Read: Make it Stick

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I guess I will put Make it Stick on my students’ recommended reading list. It is rather brief (though it may even be shorter), includes extensive literature references, and illustrates the sometimes abstract research on effective learning strategies with real life examples.

The authors mention several times that they do not want to be prescriptive. Nevertheless, they are. And this is a good thing. Students, instructors, self-directed learners need concrete advice – even if not all of it will apply.

Of course, there is some wisdom that we all know all along, e. g., that the successful student is characterized by:

  • Always does the reading prior to a lecture
  • Anticipates test questions and their answers as he reads
  • Answers rhetorical questions in his head during lectures to test his retention of the reading
  • Reviews study guides, finds terms he can’t recall or doesn’t know, and relearns those terms
  • Copies bolded terms and their definitions into a reading notebook, making sure that he understands them
  • Takes the practice test that is provided online by his professor; from this he discovers which concepts he doesn’t know and makes a point to learn them
  • Reorganizes the course information into a study guide of his design
  • Writes out concepts that are detailed or important, posts them above his bed, and tests himself on them from time to time
  • Spaces out his review and practice over the duration of the course

Unfortunately, few (of my) students seem to ‘get’ this — even if they are told. Hence, I cannot point out these simple learning strategies often enough. On the other hand, there are institutional constraints, too, that we need to overcome in order to provide a better learning environment. Shorter, more frequent class sessions may be substantially better for the long term learning outcome than few long and exhausting sessions.