What We’re Reading | April 19, 2016

Make It Stick

glue-38201_640Over the past few months, a group of us in English, the Library and ACERT decided to read the same book and share our responses to it. We thought of it as a sort of pilot book club, perhaps something ACERT will be fostering as part of our future community building efforts (if you’re interested in something like this, let us know!). Our first book, read by Mark Bobrow, Stephanie Margolin, and Meredith Reitman, was Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Below, Mark starts us off with a quick summary and then provides commentary, followed by commentary from Stephanie and Meredith.


The authors challenge conventional thinking about student learning, with a particular focus on how inefficient and unproductive strategies and practices are often reinforced by educators. Among their key points are:

  • “Effortful learning” is more durable than learning that comes too easily.
  • We are not good judges of our own learning, often overestimating the depth of our learning.
  • “Massed practice,” which includes cramming for exams, underlining, highlighting, and frequent re-reading over a short time span, often encouraged by teachers, does not produce durable learning.
  • Students’ most common study methods give them a false sense of mastery.
  • “Retrieval practice,” which focuses on self-quizzing, recalling concepts, elaboration rather than repetition and memorization, and is spaced out over a longer period of time than “massed practice,” leads to more durable learning. The harder it is to recall, the greater the benefit, even though it may not seem apparent at the time.
  • Testing (particularly low-stakes) can produce as much learning as studying, and more durable learning than “massed practice.”


MarkBobrowMARK: In addition to its implications for students, the book also has applications for teacher training. Just as teachers need to understand how students organize knowledge and the ways that prior knowledge influences learning, it is also important for us to understand that our curricular and instructional approaches influence how students learn, and whether they leave our courses with both effective learning strategies and the enduring knowledge facilitated by those strategies. While it is, of course, essential for new teachers to learn how to construct a syllabus, develop and deliver curriculum, design assignments, and manage a classroom, familiarity with principles of student learning can make both course planning and the classroom experience more fruitful.

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2 Responses to Make It Stick

  1. Austin Bailey April 25, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    Thank you Mark, Stephanie, and Meredith for sharing this. I find the idea of recall in learning interesting. I’m now thinking that this concept applies to discussions of literary texts in the sense that discussions about literary texts often “move on” once they’ve been covered. But this could easily mean that the finer points–or even the broader points–of the discussion are forgotten after the discussion proceeds to the next author/text. Of course, building themes helps. But this isn’t the same as using recall. I am going to think more about how to use recall techniques so that the students can have opportunities in class to articulate and re-articulate their own ideas/interpretations of the texts we discuss. Maybe this will help them retain information/ideas and help them build a more coherent conceptual framework for the class as a whole.

  2. Jeff Allred April 19, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

    Thanks, folks. This is a great concept, and I love the “one book cooked three ways” post format as well.

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