Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel
336 pages, Belknap Press, April 2014
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I wasn’t going to do a book club this summer. When I found Make it Stick, I changed my mind. It looks rich and interesting and perfect for the teacher nerd. The authors dig into the research behind what makes people learn, examining specific practices that make a big difference and showing us why a lot of what we do now just doesn’t work. What I expect to come away with is a deeper understanding of how to structure learning more efficiently, so we don’t spend so much time hammering away at things that have no impact. If you are a person who likes to analyze the why of learning, if you want your teaching practices to line up with cognitive science, and if you want to help your students become capable, independent learners, this looks like it will be a great addition to your library.
Here’s the book description:
To most of us, learning something “the hard way” implies wasted time and effort. Good teaching, we believe, should be creatively tailored to the different learning styles of students and should use strategies that make learning easier. Make It Stick turns fashionable ideas like these on their head. Drawing on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines, the authors offer concrete techniques for becoming more productive learners.
Memory plays a central role in our ability to carry out complex cognitive tasks, such as applying knowledge to problems never before encountered and drawing inferences from facts already known. New insights into how memory is encoded, consolidated, and later retrieved have led to a better understanding of how we learn. Grappling with the impediments that make learning challenging leads both to more complex mastery and better retention of what was learned.
Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive. Underlining and highlighting, rereading, cramming, and single-minded repetition of new skills create the illusion of mastery, but gains fade quickly. More complex and durable learning come from self-testing, introducing certain difficulties in practice, waiting to re-study new material until a little forgetting has set in, and interleaving the practice of one skill or topic with another. Speaking most urgently to students, teachers, trainers, and athletes, Make It Stick will appeal to all those interested in the challenge of lifelong learning and self-improvement.
And two reviews that convinced me:
“Many educators are interested in making use of recent findings about the human brain and how we learn… Make It Stick [is] the single best work I have encountered on the subject. Anyone with an interest in teaching or learning will benefit from reading this book, which not only presents thoroughly grounded research but does so in an eminently readable way that is accessible even to students.”
~ James M. Lang, Chronicle of Higher Education
“If I could, I would assign all professors charged with teaching undergraduates one book: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning… It lays out what we know about the science of learning in clear, accessible prose. Every educator―and parent, and student, and professional―ought to have it on their own personal syllabus.”
~ Annie Murphy Paul, The Brilliant Blog
Want to join me?
So if you want to read Make it Stick with me this summer, get yourself a copy, then come back here on July 15, when I will be reviewing the book and opening up the floor for discussion.
Update: The review is ready! Click here to read my full review of Make It Stick.
Until then, while I’m reading, I will post a few video reflections of my own. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so share in the comments below!
Chapters 1 and 2:
Chapter 7 and 8 are coming soon!
Here’s a great reflection on the first chapter from Melissa Pilakowski on her blog, Technology Pursuit: http://technologypursuit.edublogs.org/2015/06/06/warning-rereading-and-repetition-arent-effective-study-skills/#comment-6
The first two chapters of this book awakened me to the strong possibility that I’ve been employing poor personal learning methods my whole life. I appreciate the tips for long-term learning: low-stakes quizzing, interleaving the practice of different but related topics, etc. Looking forward to the rest of the book.
Glad you’re reading with me, Jeff! Feel free to come back and comment on other chapters as well, and I’ll see you on the 15th of July!
Wonderful. I recently purchased this book. Busy right now – 2 major papers to write, marks to get in and classroom to pack up….will be reading soon enough. See you in July.
Sounds good. See you then, Francine!
Up to chapter 2; listened to the podcast with Peter Brown. I am firm believer of formative assessments and just completed a research study/grant focusing on formative assessments or routines from the book Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart et al. (2011). Great success – I loved the routines and the students loved them as well. In fact, my students will be presenting these routines with me at a conference this fall. If you have a minute I journaled some of the results of the grant on a personal blog that I wrote as part of a final report: http://makingthinkingvisiblehrhs.weebly.com
BUT, in reading this book I am missing a very important component of retrieval practice. With formative assessments you do get information, however, it is not the same as retrieval practice and this is one strategy that I am implementing this into my practice for Grade 10 Canadian History. This is one course that the students need to pass in order to graduate from High school in Quebec. But the problem is that a high percentage of students do not pass…too much content and little prior knowledge.
So far: I am thinking that at the beginning of each class to have a small quiz on prior information taught and that the students keep a log of their results. In addition, in order to build prior knowledge I will plan a field trip to a fort here in Chambly Qc where the students can observe and interact with history….
More to read,
Hi Francine! I just took a quick peek at the MTV stuff — looking forward to exploring it further. I love that the students are involved in processing the results. What fantastic metacognition!
I’m so glad you brought up the subtle difference between formative assessment and retrieval practice. For me, the difference is in the intent: With retrieval practice, we’re actively creating the learning, not merely measuring it. That’s why asking students to come up with the answers rather than giving them a multiple choice test is so much more effective…BECAUSE IT’S HARDER. If students can be clued in to what’s happening in their brains during retrieval practice, they are sure to participate with more deliberate energy.
