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Ep 13. Powerful Teaching with Patrice Bain

This transcript was created with speech-to-text software.  It was reviewed before posting, but may contain errors. Credit to Jazmin Boisclair.

You can listen to the episode here: Chalk & Talk Podcast.


Ep 13. Powerful teaching with Patrice Bain


[00:00:00] Anna Stokke: Welcome to Chalk and Talk, a podcast about education and math. I'm Anna Stokke, a math professor and your host.

You are listening to episode 13 of Chalk and Talk. I had the pleasure of chatting with Patrice Bain, who is a teacher and co-author of the book, Powerful Teaching. Patrice was one of the first K to 12 teachers to partner with cognitive scientists so that research could be conducted in a classroom setting.

This episode is all about using research-based power tools to transform teaching. We discuss retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving and metacognition. Along the way, we give practical teaching tips with a special focus on math, but the strategies we discuss apply to teaching any field and to both K to 12 and to post-secondary.

In addition to a familiarity with research-based teaching strategies, Patrice brings a wealth of practical teaching experience to the conversation. Be sure to check out the resource page for this episode, which I've linked to from the show notes. Now without further ado. Let's get started.

I'm excited to have Patrice Bain joining me today from Missouri. She is a teacher with over 25 years of experience teaching middle school. She has worked closely with cognitive scientists to turn research into teaching strategies. She co-authored the book, Powerful Teaching with Cognitive Scientist, Dr. Pooja Agarwal, and I just read that book, and I highly recommend it.

It applies to any field and for teaching at any level, including post-secondary. Patrice wrote another book called A Parent’s Guide to Powerful Teaching, so parents might want to pick that one up. She was a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year and a Fulbright Scholar in Europe.

She has been featured by NOVA and Scientific American, and she served on the Neuromyths versus Neurotruths Committee for the US National Commission on Education Research. She is a sought-after speaker and she delivers powerful teaching workshops on incorporating the science of learning in the classroom.

It is a pleasure to meet you and talk to you today, Patrice. Welcome to my podcast.

[00:02:28] Patrice Bain: Oh, Anna, thank you so much for having me. I'm, I'm excited for the next hour.

[00:02:34] Anna Stokke: So let's start by talking a bit about what led up to your book. So this all started when you'd been teaching for about 10 years, and you were teaching history in Illinois to sixth graders I understand. And most of your students got excellent grades, of course. But you wondered why some of them didn't.

And, and this bothered you, and I understand that it occurred to you at that time that while you had been taught to teach, and you even taught others how to teach, you had no idea how we learn. There was some research on the science of learning available at that point, but it had mostly been conducted in universities and labs and with university students.

And realistically, I don't think many of us know about it, including the people that work at universities. People aren't aware a lot of times about the research on how we learn. So can you tell us what happened after that? I understand that you were one of the first teachers to partner with cognitive scientists to conduct research in a school classroom.

So what led up to that?

[00:03:36] Patrice Bain: Well, like you were saying, I was, I was so confused because why didn't some of my students learn and some did? It just, I was flummoxed. Why was this happening? And I had this chance encounter with Dr. Mark McDaniel, who is a cognitive scientist at Washington University, and he was telling me about this research he was doing on memory, and I was talking about teaching, and it was like this aha moment of what he was working on was what I was looking for. 

And then he introduced me to Dr. Henry Roediger,  and the two of them wrote a fabulous book, Make It Stick, which is a, a really great book. I highly recommend. And we put our heads together because at this time, this was 2005, which really is not that long ago, but there was no research on how children learn in an authentic classroom.

Everything had been done with university students, in laboratories. And so they had this novel idea, let's study a real classroom. So that classroom was mine. I mean, how lucky was I? And so the research started in 2006, and yes, it was the first classroom in the United States where cognitive scientists began looking at how children learn in a real classroom with fire drills and, and bells and, and interruptions over the loudspeaker.

Let's really see how they learn. And then along also from Washington University came Pooja Agarwal, who worked with me every single day in my classroom for over two years. It was such an incredible experience, and what I learned just changed my teaching forever.

