Posts Tagged ‘Recall’

The Importance of Testing

September 17, 2015

Complaints are being received from teachers that testing is interfering with the education of students because they have to teach to the test.  There are two points to be made here.  First of all, testing is necessary to measure whether anything is being learned.  The second point is that testing rather than interfere with learning, can enhance learning.  These points were effectively made in a Scientific American Article that can be found at

An example of one of these effective teaching techniques was provided in the article.  The teacher posted a multiple choice question on a smartboard screen.  The students clicked in their answers which were posted on the bottom of the smart board screen.  So the students needed to retrieve information to make their selections.  The teacher received feedback on the knowledge of the class, and was able to provide feedback for the wrong answers.  When every student provides the correct answer, the class members raise their hands and wiggle their fingers in unison, which is an exuberant gesture that they call “spirit fingers.”

There is ample evidence from research in cognitive psychology that retrieval practice increases learning.  Whenever we retrieve a memory, the memory representation changes, and its mental representation becomes stronger, more stable, and more accessible.  If material is simply reread, this retrieval practice does not occur.  Retrieval strengthens and has additional benefits noted by cognitive psychologist Jeffrey Karpicke.  He notes that as our memory is necessarily selective, the usefulness of a fact or idea—as demonstrated by how often we have reason to recall it—makes a sound basis for selection.   He said that “our minds are sensitive to the likelihood that we’ll need knowledge at a future time, and if we retrieve a piece of information now, there’s a good chance that we’ll need it again.  The process of retrieving a memory alters that memory in anticipation of demands we may encounter in the future.”

Karpicke argues that retrieving is the principal way learning happens, “Recalling information we’re already stored in memory is a more powerful learning event that storing that information in the first place.  Retrieval is ultimately the process that makes new memories stick.”  Not only does retrieval practice help students remember the specific information they retrieved, it also improves retention for related material that was not directly tested.  When we are sifting through our mind for the particular piece of information we are trying to recollect, we call up associated memories and in doing so strengthen them as well.

I remember from my college day the yellow marked sections whenever I had a previously owned text.  I made it a point to never rely upon those yellow marked sections.  It was my guess that when studying for a test, the previous user simply reread the highlighted section.  I never did that.   I always tried to recall the gist of the material, and then I checked my recall.  If just rereading highlighted sections was done, my guess is that the best result would be a C.  My goal was an A, and I often received them.

There are hundreds of studies hat have demonstrated retrieval practice is better than virtually any other method of teaching, including doing concept maps.

Research using fMRI has shown that calling up information from memory versus simply restudying it, produces higher levels of activity in particular areas of the brain. These regions are associated with the consolidation, or stabilization, of memories and with the generation of cues that makes memory readily accessible for later recall.  Research has demonstrated that the more active these regions are during an initial learning session, the more successful is recall weeks or months later.

So this testing versus learning complaint is a pseudo issue.  It is not an issue of teaching to the test.  Rather it is a matter of developing teaching plans that require students to actively recall information rather than to simply reread material that will likely be on the  test.  This is a pseudo complaint.  If done properly it is a win win issue.

However, according to the Scientific American article there is a feature of standardized tests that prevents them from being used more effectively as  occasions for learning, and that is that the questions they ask tend to be of a superficial natures, which tends to lead to superficial learning.  There is a tool called Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, created by Norman Webb, a senior scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.  This tool identifies four levels of mental rigor:
DOK1 (simple recall)
DOK2 (application of skills and concepts)
DOK3 (reasoning and inference)
DOK4 (extended planning and investigation)
Most questions on state tests were DOK1 or DOK2.

So rather than complain about testing, the complaints should be on the DOK required on the tests.  The deeper the depth of knowledge, the better the test, which leads to more effective learning.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Retrieval Exercise for a Healthy Memory

August 12, 2012

Mnemonic techniques provide good mental exercise and can significantly increase your success at recalling information you want to recall. But what about information that is already in your memory? What is the point in trying to retrieve it?

There are a number of points here. The act of trying to remember information aids memory as has been noted in previous Healthymemory Blog posts (“The Benefits of Testing, for example). There is also the distinction between information that is available in your memory, but which you can’t retrieve. That is information that is available but not accessible. Trying to remember information is a good exercise for rendering information that was previously only available, accessible. It reestablished previous memory circuits that have wasted away and can establish new memory circuits.

