I have just read this article by Dylan Wiliam, and would like to offer some alternatives.
- As far as I am aware, there is no physical evidence for a model of memory as a storage system. Here is an alternative to the model of memory as a storage system, and here is another. There are probably hundreds more.
- Whilst being able to recall something in the moment is crucial, there is more to being able to (say) solve a problem than suggested by the metaphor of retrieval from storage in long-term memory. It is for this reason that I feel the metaphor leads to an impoverished view of learning. This view of learning also de-emphasises the roles of emotions, self, etc. in learning.
- The purpose of school is not only to create changes in long-term memory, whatever that might mean. I prefer Gattegno's expression of educating awareness, which encompasses much more than remembering, as discussed here.
For me, another important purpose of education is for students to become responsible, to become able to make conscious decisions. Beyond this, there are other more humanistic purposes to education which I will not get into here.
- It could be construed from this article that regular testing and feedback on errors will be 'good enough' for students to become able to bring some action to mind at some point in the future, say in an exam.
In my experience, this is not the case. At best, students become weary of testing and cease to apply intention to the process, meaning that it is only time that is being wasted. At worst, students become actively averse to testing, rendering the process less than useful.
An alternative to regular testing is to design tasks, situations and activity that continually combines new and previously encountered content. Tasks and activity can be designed to expose inconsistencies in student understanding, to create disturbance, and provide opportunities for discussion and reflection, as described here.
- I am concerned that the section re: 'fact 1' could lead someone to disregard the importance of intention and initiative. Whilst I would agree that students being 'intensively engaged' is not sufficient, it is necessary: without intention, little learning is likely.
I don't think that the test-and-correct approach to education that is advocated in this article (but not only this article) follows from the observation 'having-to-recall-something-sometime-after-one-has-first-encountered-it-means-that-one-will-be-more-likely-to-recall-that-fact-sometime-after-that'.
It feels to me that research on testing/practice/retrieval etc. is based on experiments in which people are given some information, they are asked to retrieve it at some later time, perhaps doing some task in a simulated classroom situation, and it turns out that delaying this retrieval for a few weeks is beneficial. So what?
These constraints are not applicable to classrooms. Teachers can work with students more or less continuously over time. They can return to ideas over and over again. They can create tasks, situations and activity that continually incorporate previously encountered content with what is new, an ongoing process of what Gattegno called integration and subordination.
The design of situations that create opportunities for assimilation of existing schema is true 'retrieval practice', not some test given a few weeks after 'doing a topic' to see if students remember it. But I don't hold my breath for the research that will 'justify' the effectiveness of this approach, as it would not submit to a simple experiment.
It seems as though such limitations of research are guiding educational practice, and that people are not willing to rely on their own experience.
I could go on about my disappointment with the increasing number of people that are buying in to this narrow conception of education, but I won't.
Any comments welcome.