Retrieval Strategies and Techniques

Retrieval is a way in which we can connect previous learning, vocabulary and experiences to current and new learning, vocabulary and experiences for all pupils.

Ofsted’s (2019) ‘Overview of Research’ document presented strong evidence that retrieval practice is an effective teaching tool for strong retention of knowledge. It can also improve children’s application skills and their ability to transfer their knowledge to new concepts and new situations.

Retrieval practice is a strategy As Bjork (1975) puts it: retrieval is a powerful memory modifier.

What does retrieval practice look like at GWJS?

  • We want to help our children integrate new knowledge into long-term memory and make enduring connections that develop their understanding.
  • Where possible, whilst reviewing previously learned material, show students how it connects to other units they’ve covered including the current one. This helps to strengthen their wider schema-building, linking ideas together rather than making them seem isolated and disconnected.
  • Retrieval practice is not an assessment tool. It is not a test. It is not about assessing what children can and cannot do. It is a learning strategy and technique teachers use to give pupils opportunities to have to try and remember things they have learnt previously; things they have begun to forget. It is about strengthening memory.
  • Retrieval is quite simply giving children a task (or retrieval activity) where they have to try and retrieve an answer from their long-term memory. Each time pupils try and do this, that memory will become a bit stronger and a bit easier to find next time.
  • Our ‘remembering’ activities often expect children to retrieve prior learning from previous weeks, months or years.
  • We mix up our retrieval practice. Whilst we review current learning in lessons, retrieval practice is also used to review learning from older units. This ‘interleaving’ of units improves long-term retention of knowledge.
  • Retrieval practice must be quick and pacey (5-6 minutes at the start of each lesson).
  • What is important for teachers to understand is that for the memory strengthening to happen, pupils must try to remember without any priming or reteaching.
  • For retrieval practice to work, there has to be an element of struggle; it has to be at the very least, a bit hard to remember. There is no point in doing retrieval practice in the same lesson in which you have just taught something. That is too easy; it’s the struggle that strengthens the memory.
  • If KS2 children are to remember what we teach them long-term, we will need to go back to material throughout the year and revisit it. However, re-teaching it will not be effective. Instead, we need to give children low stakes quizzes where they have to try to answer questions from topics learnt a few weeks, months or a year ago that the teacher has not revised with them first.

Progress is what pupils know, can do and can remember as a result of what they have been taught.

Below are some of the strategies we use in school: