Make It Stick Summary

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  • Book Review

    Make It Stick: The Science of Successful LearningPeter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel.

    2014. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cam-bridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 313p. ISBN: 978-0-674-72901-8; List Price: $17.26 at

    Over the past several months, I have been on a mission. I amon the hunt for resources on how to help my students learn howto learn. As I was searching the Internet for ideas, I came across ahighly recommended resource a book entitled Make It Stick:The Science of Successful Learning." After flipping through a fewvirtual pages, using the Look Inside feature on,I pressed the Add to Cart button and I am so glad that I did!Drawing on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology as wellas other disciplines, Brown and crew offer numerous concretestrategies for becoming more productive learners a coveted skillneeded by students of all ages.Brown and others begin with a chapter on how learning is

    misunderstood. One of the main tenets put forth in this chapter isthat learning is an acquired skill, and the most effective strategiesare often counterintuitive (p. 2). The remainder of the book isa rich exploration of learning practices that really work (basedon numerous studies, replete with examples), while showing whyother commonly-used practices are actually counterproductive.Below is a sampling of the Donts and Dos of productivelearning put forth by Brown and others (2014), based on the latestresearch findings.

    The DontsSome of the most commonly used, yet least productive learning

    strategies are rereading the material (for example, textbooks, notes,articles, and other resources), underlining and highlighting, massedpracticei (that is, cramming), and blocked practiceii . For example,though rereading textbooks is a very popular study strategy usedby more than 80% of college students in some surveys, it is oftenlabor in vain. Rereading has three strikes against it. It is timeconsuming. It doesnt result in durable memory. And it ofteninvolves a kind of unwitting self-deception, as growing familiaritywith the text comes to feel like mastery of the content (p. 10). Donot just reread material and highlight important concepts, becausefamiliarity mastery!The strongly-held belief in the effectiveness of massed practice

    to master a new skill is widely held by students, teachers, andcoaches alike. This belief is mainly attributable to the fast gains thatare often observed during the learning phase of massed practice.However, what is apparent from research studies is that these gainsare transitory and quickly fade away. What is gained quickly is also

    i Massed practice is defined as single-minded, rapid-fire repetition of some-thing youre trying to burn into memory, the practice-practice-practice ofconventional wisdom (p. 3).iiBlocked practice is defined as mastering all of one type of problem beforeprogressing to practice another type (p. 207).

    lost quickly. In general, the most productive learning strategies, theones that result in deeper and more durable learning, are effortful;whereas learning that is easy is like writing in sand, here todayand gone tomorrow (p. 3). With productive learning strategies,it seems that the saying no pain, no gain once again rings true.

    The DosBrown and others (2014) put forth eight key, research-based

    strategies for enhanced learning (Table 1). Though teachers canand should purposefully embed these strategies throughout theircourses (for example, via activities, assignments, and assessments),for ultimate effectiveness, students must take charge of their ownlearning (p. 201) and implement these learning strategies them-selves, whether the teacher promotes and reinforces them or not.Putting these learning strategies into practice is often more dif-ficult, but has been shown to work. Short-term strategies thatrequire more effort and that slow learning down, like space prac-tice, interleave practice, and others (see Table 1), are know asdesirable difficulties. The good news is that implementing thesemore effortful strategies will more than compensate for their in-convenience by making learning stronger, more precise, and moreenduring (p. 68). Though one would need to read the bookcover to cover to obtain the underlying details of each of theseapproaches (Table 1) and how to put them into practice to en-hance learning, a couple of select themes to entice the reader areprovided below.The first theme is for teachers and is a controversial one test-

    ing. The increased focus in recent years on standardized assessmenthas turning testing into a lightening rod for frustration (p. 19).But Brown and others (2014) call us to stop thinking of testingas a dipstick for measuring learning and assigning grades and startthinking of testing as a powerful tool for learning and durableretention. Its a change in philosophy that will results in dramatic,positive consequences. Testing, in its most basic form, is activeretrieval practice. One of the most striking research findings dis-cussed in the book is the power of active retrieval to strengthenmemory (literally via strengthening neural pathways) and inter-rupt forgetting. The act of retrieving learning from memory hastwo profound benefits. One, it tells you what you know and dontknow, and therefore where to focus further study to improve theareas where youre weak. Two, recalling what you have learnedcauses your brain to reconsolidate the memory, which strengthensits connections to what you already know and making it easier foryou to recall in the future (p. 20). For example, a research study ina middle school in Columbia, Ill., showed that material reviewedwith low-stakes quizzing with feedback three times during thecourse was much better recalled a month later (students averaged92%, an A-) compared to material that was reviewed three times,but not quizzed (students averaged 79%, a C+). These results arenot an isolated case at the middle school level, but have beenreplicated a number of times at many levels. There is solid evi-dence that the testing effect (as it is known among psychologists)

    142 Journal of Food Science Education Vol. 14, 2015C 2015 Institute of Food Technologists R

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  • Book Review

    Table 1Eight key, research-based strategies for enhance learning discussed in Brown and others (2014)

    Learning Strategy Description Benefits

    Retrieval Practice Practice retrieving newly learned material from memory (forexample, self quizzing).

    Strengthens the memory (literally via strengthening neuralpathways), tells you what you do and dont know, andinterrupts forgetting.

    Spaced Practice Leaving time between retrieval practice sessions. Arrests forgetting, strengthens retrieval routes, and is essentialfor holding onto the knowledge you want to gain, but feelsmore difficult than massed practice.

    Interleave Practice When you practice, mix up (interleave) the different types ofproblems you are trying to solve or characteristics you aretrying to identify.