[00:05:47] Anna Stokke: That's amazing. So some of these powerful teaching techniques you talk about, those were the ones that were used in the study in your classroom. Is that right?

[00:05:57] Patrice Bain: Correct. Powerful Teaching, the book that Dr. Agarwal and I wrote, discusses our journey of the research, so it not only includes our research, but others' research at the time and strategies that were based on this research.

[00:06:14] Anna Stokke: Oh, yes. And, there are lots and lots of research studies mentioned in the book, so it's, it's really great. So let's get into the power tools fairly soon that you mention in your book, but I think we need to start with the three stages of learning. So what are the three stages of learning?

[00:06:32] Patrice Bain: The three stages of learning are encoding, is the first, encoding, and that's where we get information into our heads. So as teachers, we excel at this. You know, we have so many ways of getting that information that we need to teach into our students' heads. Step one encoding. Step two is storage. And too often in our teacher prep programs, we're taught that we teach and it goes into our students' heads and there we go, let's move on. 

But a quote from our book is, “Too often we focus on putting information in into our heads. What if instead, we concentrated on pulling information out?” And that's the third step. Retrieval, encoding, getting it in. Storage where it goes. But retrieval is that process of really being able to utilize that information that we have, pulling it out.

[00:07:45] Anna Stokke: It's interesting because in math, a term we often say or phrase we often use is “math is not a spectator sport.” The idea being, I mean, you can sit there and watch your teacher do a bunch of math problems, but you really need to sit down and do the problems yourself. So I think this is kind of in line with retrieval practice and we're going to talk a fair bit about that.

That's covered very thoroughly in your book. So that's your first power tool that's mentioned in the book, retrieval practice. So can you please tell the listeners what is retrieval practice and why is it important?


[00:08:21] Patrice Bain: Retrieval is being able to pull information out. And so I like to, when I'm speaking with teachers, I like to give some examples. One is, without looking at any device, drawing the Apple logo. we think we know it, but we don't. In fact, in my presentations I have 15 different images of apples similar to the Apple logo, and I have teachers pick out which is the correct one, and more often than not, they cannot. 

And so why I like to bring this up is too often we see things, but it doesn't mean we know it. We don't know it until we can retrieve it. If you can't do that Apple logo or another example, you know, draw a circle and draw your favourite coin. You may have seen that coin hundreds of times, but it doesn't mean you know what's on there. And too often as teachers, we even use the terminology “reread the chapter, look at what you highlighted, see what's in your notes.”

We use those very terms, but just because you see something doesn't mean you know it. You have to be able to retrieve it. You have to be able to pull that information out. And that's retrieval.

[00:09:54] Anna Stokke: To relate that to math, I think it's the difference between being able to read a problem and look at someone else's solution and being able to put that away and do a problem yourself. 

[00:10:07] Patrice Bain: Exactly.

[00:10:09] Anna Stokke: So, are there some simple techniques that we could use in the classroom? Are there ways we can adjust our teaching fairly so that we're incorporating retrieval practice into daily lessons?

[00:10:21] Patrice Bain: Once you are aware of the three steps encoding, storage, and retrieval, it makes it easy to look at simple things we're doing. For example, we might start a class with, “Okay, class. Remember yesterday we discussed,” or “Remember last week when we talked about,” that's encoding. If you simply change that around to, “Okay, class yesterday, what did we talk about? Turn and talk with your neighbour.”

Give them like 10 seconds. Then do a group share, and within 90 seconds, you have a room rich with retrieval. Rather than telling information to your students, have them retrieve it, have them pull it out.


[00:11:15] Anna Stokke: A common technique I think that most teachers or instructors use is when we go into the classroom that day, we recall what we did yesterday because it's going to relate to the lesson that we're doing today. So it might be something like this. Okay, so “Yesterday, we learned what the quadratic formula is.” Instead of doing that, what I should do is ask the students to tell me what the quadratic formula is, correct? That's an easy adjustment.