I’m also seeing a lot of confusion from people coming to this conversation without having read the book, because there’s a misconception that the book is advocating “testing,” which has become a bad word in education, for good reason. So it’s important that we differentiate our terms:
STANDARDIZED TESTING = Testing for punishment’s sake.
FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT = Testing to measure learning, results in intervention.
RETRIEVAL PRACTICE = Testing as a learning activity, results in improved memory.
I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts. Thanks for contributing here.
I’m a little late to the party, but I just ordered my copy of the book! Can’t wait to read and chat about it. 🙂
Fantastic, Gina. I’m still on chapter 4, so you’re definitely not far behind at all!
I’m also a little late but I do have the book. I just returned from ISTE 2015 a few days ago and I still haven’t even unpacked. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you, but I will definitely attend next year in Denver and hopefully will get a chance to meet you then.
I’m going to try and read the first four chapters over the next two days to get caught up and post a few comments. Thanks for posting your thoughts!
Sounds good — see you back here on the 15th. ISTE was so overwhelming! I feel like next year I definitely need to go in with a better game plan. Hopefully we can meet in person at some point!
Make It Stick really is great, and I’ve learned a lot about learning just from 3 chapters. However, the question I keep coming back to is, “How can I apply this information to ELA class?” I feel like I can easily see how it would improve my practice as a math teacher or a content-area teacher, but, right now, I teach only ELA. I have generated a couple ideas but would love additional insight. Perhaps that could be put on the floor for discussion on the 15th.
Mary Beth, you have read my mind. Because my background is in ELA as well, I have wondered the same thing. I will definitely ask this one. Thanks!
This will be my first online book study experience. I’ve purchased and read the book….what else do I need to do to be prepared for whatever you’ve got planned for us?
Hey Lisa! I’m keeping it pretty simple — I’ll post a full review this Wednesday the 15th and everyone who has read it (or who is partway through) can add their thoughts in the comments. One more thing: I am interviewing one of the authors, Peter Brown, tomorrow, and I will post the podcast recording of our interview with my book review. Do you have any questions you’d like me to ask him?
Still a little behind and just finished Chapter 3. I find myself thinking about how I will apply this in my classroom as I am reading and then I have to go back and reread what I just read. I teach all subjects and my thinking mostly went to math, because of how our county wants students to be “fluent” in math facts, and I too wonder how it could be applied to ELA. It’s funny because as I was reading, I was asking myself how I could use these skills to help me understand and retain what I am reading. Still not the easiest read for me.
Well, I am currently reading more than one book so I guess that would be the interleaving. I definitely have time pass before I can get back to the book because it’s summer and I love spending time with my grandkids! So that would be the spacing. The last would be the varied practice the authors discuss. This is described as, “Not just what you know but how you practice what you know.” They say that varied practice, “improves your ability to transfer learning” and gives you a broader understanding. Right now I am trying to learn how to use several technology applications (using The Teachers Guide to Tech 2015 by Jennifer Gonzalez) as well as what I learned at ISTE 2015, and my overall understanding of the power of technology is growing.
When I think of how this applies to ELA, I think of the students that I would often have that would be reading more than one book at time. We would often have discussions on how they were keeping track of the two stories and the characters and events of each. I also think of how students are already varying their practice because they are reading across the subjects. Or when students use a variety of mentor texts to identify different types of writing to apply in their own writing. One thing that I try to keep in mind when teaching, is to not compartmentalize subjects, skills, and concepts. The way many curriculums are designed, they do just that. We as teachers have to be creative and guide students in making the connections and offer the opportunities to make real world connections.
I teach in a co-taught classroom and have several students with learning disabilities that are performing below their “expected grade level.” I wonder how this technique would apply to those types of students?
Looking forward to connecting with anyone that has any insight or thoughts on that question.
On to Chapter 4…after some time passes:)
Hi Nancy! I am putting the finishing touches on my full review to post a little later today. I love reading how you are processing this book — I found it to be a challenging read in some places, too, but it has definitely influenced the way I look at my own learning and what I would advise for teachers. Once it’s up, the full review will be here: http://cultofpedagogy.com/stick
I am a kindergarten teacher and have read your post and listened to your chapter summaries which I find helpful. The Ah Ha moment I had was when Peter said it is more important for children to spit out their learning frequently rather than have it stuffed in. These frequent quizzes are actually learning opportunities. THANK YOU JENNIFER! I want to share this book with my curriculum director!
That’s fantastic — it was an a-ha moment for me too when he said that; such a succinct way of condensing the big message of that book! I would love to hear about how your teaching changes as a result of this information. Thanks for sharing!
I tried posting a week ago prior to attending the IB conference and apparently it did not go through. I am reviewing what I do in comparison to the best practices in the book. Basically, I am putting myself under a microscope as to whether or not I employ techniques that make learning stick.
Hey Shayne! So what are you coming up with? What are you already doing right? What do you want to change?
I have to thank you for taking the time to read and review this book. I am starting to read this book for class and an over is helpful.