    Improves discrimination and identification abilities; improvessuccess in a later test or in real world settings where you needto discern the type of problem you are trying to solve. Blockedpractice may feel more productive, but research shows that inthe long run this feeling is not correct.

    Elaboration Finding additional layers of meaning in new material, such asrelating the material to what you already know, explaining itto others in your own words, or explaining how it relates toyour life outside the classroom (that is, expanding to a largercontext).

    Increases the strength of the newly learned material and thenumber of connections between the newly learned materialand prior knowledge, helping you to remember it later.

    Generation Attempt to answer a question or solve a problem before beingshown the answer or solution, (for example, experientiallearning).

    Makes the mind more receptive to new learning.

    Reflection Intentional act of taking a few minutes to review what has beenobserved and learned and asking yourself questions about it.A combination of retrieval practice and elaboration.

    Involves several cognitive activities that lead to strongerlearning, for example, retrieving from memory, connecting tonew experiences, and visualizing and mentally rehearsingwhat you might do differently next time (that is, makeadjustments).

    Calibration The act of using an objective instrument, such as a quiz or test,to clear away illusions and adjust your judgments to betterreflect reality.

    Develops sound metacognitive skills, being able to determine ifyour sense of what you know and can do is accurate or not.

    Mnemonic Devices Useful way to store information, not a learning tool per se;mnemonic is from the Greek word memory.

    Act as mental file cabinets to help organize, store, and retrieveinformation when you need it.

    Table 2Ten productive study activities

    1. Explain to students how learning works and what strategies are most effective.2. Make reading a text or studying lecture notes active by periodically pausing to ask yourself questions, without looking for the answers, such as: What

    are the key ideas of todays lecture? What terms or ideas are new to me? How would I define the terms in my own words? How do the ideas relate towhat I already know?

    3. Establish a self-quizzing study schedule that allows time to elapse between study sessions. The questions at the end of each chapter, as well as onlineresources, serve as starting points for developing self-quiz questions.

    4. Rewrite the lecture notes in your own words, make sure to assess your understanding of the material as you go. What do you know and what needsstrengthening?

    5. Work on homework problems without using an example as a guide (solving problems without the help of external aids).6. Write out your responses to lecture learning objectives and study guides without looking at the lecture material. If no study guide is provided, design

    your own.7. Talk about the material in a study group, ask each other questions, and provide each other with feedback.8. Organize what you are learning into a visual representation, such as a concept map, an outline, or picture.9. Interweave material from different lectures and sections of the course; think about how the material fits together; how is the material connected to

    the course learning objectives?10. Keep a learning journal or blog. Some ideas of what to write about include: Write down key ideas from memory after each lecture session. Reflect on

    what you learned the previous week. Are there any concepts that are confusing to me? Tie what you are learning to happenings in your everyday lifeor what you see going on in the world around you. Ask yourself What new problems can I now explain or solve because of what I have learned?

    works whether implemented by the teacher or by the student(for example, self-quizzing). So, just like fruits and vegetables,quizzes are really good for you!The second theme is for students studying for tests. Brown and

    others (2014) describe an all-too familiar scenario. A college pro-fessor answers a knock on her office door. Its a first-year student indistress, asking to discuss his low grade on the first exam. The stu-dent attended all the lectures and took diligent notes on them. Heread the text and highlighted all the critical passages. Why didnthe do better on the exam? The problem is the student had usedlargely ineffective study strategies, ones that resulted in familiaritywith the text and lecture notes, producing the illusion of mastery,rather than true mastery, of the material. The illusion of masteryis an example of poor metacognition: what we know about whatwe know (p.16). The student was not an accurate judge of hisknowledge and, as commonly occurs, he overestimated how wellhe knew the material. The student viewed himself as the modelstudent, diligent to a fault, but truthfully he did not know howto study. So what study strategies would have been more effective?Some study strategies that would assist in producing true mastery

    for the student include: 1) using the set of key concepts in theback of each chapter to test himself on what he knows (and whathe needs to work on); 2) defining the key terms from memoryand use them in a paragraph to explain their meaning and ap-plication; 3) converting the main points in the text into a seriesof questions and then later trying to answer the questions frommemory; 4) rephrasing the main ideas in his own words as he isreading; 5) relating what he is learning to what he already knows;and 6) searching for examples in addition to the ones provided inthe text. To gain true mastery, students need to employ effortfulstudy strategies that cause them to be deeply engaged with thecourse content, so much so that they themselves become contentbuilders, not just memorizers of information from PowerPointslides that are flashed before eyes during lecture. This engage-ment will also help students develop sound metacognitive skills,allowing them to judge what they know and what still needs morework.As I read Make It Stick, I found myself jotting down nu-

    merous study activities ones from the book as well as ones thebook inspired of what I could do in my classroom to help my

    Available on-line through Vol. 14, 2015 Journal of Food Science Education 143

  • Book Review

    students learn better and what my students could to for themselvesto learn better. Table 2 contains 10 items from the list I complied,starting with an obvious, but often overlooked one Explain tostudents how learning works and what strategies are most effec-tive. I am confident that you will come up with many more ideasand that the learning of our students will deepen and becomemore durable because of it! Bottom line, learning how to learn isa critically important skill that we need to intentionally develop inour students. As emphasized by Brown and others (2014) in theopening paragraph of chapter 8 - No matter what you may set

    your sights on doing or becoming, if you want to be a contender,its mastering the ability to learn that will get you in the game andkeep you there (p. 200).

    Shelly J. SchmidtScientific Editor, JFSE

    Professor of Food Chemistry, Dept. of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Univ. ofIllinois at Urbana-Champaign

    144 Journal of Food Science Education Vol. 14, 2015 Available on-line through