Retrieval Practice

After listening to Jennifer Gonzalz’s podcast Cult of Pedagogy talk about retrieval practice, I knew it was something I needed in my Spanish classroom. The epidode, which aired on September 24, 2017, is called “Retrieval Practice: The Most Powerful Learning Strategy You’re Not Using” and features Dr. Pooja Agarwal, a cognitive scientist and founder of

Basically, it’s normal for students to forget information. The brain chooses what is most important to keep and severs connections to what it deems unnecessary.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but in a class where there are a lot of pieces of information, it can be frustrating for both students and teachers. Some students who do well on tests forget the information as soon as the test is done.

As a Spanish teacher, I need my students to recall a large amount of vocabulary.

I’ve implemented:

Here’s how I explain it to my students:

Let’s say the vocabulary you’ve learned is like a treasure chest in the middle of a large forest. You got there once, but it’s been a while since you’ve gone back and the path is grown over.

Yes, you could ask your teacher or look it up in a dictionary, but that’s kind of like getting a helicopter ride to the location. You got there this time with help, but you won’t be able to get there again by yourself.

So, we need to forge through the forest and create a more perminent path. It’s not going to feel great at first. You are going to be uncomfortable and twigs and branches might get in your way. But after getting there, you are more likely to remember the path again.

The same things happens in the brain. The connection to your knowledge is weak if you haven’t used the words in a while.

I’ve been giving my students a “Throwback Thursday” Quiz every Thursday.

This quiz (and other review activities) is low-stakes and fast. It doesn’t take a lot of time to have students try to remember vocabulary they’ve learned in the past. I only mark down points for non-answers like “idk” and “:(“

The biggest obstacle I’m encountering is how poorly the students react to frustration. They whine that they don’t know the answer and ask for my help. I remind them that I only need them to try and remember the words; they will see the answers once the quiz is submitted.

But this isn’t the world they are comfortable in. They have always had 24/7 access to the internet. They have never not had access to information immediately.

But, I can tell that intentionally reviewing past vocabulary and grammar once a week has made a huge difference in student confidence and recall.

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