[00:11:46] Patrice Bain: Yes. And a, a very simple technique that so many of us use is the think, pair, share. Too often, we don't give our students enough time to do the think. So when you ask a question like that, make sure each student has a chance to think or perhaps they have a whiteboard and have them, give them that opportunity to retrieve, to pull that information out before they talk it over with a friend or to the whole class.

[00:12:17] Anna Stokke: During the pandemic, I was in a situation where I had to teach online. Most of us were, unfortunately. And one of the good things that came out of that, and I'm not, I'm not eager to teach online again, just to be clear, but one, one of the good things that came out of that teaching over Zoom is we could easily do these little polls.

And so I would frequently have polls in the class because it would tell me if the students understood what was going on because I've been teaching for a long time. I know when I teach a concept what mistakes students are likely to make, so I could put those in my multiple-choice questions. So now I'm back in the classroom and I can't use that particular technique.

Now, I could, obviously, I could use some sort of online program, but I actually don't want students on their cell phones in my class. So I'm not interested in doing that, and I don't want to get them to buy iClickers. You had two really good ideas that are very low cost and one of them was index cards.

Would you mind telling us a bit about that?

[00:13:21] Patrice Bain: You can use them as a colour code to do a certain answer to raise it in the air. Something to be careful of when you do something like that, or with thumbs up, is that the students are not necessarily retrieving; they may just be looking at a neighbour.

So whether it's using the index cards, just make sure that it's a way that students are writing something down so that they are actually doing the retrieving.

[00:13:53] Anna Stokke: So I could do something though, like give them index cards, say they weren't coloured, and they could have A, B, C, D, and they're all facing the front, and they hold up their answer. And then they can't copy off their neighbours. So something like that would be helpful. And then the other idea you had so a lot of teachers use mini whiteboards.

I wouldn't do that in my class because I have too many students, but we have a lot of teachers listening. And so if you can't buy mini whiteboards, you use a page protector with a piece of paper in it and a, a marker.

So I thought those were some really good ideas for incorporating retrieval practice.

[00:14:35] Patrice Bain: What's nice when you use a page protector is it already has the three-hole punch in there so they can keep it in their binders. You could have one side with lined paper, you could have another side with graph paper, so they could use it for various subjects. You could have blank paper in there. So it is so inexpensive. The students have it. They don't have to go get whiteboards. They're so it, it's just an easy but very useful strategy.

[00:15:06] Anna Stokke: Yeah, it's a great idea. When we think about retrieval practice, we might think, well, we're giving tests, right? So we give students tests. Is that retrieval practice?

[00:15:18] Patrice Bain: We have a quote in our book that says, “Retrieval is a learning strategy, not an assessment strategy.” Much of many of the ways that we use retrieval does not need to be graded. In fact, it should be low stakes or no stakes, but that doesn't mean the high stakes tests are not still there.


You're still going to have your big semester exams, chapter tests, unit tests, essays, projects, whatever. But I like to think of retrieval as kind of a, a trip that you take on a train. You have your initial place where you board the train, the depot, and that's where you, you begin the learning process and you have your end destination, which is your high stakes exam. But the train stops various places along the way, and that's when you do retrieval.

It could be as simple as doing a blast from the past of saying, “okay, now what were those three steps of learning?” And, you know, and coding, storage, retrieval. When you do things like that in your class, and you have students just call out an answer or write it on a whiteboard, you don't have to grade those and think of retrieval as that way.

What retrieval does is it helps us know what we know and what we don't know. I'll get more of that into that and metacognition, but we have to be able to provide students many opportunities for retrieval before they ever get to that high-stakes test. 

We did a study with 1500 high school students and asked them, “Are you more or less anxious if you use retrieval before you take a chapter exam?” Only 6% said that they were more anxious. Why? Because retrieval, when, when you have used it throughout the course of study, you are not anxious for those high stakes exams because you are so ready.

You've identified what you know versus what you don't know well before you ever get to that big test.


[00:17:50] Anna Stokke: It actually is pretty stressful to write a test if you don't know the information that's on the test. it's a form of really preparing students for the test. So lots of low-stakes retrieval practice before big tests, so that makes a lot of sense. Are there ways that parents can help at home with retrieval practice?

