Try the Fluency in a Flash Club for just $1! ➔

Ditch Your Test Review (Try This Instead!) [episode 5]


Click below to listen to hear ways to use retrieval practice in your test review:

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on Stitcher

Morning Message: 

[1:48] What is the most underrated perk of being a teacher?

We all know the cliche answers of summers off and extended break, but there are so many more perks than just days off. We had a few listener responses, which were a legitimate excuse to buy childrens/kids books, having no two days ever being the same, and all the sweet hugs, notes, drawings, and stories the students share with you. So basically, all the things that warm your heart! 

Here’s an overview of episode 5:

It’s the dreaded time of the school year where teachers start thinking about test review and how to prepare for state assessments. While our first thought is to review, review, review, we’d like to switch that thought to something different – retrieval practice. 

A few weeks ago, we did a podcast episode called Strengthening the Brain [episode 3] where we introduced the topic of retrieval practice. Retrieval practice is accessing information from memory without support. Therefore, everytime you pull information from your long-term memory, it boosts your understanding of that knowledge. 

A key concept to remember is that during this time, students should be practicing their skills, not just looking over the skills. Throughout the episode we provide several interactive and engaging games that incorporate retrieval practice.

We often assume that repeating the information is the same thing as learning it. However, students need to interact with the material, which in return, means they’re owning their learning. It’s a powerful and key difference in test preparation. 

So as you start to approach the end of the year and prepare for state assessments, consider your routine and how you review with your students. Are they simply looking over their notes, or are they practicing their skills? With the incorporation of retrieval practice, your test review will be more successful and effective!

In this episode using retrieval practice on test review, we discuss:

  • The difference between review vs. retrieval practice
  • Retrieval practice games to play with your students
  • Simple ways to switch your review plans to retrieval plans with both big and small changes
  • Why it’s important to get everyone involved in games, rather than taking turns

This week’s teacher approved tip:

[15:19] Use the power of the secret scrap

Ever have an art project day and your floor ends up super messy and needs a good clean up? Well this strategy is for you!

Tell kids there’s a secret scrap on the floor as they’re cleaning up your room and when it’s mostly picked up, pick a kid and say they’ve won! Then they can get a prize, sticker, or reward of some kind. Teacher confession: pick a student who needs a boost or win that day!

What we’re giving extra credit to this week:

[17:22] Heidi is giving extra credit to her fellow allergy sufferers 

[17:48] Emily is giving extra credit to the Stanley cup


Read the transcript for episode 5, Ditch Your Test Review:

In today’s episode, we’ll be discussing how to make your test prep more effective, and sharing a teacher approved tip for improving end of the day cleanup.

We’re starting our episodes with a morning message just like we used to do it morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is what is the most underrated perk of being a teacher. Emily, what do you think?

I’d say for me the most underrated perk is having a really legitimate excuse to buy all the kids books. Because we are both total kids books addicts. We’re sitting in a room full of hundreds of kids books right now recording these episodes for you. So I’m always really glad I have a good excuse to buy the latest kids book that just came out. What do you think it?

Well, I can’t I can’t deny the kid’s book thing because clearly the proof is around us. But I think the perk for me that nobody ever seems to mention is that no two days are ever the same. I love that even if you had the exact same things planned in two days, they would just be completely different because you’re in a different place and the kids in a different place. There’s just always something new and interesting and exciting going on. I love that. And we actually have some listener responses that we get to share this time. April said, “Seeing a child’s face light up when they finally get it, when they succeed and they’re so proud.” The best moment. Yes. And Meredith said, “Hugs!” She put the exclamation right there. I worked in an office for nine years and there’s nothing comparable to hugs. Yeah, so true at office hugs just wouldn’t be the same as teacher hugs Sharifa said, “The little cards, drawings and notes they leave on your desk or on homework papers, expressing their feelings for you.” I always loved that. And Jill said, “Being famous to kindergarten students.” That’s the best. Or if you draw something on the board, and they think you’re an amazing artists, It’s so true that they’re really good for your self esteem. That’s exactly what I was going to say.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this question over on Instagram. You can find us at @2ndstorywindow. And that’s with a two.

