’s been ample practice in class.

How can you use this in your class?

What modifications would you make?

***One of my latest posts looked at how I’m changing my phrasing when doing brain dumps. Check it out here.

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