Using Cumulative Strategies to Help Students Retain Content – Part II

Here are additional ideas on helping students access course information in a cumulative fashion, which research indicates is the best way to help them retain knowledge.

Make a habit of asking questions about the previous material. A few guidelines for this approach:

  • Be patient for an answer. It takes time to retrieve what you’ve just learned and barely understand.
  • Resolutely refuse to answer the questions yourself. That’s exactly what students want you to do.
  • Ignore their looks of confusion and claim that they don’t have a clue.
  • Give them a hint. “We talked about Y when we were talking about Z. Check your notes for October 20. You might find the answer there.”
  • Still no response? Tell them that’s the question you’ll start the next session with and if they don’t have an answer then, that’s a potential exam question.

Have students do short reviews of previous material. There are lots of good times to do this–at the beginning of class, in the middle when they might need a break, or as a way to end the session.

  • On April 2 say, “Let’s all look at our notes from March 3. You’ve got two minutes to underline three things in your notes that you’re going to need to review for the exam.” Let them share underlines with someone nearby and then facilitate a short class discussion. This confronts students who don’t have notes for that day with the fact they need them.
  • Late in November say, “Take three minutes to review your notes from November 1. Do you have anything in those notes that doesn’t make sense to you now?” Encourage other students to respond. Conclude by encouraging them to add to their notes if needed.
  • Or try this, “Your friend Leo wasn’t in class last Tuesday. He texts, asking what happened in class. Text Leo a short answer and don’t tell him ‘nothing.'”

If students regularly encounter previous content in the course, that makes studying for cumulative exams easier. Those encounters also highlight relationships and coherence between content chunks.

Adapted from Maryellen Weimer, PhD
Faculty Focus