As we head into test prep season, let’s discuss what you can do to make test prep as effective as possible, and what you might be doing wrong. And don’t worry, we were also doing it wrong so don’t feel bad. So in a previous episode of this podcast, we discussed retrieval practice and why it’s such an important strategy to be using in your classroom. If you haven’t listened to that episode, yet, we highly recommend you do. But the Reader’s Digest version is that retrieval practice is accessing information from memory without the support of any notes or books. This matters because every time we pull something out of our long term memory, it boosts our understanding of that knowledge. And it makes it easier to retrieve in the future.

So let’s look at retrieval practice in the context of test prep. Traditionally, I approached test prep with lots of in class review. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that. So let me walk us through a typical review session with my second graders. So let’s say we’re reviewing telling time. So I would probably start with a quick mini lesson reviewing the key points of how to read a clock to five minutes. And then I would pull out a game that we played back, you know, previous months when we were learning about telling time, and then I probably finish out our little review session with a worksheet so I could see who’s still struggling. And all of that is fine. There’s nothing wrong with doing a review session like that, but It’s not the most effective way to be helping students solidify their learning.

Especially if the goal here is we want them to be able to remember what they’ve already learned. So let’s compare that review session Heidi just shared to a different version of events. I start the lesson by giving the kids two to three minutes to write down everything they know about reading a clock. Then I put them with a partner to compare notes. After a few minutes, we gather as a class to discuss their ideas. I get out the model clock and they take turns trying to stump the class. One student displays the time on the clock, and the rest rate the digital time on their whiteboards. Then we discuss what worked and what was tricky. And we end with a worksheet or quiz that we correct together, so the students can see what they’re still struggling with, and why and what the correct information is if they got it wrong.

The difference between these two scenarios is the difference between review and practice. We assume that repeating information is the same as learning it. In the first situation I shared, none of those activities were bad, it moved quickly, the kids were engaged. But it didn’t really serve the purpose of solidifying my students understanding. And the second situation that Emily shared, the kids were involved in reconstructing their understanding, instead of just repeating it, they were owning it. And that is the key difference between review and retrieval practice. Retrieval practice requires students to access the information from their memory without any support. So no notes, no peers, no books. And that’s what makes it powerful. Every time the brain pulls information from memory, it makes it easier to access the next time it’s needed.

So as you’re moving into that test prep time of year, intentionally provide opportunities for your kids to practice their learning, instead of just reviewing it. We’re going to share some ways you can work retrieval practice into your test prep. This can be as simple as working the practice into your normal routines, or as big as you want. It can be as big as a classroom transformation, if you’re into that kind of thing. The key is to decide what works for you. Do you really want to keep your normal routine is as stable as possible, which I have to be honest, that’s usually my side of things. And I will just sprinkle in test prep with those routines that we already have in place. Or do you like to mix things up and do a big review activity once or twice a week, or a big classroom transformation, a big event, there’s no right or wrong answer. Just decide what you like best, what works for you what works for your class this year. And maybe you want to do some, or both or all of these things.

So some ways you can work test prep into your normal routines are to replace your regular lesson with a retrieval session, like we described earlier about telling time. So instead of teaching new content during the time where you’d normally teach phonics, you just use that time for activities that are practicing your previously learned content. So not the new stuff, but you’re rehearsing all that old stuff. If you do exit tickets, you can switch those out to be retrieval of the content taught at a previous time, instead of the new content that you were just going over that day. One of my favorites is to sprinkle in quick retrieval questions in your transition times. So as the kids are entering the classroom, as they’re lining up, you’re using that as a moment to get them to think a little bit. So for example, you could be let’s count by fives as we walk to the rug, or as everyone comes in, I’ll give you two words and you tell me the contraction that makes. They’re having to think on the spot without any support and so that’s what retrieval practice is. You can also revisit past work by trying to retrieve it. So if your students have journals, or interactive notebooks or binders where they’ve kept their important work or notes throughout the year, give them an activity to repeat that they’ve previously completed and have stored in that notebook.

