# No More Warm-Ups in Secondary Math, Use Retrieval Practice Instead

What if your students were able to recall information they were taught in the last lesson, what they were taught last week, last month, and even last semester? What if you were able to spark this recall with a simple system that puts the responsibility of remembering onto the students?

Instead of their daily warm-up (bell ringer), I challenge you to consider implementing retrieval practice with your students. Spacing this retrieval out, daily, over the course of the school year will lead to long-term recall of the concepts for your students. The remainder of this post includes an explanation of retrieval practice and some tips for success.

Algebra II Retrieval Strings Examples: Linear Parent Function and Quadratic Parent Function

🎯Retrieval Practice is about remembering facts, not practicing skills.

Consider ideas you want your students to be able to recall instantly, such as visualizing the linear parent function and stating the line passes through the origin. Retrieval practice is not used for solving math problems using skills the students have acquired.

🎯Retrieval Practice involves pulling information from memory.

When used by students, retrieval practice resembles practicing a hobby - there will be challenging moments, but the students will recognize when growth is happening and what areas need more of their attention. In the classroom, without referencing notes or class materials, students use active recall to remember specific components of a concept, the connections to other concepts, and other relevant information. The process of pulling or retrieving the information from their mental library of math lessons is what solidifies it in their working memory and why I encourage you to try retrieval practice with your students.

🎯Spaced Practice is better than marathon cram session the night before an exam.

This organized chunking of recall allows students to remember more and recall it longer. The graphic below shows a simplified example of a spaced practice schedule with 7 concepts. Notice the students are not retrieving information before they have had a lesson on that concept and the concepts are not dropped after the first week or two, rather they cycle back in the schedule at later dates.

The sample retrieval practice schedule below includes concepts from a high school Geometry class.

Classroom Expectations

Set the conditions for your students to pull information from their memory and apply it in a strategic, systematic way by teaching them how the process will work in your classroom, your expectations, and the benefits they should expect to see in their learning. This can be narrowed down to three take-aways:

1. Low-stakes
2. Every class
3. Active recall

Low-Stakes (or no-stakes) describes how retrieval practice should be viewed by the students. It is important to avoid the negative consequences of stress that sometimes come with testing and can have a negative impact on the students’ memory and learning.

Every Class is the answer to the question, “How often are we doing this?” Regular recall of information is a greater investment in time and effort than short-term cramming and it leads to long-term recall.

Active Recall is what the students will practice every class. Creating a brain dump or concept map (explained later in this post) serve as a means to organize the information as it is recalled from memory. There will be moments of productive struggle or desirable difficulty when students attempt to access information they have learned but struggle to find it amongst all the other topics they’ve studied.

Two Methods

It is important to teach the students how to retrieve the information from their memories and reflect metacognitively on what they already know and what they need to review.

1️⃣ Retrieval Strings involve a series of related prompts shared with the students sequentially. All students should close or put away any resources from class. Explain that even though this is low-stakes, the impact of the process will be greatest by depending upon their own memory rather than accessing reference documents. Share the prompts with the students and ask them to respond independently from memory.

The image below includes an example of a retrieval string for Algebra II related to the linear parent function.

Example Prompt

Algebra II Retrieval String Example Linear Parent Function

2️⃣ Brain Dump describes the product created by active recall of information added to a Note, Freeform Board, or piece of paper. Teach your students how to create a brain dump by modeling with the whole class, first. All students should close or put away any resources from class. Explain that even though this is low-stakes, the impact of the process will be greatest by depending upon their own memory rather than accessing reference documents. Set a timer for 10 minutes.

Example Prompt

✏️Write down everything you know about domain and range. You may choose to include academic vocabulary, sketches, graphs, examples, and show what is the same and different between the two.

The image below includes an example of a Brain Dump for Algebra I related to the domain and range using Freeform.

Domain and Range Brain Dump

🗣️Turn and Talk is a practice to utilize after a retrieval practice exercise. After the ten minutes have expired for the creation of a Brain Dump or after the completion of a retrieval string, ask your students to turn to a partner and share what they were able to recall. Using a different color, make note of the concepts/ideas their partner remembered that were missing from their own active recall. Later, between this class and another, the students should reference this information and work to commit it to memory so future retrieval practice sessions will include more content than before. This turn and talk experience should be relatively short, but not abandoned because of the positive impact it can bring to the experience for the students. Setting a timer for 3 minutes allows 1 minute per student to share and 1 minute to make notes of missed information.

⏰Call to Action

Are you ready to abandon random, unintentional warm-ups (bell ringers) and replace them with retrieval practice with your students? I’d love to hear about your journey to help students to recall information for long-term learning!

## Attachments

2 replies

August 30, 2024

Mary-

Thanks for sharing! I love this. I like to do some Number Sense problems to start my class, but will be adding this routine in.

September 01, 2024

Nice technique also for history classes (and other curricular areas too) where specific content needs to be remembered and applied. Thanks Mary!

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