Mona Voelkel

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Make It Stick Book Review


Memory is the mother of all wisdom.


                                              Prometheus Bound

Reading the first sentence in the preface of Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel made me roll my eyes:

People generally are going about learning in the wrong ways.

I’m familiar with the most efficient ways to learn.  What can be new under the learning sun?

Well, as I started to read, I quickly stopped the eye-rolling and grabbed a pencil to write down all the practical new ideas and extensions on tried-and-true practices gleaned from this book:

You learn more by testing yourself than rereading

The authors emphasize that asking yourself questions and/or being asked questions during the learning cycle and at regular intervals afterwards does more to embed new information deeply into your brain than anything else, including rereading.  Students are encouraged to, “Read a little bit and test yourself” while teachers are encouraged to give students regular low-stakes quizzes with clear ground rules, such as “Students can drop 4 quizzes, no make-ups, no exceptions.”

A teacher in the book runs “testing groups” rather than “study groups” with the emphasis on closed books and the discussion and exploration of questions and ideas.

I love the example where the teacher asks the group a question and records their answers on a whiteboard.  (Students are encouraged to answer from memory, not notes.)  The teacher asks students which of three answers they think is correct by a show of fingers.  Then, the teacher asks each student to find someone with “a different number of fingers,” and talk it out.

QuickWrites Plus

The book details a teacher who asks students to write everything you remember for ten minutes at the end of class.  What I like is that the teacher has all the students go back and look at the notes to see what information the student did NOT remember and come into the next class cognizant of the weak areas.  This metacognitive twist is powerful and this quickwrite plus activity would help students figure out not only what they do now but what they don’t know.

Three other ideas gleaned from the reading are

  1. a)  regular sketchnotes to show learning visually
  2. b) “learning paragraphs” where students get the opportunity to respond to test questions well in advance of the actual test.
  3. c) Answers to test questions are keyed to Bloom’s taxonomy levels and students are handed that sheet and their test and asked to determine what level their answers reflect.

Read this book if you would like to refresh your approach to teaching and learning while striving for your students to replace “the illusion of knowing” with wisdom.

Here is a Reader’s Companion that I created based on some ideas from the book.

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