Here is an exercise. Try to remember the precise year when significant events occurred during the past ten years. Here is part of my experience when I tried this exercise. I made two trips to Japan. I had difficulty remembering the year although I did remember that both trips took place in the same year. I did remember that the trips took place before we moved from our apartment to our house, and I remember that that year was 2003, because it was one year before the election in 2004. But when did I go to Japan. I knew it was sometime in 2003 or earlier because I remember being picked up by a limo at our apartment house for one of the trips. So I knew that it was 2003 or earlier. Then I remembered that the FIFA World Cup was taking place during one of the trips. I looked that up on the internet and discovered that the year was 2002. So now I know that 2002 was the year I took two trips to Japan.

I also took a trip to London with my wife, but when did that happen? I remembered that the trip was taken for our 25th wedding anniversary. Now something I need to remember, and do remember, is our anniversary. We were married on January 3, 1978. So I can safely infer, and now remember, that that trip took place during 2003.

I used the same strategy to remember when we moved my Mom from Florida. That was shortly after celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, so that was 2008.

So I gave my memory circuits a good workout and established or reestablished some memories. I remember events with respect to their relative position to other events. When I traveled to Japan or London, I was not trying to remember the years I took those trips. At the time it was irrelevant information. Similarly when we moved my Mom, that was irrelevant information at the time. But I was able to establish the specific years by throwing the order of the events I was trying to remember against the years I did remember for other reasons.

They have recently discovered people who have super memories and can remember, as best as can be ascertained, what happened during each day of their lives by date. I am curious as to how they do this. It is possible that they consciously attend to the days and what happens and are effectively keeping a mental diary. I don’t do that. Perhaps if I did, I would have a similar phenomenal memory and would appear on 60 Minutes with Marilu Henner. But I don’t see any purpose in doing this, regardless of how much I like Marilu Henner, so I don’t spend the attention necessary to recall what happened during these days. This recall does imply a substantial amount of attentional processing to recall this amount of detail with significant accuracy. This is pure conjecture on my part, but we all are working with basically the same amount of brain, and it is mainly a matter of how we spend our attentional resources as to what and how much we’ll remember.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Trying to Recall Benefits a Healthy Memory

June 20, 2010

The May 1020 issue of the Smithsonian has an interesting article of memory1. It’s about the research of a neuroscientist, Karim Nader. According to the article his research is unconventional and has caused researchers in neuroscience to reconsider some of their most basis assumptions about how memory works. Nader believes that the very act of remembering can change our memories.

Although this might be a new or unconventional idea within neuroscience, it has been understood and adopted within psychology for some time now (See the blog post, “The Seven Sins of Memory). The article goes on to say, “For those of us who cherish our memories and like to think that an accurate record of our history, the idea that memory is fundamentally malleable is more than a little disturbing.” Well be disturbed, the malleability of memory has been long established within psychology, and the notion that our memories are an accurate record of our history has been long debunked. The article does mention the research of the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who has been one of the foremost debunkers.

This is not to say that Nader has not made a genuine contribution to the scientific study of memory. Essentially, he is demonstrating the neurological basis for this malleability. Consider what happens when you are thinking about a topic. You recall information that reminds you of other information. Further thought can form links to new information, new ideas. This basic activity underlies our intellectual and creative processes.

The Healthymemory blog has long advocated trying to recall in a variety of contexts. Trying to recall various facts reactivates old memory circuits and establishes new memory connections. Moreover, the research of Roediger has indicated that it is beneficial to to answer questions about a topic before even seeing or hearing about the topic (see Healthymemory blog posts, “The Benefits of Testing,” and “To Get it Right, Get it Wrong, First”). My wife and I have a game we play trying to remember different things such as the names of actors and actresses, or the names of movies. Very often the names seem to be irretrievable, but we continue. What is interesting is your unconscious brain will keep working on the problem long after your conscious brain has given up. These supposedly forgotten names pop up, apparently from nowhere as the strangest times. So. we can assume brain activity is taking place even when we are not aware of it. But you need to put it to work on the task in the first place.

The blog post, “A Life that Leads to a Healthy Memory” describes some additional beneficial activites that place a heavy burden on recalling information. These activities should be enjoyable and lead to additional benefits.

1Miller, G. (2010). Making Memories. Smithsonian, May, 38-43.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.