Students of all ages want to study more effectively and efficiently, while teachers want to improve their students’ understanding and retention of important concepts. The Institute’s Cognition and Student Learning (CASL) program has invested in several research projects that test the effectiveness of different strategies for improving learning and provide resources for teachers who want to implement these strategies in their classrooms. Two strategies that are easy for teachers and students to implement and do not require a lot of time or money are retrieval practice and interleaving.
Retrieval practice (also known as test-enhanced learning) involves recalling information that has been previously learned. Research has shown that when students actively retrieve information from memory (e.g., through low-stakes quizzes), their ability to retain that information in the future improves when compared to other common study strategies like re-reading and highlighting key concepts while reading class texts.
Interleaving is the process of mixing up different types of problems during practice. Unlike blocking, where a student practices the same type of problem over and over again, interleaved practice involves multiple types of problems that require different strategies to solve. In mathematics, where interleaving and blocking have been studied most, blocking is frequently employed at the end of each chapter in a textbook. With interleaved practice, students must choose a strategy to solve the problem and apply that strategy successfully. Research has shown that students learn more when engaged in interleaved practice relative to blocked practice.
For decades, research has shown the benefits of both retrieval practice and interleaving for learning; however, until this point, there were no easily accessible resources that practitioners could turn to for concrete details and suggestions for how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. Two of the IES CASL research projects that have focused on these study strategies (Developing a Manual for Test-Enhanced Learning in the Classroom, PI: Henry Roediger and Interleaved Mathematics Practice, PI: Douglas Rohrer) resulted in guides for teachers that provide information on how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. These guides are freely available through the website www.retrievalpractice.org (download the Retrieval Practice Guide here and the Interleaving Guide here). With these guides, teachers can learn more about how to use retrieval practice and interleaving to improve their students’ understanding and retention of the concepts they are learning. Happy studying!
By Erin Higgins, NCER Program Officer, Cognition and Student Learning
By Emily Doolittle, NCER Program Officer
In school year 2010-11, over half of all operating regular school districts and about one-third of all public schools were in rural areas, while about one-quarter of all public school students were enrolled in rural schools.
(The Status of Rural Education
About 12 million students are educated in rural settings in the United States. Teaching and learning in these settings generates unique challenges, both for the schools operating in rural areas and for the researchers who want to learn more about rural schools and their needs. Recognizing this, NCER has made targeted investments in rural education research through two of its National Education Research and Development (R&D) Centers.
The National Research Center on Rural Education Support focused on the educational challenges created by limited resources in rural settings, such as attracting and retaining appropriately and highly qualified teachers and providing them with high-quality professional development. Specific projects included:
- The Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI) program, which seeks to help rural teachers, who often work in isolation, turn struggling early readers (kindergarten and 1st grade) into fluent ones. Using a laptop and a webcam, a TRI Consultant supports the classroom teacher as they provide diagnostically-driven instruction in one-on-one sessions.
- The Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program (REAL) professional development model, which helps teachers consider the academic, behavioral, and social difficulties that together contribute to school failure and dropout for adolescent students. Accordingly, REAL is designed to provide teachers with strategies to help students make a successful transition into middle school.
- The Rural Distance Learning and Technology Program, which examined the role of distance in advanced level courses for students and professional development for teachers; and
- The Rural High School Aspirations Study (RHSA), which examined rural high school students’ postsecondary aspirations and preparatory planning.
The National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed) examined ways to design and deliver teacher professional development to improve instruction and support student achievement in reading and science in rural schools through three projects:
- The Teachers Speak Survey Study investigated (1) variations in existing rural professional development (PD) experiences; (2) differences in PD practices between rural and non-rural settings; and (3) the potential influence of PD characteristics on teacher knowledge, perceptions, and practices in one of four instructional content areas: reading, mathematics, science inquiry, or using data-based decision making to inform reading instruction/intervention.
- Project READERS evaluated the impact of distance-provided coaching on (1) teachers' use of differentiated reading instruction following a response-to-intervention (RTI) model and (2) their students' acquisition of reading skills in early elementary school.
- Coaching Science Inquiry (CSI) evaluated the impact of professional development with distance-provided coaching for teaching science using explicit instruction with guided inquiry and scaffolding on teacher instructional practice and science achievement in middle and high school.
R2Ed also conducted two related sets of studies.
- The first set explored ecological influences and supports that may augment educational interventions and outcomes in rural schools. The goal of this work is to understand contextual influences of rurality and how they interact to influence parent engagement in education and child cognitive and social-behavioral outcomes.
- The second set explored methodological and statistical solutions to challenges associated with the conduct of rigorous experimental research in rural schools.
As R2Ed completes its work, NCER is considering how to support rural education research going forward. As a first step, we hosted a technical working group meeting in December 2014 to identify research objectives of importance to rural schools and to reflect on the success of the R&D Center model to advance our understanding of rural education. A summary of the meeting is available here on the IES website. The ideas shared during this meeting will help guide future IES investments in rural education research.
Please send any comments or questions to IESResearch@ed.gov.