So like a graphic organizer that they filled out a couple months ago – absolutely. But instead of opening that notebook to copy, they’re having to complete it from memory. And then they get out that journal or that notebook. And they compare how well did you do today compared to what you did in November. And they can see what they forgotten where the holes are, what they need to refresh.

And they’re going to get way more out of that experience than they would if you were just like turned back to that graphic organizer we did and read it again. They’re not going to get nearly as much out of that as they will when they’re retrieving the information to fill it out again, fresh.

And you can also use those notebooks or journals of past work to have your students create their own flashcards or quizzes. Those are both great for retrieval practice. What else can they do Emily?

So if you actually want to dedicate a little bit more time instead of sprinkling it into your day, you can set aside time for a whole retrieval practice session. One way that we’ve done this is with what we like to call an Easter Egg review. So it’s springtime. If you want to do this, make sure you hold on to some of those plastic Easter eggs for this activity. And we would cut up review questions into strips and stuff them into those plastic Easter eggs with like some kind of little treat in there. Not always, but a lot of the time just to make it a little more fun. So the kids would each come up and grab an Easter egg and read the question to themselves. And then I’d have each kid come and tell me the answer to their question so I could be sure that they had it right. And then they could enjoy their treat. And depending on how much time I had left, I like to have the kids quiz each other about their questions. So sometimes they just be walking around the room just asking people, or sometimes I’d have it more setup as a rotation where half the class is standing in line and the other classes rotating down line hearing the question from everyone, or they’re doing it back and forth with each other. But we do have a blog post about how we do this kind of review. And I’ll link that in the show notes.

We also love an around the room review. And we’re calling it a review, but really what this is, is more retrieval practice. So what we would do is print out a question, not a question, lots of questions, post them around the room. And then students would get a clipboard and an answer sheet. And they could walk around the room and answer the questions that are posted all around. And the kids really love the novelty of walking around the room to work. And I just think sometimes it helps our brains work better to moving around, and for second graders, especially having a clipboard, that can be really exciting. So they go around the room with their clipboards answering the questions at their own pace. And always make sure you have a fast finisher, if you do this activity, because some kids will speed through it, and some will go through slowly. And this is such a fun activity that the novelty doesn’t really wear off too fast. So you can really do this activity several times before they’re sick of doing it with new questions each time, of course.

Another way to do a similar retrieval activity is what we call a snowball fight. This is again, building in some novelty to make the retrieval practice a little more exciting. So instead of posting questions around the room, we crumple them into balls, like little snowballs, and the kids grab a snowball, answer the question on their answer sheet, crumple it back up, and then throw it back wherever you’re having them throw – I think I had them, throw them to the front of the room, and then they can go grab another one to answer. The novelty of this activity makes it much more engaging. And they will also love it if you pass out the initial practice questions to them un-crumpled, so they get to do the initial crumble of the first paper that’s just a little pro tip, they will really love that. It’s just another way to build in retrieval practice in an engaging way, that’s new and fun.

Then you can try stumped the class where you have students write their own questions, and see if they can stump the class. So earlier when we talked about letting students use their notebooks to write questions or quizzes, this is where you would use that. You can also have them write questions in pairs or in teams for this activity. One thing to know about games, if you want to use games to practice retrieving information, just remember, the games are more valuable for learning if everyone is answering the question, instead of taking turns answering. And you would be surprised how many games are built with taking turns to answer, and the rest of the kids are most likely checking out. So you can adapt a game like Jeopardy where only one person is answering the question by having everyone write their answer on a whiteboard. Doing this will help with engagement, and keep kids from checking out of the game and being silly. And if we really want this practice to be meaningful, everyone playing the game needs to be retrieving information themselves in overt ways. We really can’t assume that just because they’re hearing the question that they’re actually thinking about it, let’s be honest, most of them probably are not. Unless they need to show that information for the activity, then they’re invested, then they’re going to actually try and retrieve the information from their memories.