[00:18:12] Patrice Bain: Oh, so much so. In my, in my parent’s guide, I talk about the teaching triangle. I found that the best way to learn is incorporating this teacher triangle between student, parent and teacher. Because we talk about how important retrieval is. What better way for students to do homework at night is to simply use retrieval?

And a great thing is for teachers, if you use Remind or whatever app you might use, just send home a question or two to the parents along with an answer. So the parents, whether in the car or over the dinner table, you know, you can say, “So what was …” whatever. And the student simply, or the child simply relating the answer is using retrieval.

And that bringing forth information is going to cement that into long-term learning. So there are many ways, but again, one of the keys, and I would have parent seminars, is to make sure that as you are using the science of learning in your classroom, bring parents up to speed too. Because remember that when I talked about the Apple logo or drawing a coin?

Most parents will encourage their students, their children, to study the way they studied. And most of that was look over your notes, reread the chapter, and by, by sharing the information about retrieval and spacing and metacognition with parents, they take an active role. Not that it's time-consuming at all, but it helps them become aware and really important in child learning.

[00:20:16] Anna Stokke: Parents often ask me what they can do to help their kids. The first one I always say is make sure they memorize their times tables. No matter what anybody says, it's going to make your life a lot easier to do math later if you know your times tables.

And that's something you can do if you're in the, the car with your child to start throwing some of them out there and, and eventually, they'll get them. 

[00:20:39] Patrice Bain: Let me add to that. A quick little definition. We have working memory and we have long-term memory, and they're in two very different places in our heads. The working memory is, is located more towards the front and long-term, more towards the back. And in our working memory, we can only remember four to seven things on average, new things at a time.

And after that, we go into this cognitive overload. It's like, “Whoa, whoa, wait, wait, wait.” When you know your, your math facts you're able to bring them from long-term memory. An example I like to give is, have you ever, you're driving home and suddenly you're in your driveway and you don't remember getting off the highway or, or turning that corner?

It's because that, it's like you're on automatic pilot. You just got there. You've done it so many times. Knowing your math facts is like that. When, when you need to do a problem, boom. It's like being in your driveway. You bring it forward. But if you don't know them, you have this in your working memory and you have to try to figure it out each and every time.

And by the time you figure out what six times seven is using manipulatives, looking it up on a chart, the teacher has often gone on. And then the child gets so frustrated and lost in cognitive overload. So I'm just adding another why that's, and Anna, why that is so important.

[00:22:14] Anna Stokke: Thank you so much. Believe me, you're preaching to the choir. That was absolutely perfect. So let's move on to power tool number two, and that is spacing. And I had Paul Kirschner on the show previously, and so we kind of went over a few of these things.

And so I think we're doing a bit of spacing today and retrieval practice. You and I are talking more about the, teaching aspects of it as well. So can you remind us, what is spacing?

[00:22:47] Patrice Bain: Spacing, I like to define as retrieval over time. Now let's talk about spiralling quickly. If say, in the early grades, you talk about the water cycle and then the following year, again you talk about the water cycle and the teacher might be frustrated thinking, you learned this last year. Why do so many of my students not know the water cycle?

And then the next year, they talk about the water cycle. And again. When something is simply in the curriculum, you cover it and you go on, chances are most, most students will not remember it. The key is spacing that information. So if you talked about the water cycle, in whatever, say first grade or second grade, being able to, you know, the child needs to know the water cycle for the following year, where it will be a little bit more in-depth.

Keep going back to that, refer to it. If you're reading a story and it's something, you know, it was a blustery day or, or whatever, take a, take a moment and say, “Oh gosh, what would that have to do with the water cycle?”

And just bring up retrieval. So spacing is retrieval over time, and in order for us to get information into our long-term memory, we need to space it out to have the opportunities to keep bringing forth, to keep pulling out that information, which makes the memory stronger.

[00:24:37] Anna Stokke: When I'm teaching, I want to teach the students that topic to the point where they master it, but then I do know they forget it. When you're the teacher, and you have it all in your head, and so you've taught someone something and later you're working with them and they forgot it, and you're thinking, “but I just taught you, I taught you that a month or two ago, how could you forget?”

