Less Volatile Homework

It is likely – no, probably certain – that I have long forgotten anything and everything I ever did for homework that I have not seen or heard or thought about since I did the homework.

I think that’s the point of this New York Times article: Learning is ‘volatile’ – you have to save, store, retrieve, review, and repeat to learn stuff.

And what’s more, a test should be more like ‘retrieval practice’ instead of a one-time measurement of what you remember of information you have been exposed to in single bursts.

So we should reconsider our approach to homework. And assessments. Here’s a bite-sized chunk of the article:

“Spaced repetition” is one example of the kind of evidence-based techniques that researchers have found have a positive impact on learning. Here’s how it works: instead of concentrating the study of information in single blocks, as many homework assignments currently do … learners encounter the same material in briefer sessions spread over a longer period of time…. It sounds unassuming, but spaced repetition produces impressive results. Eighth-grade history students who relied on a spaced approach to learning had nearly double the retention rate of students who studied the same material in a consolidated unit, reported researchers from the University of California-San Diego in 2007. The reason the method works so well goes back to the brain: when we first acquire memories, they are volatile, subject to change or likely to disappear. Exposing ourselves to information repeatedly over time fixes it more permanently in our minds, by strengthening the representation of the information that is embedded in our neural networks.