And if you are feeling it, you can go really big with this if you want and make a whole event out of it. So you can do a whole theme day and work retrieval practice into that. And we’ll talk more about this in a future episode. But one thing that we love to do is a camping day where we go full in on the theme, while also doing lots of fun practice. So in our camping day theme we do in around the room activity, but then we’d like jazz it up with flashlights. And then we do some camping themed practice that touches on the important topics that we’ve been learning throughout the year. And you can also team up with other teachers or your whole team and do rotations. So you can decide what topics are most important or where your students need the most practice and then planning an activity for each classroom to do. Then you can have your classes rotate through the different rooms so they’re getting lots of practice. But in order to maximize the strategy, make sure that all of the teachers that are planning things are on the same page about the difference between review and retrieval.

But no matter what you decide to do for test prep, find a way to celebrate all your student success this year. We only do end of your test because we have to, but what we’re really excited about is all that our students have learned this year and all the ways they’ve grown. So don’t forget to celebrate all of that hard work and learning.

Now let’stalk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week, we’re going to leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is use the power of the secret scrap.

Heidi, tell us about the secret scrap. Oh the secret scrap is magical. So I would save it for days when the classroom floor needed a little TLC, usually like if we’ve had an art project or we’ve been too busy to really kind of cleaned it up. And so I would pick some kind of obscure piece of litter on the floor, tell the kids there’s a secret scrap and whoever finds it gets a reward. And I give them all like a few minutes. And they’re all of course, you know, looking at where my eyes are looking to see if they can suss out what I’m watching and you can use that to your advantage. And then I’ll be like, okay, no one got it. Everyone go throw away whatever you’re holding and go back out. Or, you know, have them show me their hand. I never did it that way. Like, oh, Tyler got the red scrap of paper, whatever it was, and I would honestly, okay, teacher confessions, I would often not pick a scrap, I would just wait to the floors mostly clean. And then choose a kid that maybe needed a little extra love that day needed a win. And whatever that kid picked up, I’d be like, Oh, he got it. And now he gets the sticker, or the little junky prize out of the treasure box. But it works so good. The kids loved it. And my floor got clean.

Yes, exactly. All of that. And Emily, you did it differently. I mean, I did it pretty much the same. The only difference would be I did not have them, come show me the trash. And I didn’t tell them immediately when it had been picked up. I told them that I was so sneaky that I could watch and see when it was picked up and who picked it up without. Although honestly a lot of times again, I had not actually picked a scrap and so I just picked someone who needed to have the win that day or who had worked really hard at cleaning and let them be the winner for the day. But either way, however you do this, you get a clean floor at the end and that’s what matters. That’s what matters most.

To wrap up the show we’re going to share what we’re giving extra credit to this week. Heidi, what are you giving extra credit to this week?

I’m giving extra credit to my fellow allergy sufferers out there. I have a box of tissues for you. I’m so sorry. The spring, the spring is merciless, and she takes her toll on all of us. My eyes are so itchy I might go crazy. So I’m sorry if you, like me, get the spring allergies. Just know you’re my heart. What about you Emily with your extra credit?

I am giving extra credit to my Stanley Cup and we try and be quiet while we’re recording to show you all the ice that’s still icy in my Stanley Cup. So this is a stainless steel water bottle water yeah water bottle. I don’t know what else to call it a cup. It’s ginormous, like the size of a baby. It really is and it has a straw and this awesome handle and it fits in your car drink holders. And it is just so delightful to drink out of and it keeps your drinks so cold. ice stays cold and frozen in it forever. This is like an influencery kind of thing that you see the influencer sharing on Instagram. And loving it so much makes me feel really basic. But I have to admit it, I love it. As soon as I started using them, they’re the only water bottles I will use. And I also do carry it around kind of like a security blanket everywhere I go. So I’m giving extra credit to the Stanley Cup Go Stanley Cup, and I believe you can get them on Target. Now that’s all brand new, exciting times. Ttissues and Stanley Cups in your Target.

That is it for today’s episode. Make your plan for shifting your test review to test retrieval. And don’t forget to try today’s teacher proof tip for a secret scrap to help with your end of day cleanup. We can’t wait to hear how you incorporate retrieval practice in your classroom.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before.