Research

Hello, I’m Nicola Carr-White, a recent Masters by Research student (Education), a registered primary school teacher and the Director of Mastery Learning Group. During my many years of teaching, it was obvious that students needed much more practice time than could be achieved within the lesson context. To complicate the issue, the students were, of course, at different places in their learning journey and what they needed to practice varied!

To address these concerns I began an informal action research project using mastery learning folders. I needed something that would help me to facilitate on-going, individualised student practice of learning. This evolved into the research master's degree and the translation of the most effective cognitive psychology learning strategies1 into the folder process.

Discoveries

I learnt that the benefits of spaced practice–already a strategy within the folder–could be enhanced by expanding spacing intervals. A large interval of 21 days between practice strengthens memory storage for up to a year!2  This has resulted in the inclusion of rest pockets at expanding intervals within the tool.

Another light bulb moment was the discovery that what I thought was just mastery testing, was actually the highly effective learning strategy of 'retrieval practice'. My previous understanding had been that learning within the folders was achieved through repetition. In fact, repetition delivers diminishing returns for long-term memory.3 It was actually the low-stakes testing within the mastery learning folder process that was delivering the impressive learning results!  I now know that it is not enough for students to simply revise. Retrieval practice practises remembering and greatly enhances students' long-term retention of learning.4

Application

Traditionally, Mastery Learning Folders have  been used to automate the recall of facts, for mental maths or to help students practise their decoding skills–to master the essential building blocks of foundational knowledge.  However, research identifies that spaced retrieval practice can also be used by students of any age to practise the recall of complex material and procedures.5 For example, a biology student may create flashcard questions that ask them to explain osmosis. In addition to the practice of classroom learning, school teachers may include flashcards to increase the student mindfulness of personal or behavioural goals, for example, 'Today I remembered to raise my hand to answer a question. No - Sometimes - Yes ?' A feature of Mastery Learning Folders is that to-be-learned items only move forward to the next pocket when successfully retrieved. This results in self-paced progress.

Mastery Learning Folders provide a process to target individual learning needs and are used by schools, training and tutoring services, speech pathologists, secondary/tertiary students and parents to support their child's progress. Please schedule-a-chat to discuss the use of Mastery Learning Folders in your teaching, learning or business context.

With kind regards,

Nicola

“If you repeat the same thought-demanding task again and again, it will eventually become automatic: your brain will change so that you can complete the task without thinking about it.” (Willingham, 2009,p. 8) 

References

1. Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

2. Cepeda, N. J., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., & Pashler, H. (2008). Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(11), 1095-1102. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467- 9280.2008.02209.x

3. Rawson, K., & Dunlosky, J. (2011). Optimizing schedules of retrieval practice for durable and efficient learning: How much is enough? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 140, 283- 302. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023956

4. Agarwal, P. K., & Bain, P. M. (2019). Powerful teaching: Unleash the science of learning. Jossey-Bass.

5. Gluckman, M., Vlach, H. A., & Sandhofer, C. M. (2014). Spacing simultaneously promotes multiple forms of learning in children's science curriculum. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28(2), 266-273.