Testing and Self-Testing Can Promote Learning and Academic Success

As you know, I am currently on a 6-month sabbatical leave. In the process of conducting my sabbatical project, I am reading all kind of papers and books about learning, memory and how humans retrieve taught material. The information that I have found regarding these issues is extremely interesting and useful for anyone who wants to learn something.  So, I have decided to share my current findings with you; I believe that this is useful for anyone, including parents.

Tests have a bad reputation

First, I have to say that I am discovering that even though I have been teaching for about 20 years, I only know little about how students learn. 

I don't think that I am telling you something new when I say that tests have a bad reputation in education. Students, parents, teachers, university professors...we all hate tests! Some of the criticisms associated with tests are that they take time, put students under pressure and in the case of standardized tests (elementary, junior and high schools), crowd out other educational priorities.

Interestingly, according to recent studies, testing as part of an educational routine can actually facilitate learning. This information was particularly new to me because conventional wisdom holds that if you want to learn something, study, study, study ... or, if you prefer reread, reread, reread! But new psychological research seems to suggest the mantra should be "test, test, test".

If done properly, testing yourself on an idea or concept (i.e., self-testing) actually helps you to remember it. This process is called the “testing effect” or “retrieval practice.” Apparently, people have known about the idea of retrieval practice for centuries. According to Dr. Henry Roediger, Professor of Psychology at Washington University and co-author of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Sir Francis Bacon mentioned the idea of retrieval practice in his work as well as the psychologist William James.

Repeated Testing Promotes Learning

In a study published in the journal Science (319(5): 865), Dr. Jeff Karpicke (Purdue University) and Dr. Roediger found that students who were repeatedly tested on material significantly outperformed those who repeatedly studied it.

The researchers studied a variety of learning procedures with students memorizing a list of 40 Swahili-English word pairs (e.g., mbwa means dog). Initially, all students studied a list of the 40 words and then tested on them. Next, they divided students into four groups and each one of the groups was exposed to different study and test regimes. For instance, one group studied and was tested on all the words every time while another group was tested on all the words, but words they got correct were dropped from their study sheets. After four study and test regimes, all students in all groups scored ~100%.

But, the key issue of this study really happened a week later when students were tested one final time on the word pairs. The researchers found that the two groups that were repeatedly tested on the full set of words got about 80% of the word pairs correct in the final test, while the other groups--who studied all the words but were not repeatedly tested on their correct answers only knew ~35%.

My Takeaway: Testing is not the same than rereading

For me, the results of this study are fascinating and intriguing. For instance, it seems that testing may work better than straight-up studying, something that is often times called "rereading". Furthermore, testing can facilitate a better transfer of knowledge to new contexts and problems (e.g., this skill is essential when learning something new at work or when practicing a new sport), and that it improves one's ability to retain and retrieve material that is related but not tested. 

Another issue associated with rereading that is mentioned in the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning is that "students whose study strategies emphasize rereading but not self-testing show overconfidence in their mastery of the material". In other words, these students believe that they know the material when, in fact, they don't. I find that this so true.

Over the last 20 years, I cannot count or remember the number of disappointed students who came to my office after getting back the results of their exams. Their arguments were often the same, "I spent hours reading my notes and I know that I knew the material. So, I don't understand why I got such a low grade". Many of these students spent hours rereading their notes, but never really tried to self-test themselves to assess how much they really knew.

What do I take away from this?
Most students don't like the idea of tests (or even self-testing), but I think that it's essential that we really emphasize the importance of tests, including self-testing to them. If you are a parent like me, you may also consider encouraging your child to develop the habit of self-testing him/herself when preparing for an exam or assessment.

I should add to this recommendation that according to the authors of these studies, that testing or self-testing is far more effective when it's broken into separate periods of training that are spaced out. In other words, one or two test (or self-test during the semester) over a long-time period is not necessarily better than reareading. You need to perform these activities as often as possible. In my opinion, this may be the reason why standardized test don't work - they are only done once!

In summary, if you want your student or child to learn, you need to emphasize self-testing spaced out or broken into separate periods

What do you think about this? Do you use self-testing? Let me know if you have other related ideas?

When You Find Your Passion, You Find the Meaning for Your Life

It's interesting how a good advice can be found in the most strange places.

Last night, while having dinner, my husband and I had a glass of a beautiful Argentinian wine. We love Argentinian wines because they are usually excellent, but also inexpensive. 

Besides the usual information regarding the type of wine and the region of origin, the label of this wine had an interesting and powerful advice:

Living a life without passion is almost like living a life without purpose. So, when you find your purpose or passion, you also find the meaning for your life. I would go as far as saying that when you are driven by a great passion you know, without a doubt, that your life has a meaning.

what do you think? How important is passion in your life?

You can Either Run From Your Past, or You Can Learn from It

We all remember Simba from the Lion King. But, do you remember Rafiki, the wise mandrill? Here is a quote from Rafiki that reminds us that we cannot escape forever from the past, or from our actions -- we need to learn from it! 

Power is Building Something Inside You

I am reading the book, The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav. Millions of copies of this book have been sold over the last 25 years. I always wanted to read this book, but never found the COURAGE to read it. Well, I decided that it is now or never; so, I am reading the book!

I included it in this post a great quote about the power, the authentic power, that is inside us. It's the engine of our souls. It is the power that helps us to achieve our goals and dreams. It is also the power that influences our actions as parents, partners, colleagues, friends and everything else that we do every single day.

