The use of flash cards to train with active recall is something I have been wanting to incorporate for a long time. It was not until my latest quarter that I finally began to implement this study tool, but from that experience I learned so much about how much more effectively I can be using this tool. To further expand upon my intuition about learning, I sought research-based principles from How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Susan A. Ambrose.
The initial problems that I ran into were that I did not take into account what I was struggling with, how often I was practicing, and whether I was actively learning or just relying on short-term memory. From reading Ambrose’s book, I realized I was neglecting her components of learning.
|“Research has shown that learning and performance are best fostered when students engage in practice that focuses on a specific goal or criterion for performance,targets an appropriate level of challenge relative to students’ current performance, and is of sufficient quantity and frequency to meet the performance criteria” (127)|
I did not have a specific goal or criteria when using flash cards, and I lacked the frequency of practice to make them effective. I have already developed the habit of creating the flashcards, but I need to create the habit of using them. A small sustainable metric for me would be 10 minutes of daily practice. To address having a criteria for performance, I need to implement strategies that keep the level of challenge consistent but dynamic. By reading the same flashcards repeatedly and for too long, my brain became less occupied with active recall, and relied more on short-term memory.
Two of the strategies I will be using are interleaved practice and distributed practice. Interleaved practice entails introducing various approaches to avoid reliance on short-term memory. In the case of flash cards, I will stop separating my cards by chapter, and continuously shuffle my cards in a random order to always get new combinations of questions. To better demonstrate this idea, I’ve included two tables. The above table has randomized columns, whereas the bottom table has the same column multiple times. After several iterations, resorting to a strategy based off the second table will allow you to memorize the sequence of the questions and answers instead of forcing you to work on actively recalling solutions.
With interleaved practice, I can also target my weak areas by focusing on cards I consistently struggle with, instead of continuing to use my time on cards I have already mastered. Distributed practice is the act of spacing out practices to several shorter sessions instead of one long session. I often found myself using the flashcards only within the week before the exam, which lowered the frequency and thus lowered my potential of learning gains to be made. Therefore, I plan for the ten minutes of daily practice to help me take advantage of learning efficiently.
I hope to invite you to join me in using Ambrose’s principle of reflective learning to reflect upon our study skills and adjust them accordingly.
|“Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback are critical to learning” (125)|