The instruction we provide to students results from significant investment of thought, time, and effort. We carefully sort what’s most important for students to hear about a topic or a focused lesson skill. Organized sequentially, our presentations provide a logical and understandable path for students to follow. And we’re committed to providing students with a professionally designed and delivered learning experience.
Yet, experience and research demonstrate that students don’t retain a sizable portion of our instruction. In fact, estimates show on average that students retain about only 10-30% of a typical lesson. Unfortunately, what students retain may not be the most crucial aspects of what we taught.
Of course, instruction covers only one component of the learning experience we offer to our students. Discussion, guided and independent practice, review, and application activities also support their learning. Still, initial instruction typically comprises the center of learning experiences we offer.
Our obvious challenge? How do we ensure our students retain, as much as practical, our instruction to guide, build, and stabilize their learning? Fortunately, we can integrate several practices with our instruction to make it more memorable and accessible to students. Here are six techniques we can tap to build longer term recall more effectively.
First, we can limit lesson length to 10 – 12 minutes, followed by brief mental breaks. Regardless of how compelling our instruction may be, students’ brains need time to absorb and process information to remember it. Giving students time to turn and talk, review their notes, contemplate a question, or simply reflect increases shared information retention.
Second, we can customize content to connect with our students. We might use examples that draw on their experiences. We can respectfully use students’ names in examples we share. Further, we can create explicit connections between focused instructional concepts and skills— and their uses, needs, and purposes important to our students. Students more effectively recall information that feels personalized.
Third, we can shore up with stories. Before we had the ability to write and record information, stories served as a primary vehicle for transferring information within communities and across generations. Our brains are conditioned to pay attention to and recall stories. When stories support our instruction, they tap emotions, create connections, and embed themselves in other ways to facilitate recall.
Fourth, we can inject images. When our instruction includes relevant pictures, graphics, diagrams, charts, and other visuals, we add dimension to information we share, making absorption and recall easier. Additionally, when students draw pictures, create diagrams, and develop other images representing information they receive, their understanding and recall grows. Of course, images students create also provide informal formative assessment insight, so we can examine and discuss with them whether their visuals accurately reflect information we shared.
Fifth, we can mix in motion. When including physical activities in our instruction, we add another dimension to experiential learning. Having students clap to the rhythm of poetry, use hand signals to indicate their understanding or having students “huddle up” – think Dead Poets Society – for essential information, we embed memory markers creating greater recall value.
Sixth, we can unveil the unexpected. Surprises deliver powerful brain stimulants. The unexpected engages our brain’s hippocampus area key to memory. Further, surprises break up routines and provide a focal point around which we can construct our instruction. For example, dressing up as a character or concept, unveiling an image of a new idea or skill, or even having students turning to face a new direction for the lesson creates easy-to-recall memories of our instruction.
While these six techniques help students recall our instruction, they’re also fun. And having fun builds memorability. Now may be a suitable time to loosen up a little and create some especially memorable and fun learning experiences.