As I said, I have just started to read the book and am certain that I will find many other inspirational ideas and statements in this book. But, I have to admit that Gary Zukav's idea that "authentic power is building something inside of us... that no one can take from us" is making me think about a lot of things.  

For example, according to Zukav, there is a difference between "power" and "authentic power", 

  • Have I ever made this distinction?
  • What is my authentic power?
  • What is that power that no one can take away from me?
  • How can I distinguish between power and authentic power?
What do you think about this? Do you know what is your authentic power?

Vulnerability Fuels our Daily Lives

Out of all the audiobooks that I have read lately, one that is really having a positive impact on my daily life is The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage by Brené Brown.

Brené Brown is a Texan academic who came to fame after recording a Ted talk in which she proposed that to have a life filled with love you need to show courage, or if you prefer, you need to be courageous.

The problem is that when we show courage, it usually means that we are doing things that make us feel vulnerable. Most people think that being vulnerable means that we are weak; and, who wants to be weak? But is it really true? 

The whole idea of vulnerability and its importance in our daily lives became extremely popular few years ago after Brown's presentation. Her Ted talk became one of the most successful Ted talks of all time with more than 10 million people who have seen it online. If you have not done that, I highly recommend you do it.

"In my research," Dr. Brown says, "the word I use to describe people who can live from a place of vulnerability is wholehearted." Being wholehearted is a practice-one that we can choose to cultivate through empathy, gratitude, and awareness of our vulnerability armor.

There are many other excellent ideas and issues that are discussed in Brené Brown's audiobook. This includes one idea that although most of us are familiar with it, we generally prefer to ignore it: "We can only love someone else to the degree we love ourselves". She goes on to show you how this is probably so, showing parents that the things that they are negative to in their children are actually things that they find hard to accept in themselves. When I heard her saying discussing this idea and its consequences on our daily lives, I was speechless because everything sounded it so true, at least in my life.  

As I mentioned in a previous post (click here to read post), a very important feature that is often overlooked in a review of audiobooks is the quality of the recording and the quality of the narrator's delivery. In this case, both are top-notch. Brené Brown is an excellent speaker; very enthusiastic and engaging. The audiobook is ~6 h and 31 min - but, you would think is actually shorter because it's so absorbing and involving. The live audience is totally engaged with Dr. Brown and she does a good job of letting the listener know what is happening in the room visually. She engages just as her message advocates.... she lays it out there. 

So far, this audiobook is having a positive influence in my life. It is making me realize that vulnerability plays a key role in our ability to live a balanced and love-filled life.

 I highly recommend the audiobook of The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage, I guarantee you that you will no regret listening to this audiobook.

Audiobooks Are Better When Narrated by the Authors

A few months ago, I wrote a couple o posts (How to make time to read a book? and Best audiobooks for your next big trip...) about audiobooks. Overall, my main point of these posts was that audiobooks are an excellent solution for people who want to read a book but are too busy to read books. Or, people who are too tired and cannot find time at the end of the day to read an ebook or a paper version of a book. 

The best thing regarding audiobooks is that while you are listening, you can be doing something else! For instance, I can "read" my audiobooks while I walking my dog, doing the groceries or any other shopping, or simply while I am driving (rather than listen to the radio). Another practical aspect of audiobooks is that you can use your laptop, IPhone (or similar device), computer, etc -- and your devices can be synchronized, so you always know where you stop.

But, there is one key issue that I have discovered regarding audiobooks: an audiobook is only as good as the quality of the narration. Even the best writing can fall flat if the narrator is unable to do justice to the words. After the listening of several audiobooks, I found that when books are narrated by their original authors, the "reading experience" with audiobooks is superior.

Here are the best 4 audiobooks that I have listened over the last two months. They are all narrated by the authors. 

If you are really interested in using audiobooks, a suggestion that I can make to you is to consider becoming a member of Audible Audiobooks.

For $14.95 per month, you become a member of Audible.com which is Amazon's audiobook marketplace. You are allowed to purchase audiobooks using audiobook credits. In addition, you also get information about daily deals and special discounts that are only available to members. 

Success Is Liking Yourself...

Bedtime Stories: More Than Just Preparing Children to Sleep

In our house, it is a tradition to read bedtime stories to our children. My husband and I take turns to put my son to bed. So, every other night, it is my turn to read him a story.

Benefits of bedtime stories

According to G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., chief of the child development and behavior branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, MD "Neural research shows that when parents and caregivers interact verbally with children -- which includes reading to them -- These gains range from improved logic skills to lower stress levels. But perhaps the most profound benefit discovered in recent years is the way bedtime stories can rewire children's brains to quicken their mastery of language".

So, you are doing more than just preparing your child to sleep when you read him/her a bedtime story!

Books that we've read recently

Although my son doesn't mind to hear the same story more than once, I always try to read a new story at least once per week. We love to read classic children books such as: The Giving Tree, Where the Wild Things Are, and Treasure Island .

But, we also read new, or relatively new books. These are some of the new books that we have read during the last few months.

Merci Watson Series - These books are fantastic! I wrote a post about this series - click here to read it. These are the six books composing the series.

The Day the Crayons Came Home

The Day the Crayons Quit - Great Book; extremely funny. Click here to read more about this book.  

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

The 7 Habits of Happy Kids

I am Albert Einstein (Ordinary People Change World)

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos 

Stella!: A Treasury

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume One

 The Man in the Moon (The Guardians of Childhood) The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie (The Guardians of Childhood) 

Featured Post

Antlers for Dogs and Puppies