But in your book, you say that's even maybe a good thing, a little bit of forgetting. You forget a little, and then you practice it again because the next time it sticks a little better.

[00:25:09] Patrice Bain: Yes, and that's another reason why you want to keep doing the retrieval, those train stops. You know, you want to keep coming back to that and have the student retrieve it again. And each one of those train stops is spacing in between the distance from point A to that first stop. You do retrieval again. Well, you space that out.

Research tells us that as soon as we learn something, within an hour, we start forgetting it. It's called the forgetting curve. Within three days of something really important that we want the students to really remember, just do a quick question, do a quick retrieval three days later, and then maybe again the next week, and then you can start spacing it out even more.

[00:25:57] Anna Stokke: And that's something we could also do in those quick little review retrieval practices at the beginning of class. Say I taught, I'm, teaching factoring today and I taught area two weeks ago, and now the students haven't been working on area problems, like they're completely different.

But then I bring up an area problem while I'm doing my factoring, and that brings that back to mind.

[00:26:21] Patrice Bain: Yes, and like entrance tickets, you know, anything where students come in, give them something that you studied a week ago and have them bring forth that memory. You're going to have them do something anyway. Why not have it research-based? That's really going to help the students learn.

[00:26:44] Anna Stokke: Exactly. And so this brings us to the next power tool, which is kind of a similar thing, but they're different and we want to keep both of them in mind when we're doing retrieval practice, and that's interleaving. So can you tell us a bit about interleaving and maybe the difference between what you call blocking and interleaving?

[00:27:07] Patrice Bain: Let's start with blocking, and I will use a little math example for you, Anna. Let's say your textbook has students doing 10 addition problems and then 10 subtraction problems, or 10 multiplication and 10 division. Most books are like that, and often homework assigned is like that.

That's blocking, where you do all of one thing, and then you do all of another. Interleaving would be where you might do three addition, a subtraction, two division, and back to addition. And so what you're doing is you are mixing up the problems. If you are blocking and the students are doing 10 addition problems, they don't have to think that much.

They just, they know what's coming next. In Make it Stick there's this wonderful example that Roediger and McDaniel talk about and they talk about, say you're a baseball or a softball coach and you're at practice, and you can have the pitcher do 10 fast balls, 10 slow balls, 10 curve balls, but the batter's always going to know exactly what's coming instead.

Throw a fast ball, throw a curve ball, do two slow balls, every time then the batter doesn't know what's coming and they have to take every bit of information they know of how to, how to hit that ball. That's interleaving. That's what we want to do with math. We don't want the students to go, “oh, okay, I'm adding, I'm adding.”

You want them to think, what do they need to know in order to solve that problem? So getting back to your original question, spacing is like timed retrieval. Spacing out, retrieval over time. Interleaving is where you are mixing similar things up. Another example, say from history, I would teach ancient river civilization, so I would teach the Nile, I would teach about Mesopotamia. 

But what I did, I came up with essential questions to tie everything together. So my essential question might be “How did flooding affect the early civilizations?” And so as I taught the Nile, we would discuss how did flooding affect us? But when we discussed the Tigris and Euphrates, we would discuss flooding again and again with the rain, and, and so at the end, I could give an essay question, how did flooding affect ancient river civilizations?

And students could go back. I didn't just teach the Nile and move on, but instead they could go back and think through every ancient civilization and think how that one topic of flooding affected each one. That's interleaving.

[00:30:32] Anna Stokke: We should point out that we don't mean multiple strategies, that's not what we're meaning. We're, talking about, different types of problems interleave together, where you have to think about what approach to use to solve the problem. And also that I think I read in your book, that research suggests that a hybrid approach might be most effective, where you have blocked practice initially followed by interleaved practice.

I think that's really important in math because students actually will get really confused if you start interleaving a bunch of, different types of problems and you haven't. Properly taught them the, the topic because we do want to scaffold. We've talked about scaffolding a lot on the podcast too.

I'll use fractions as an example. So say we're teaching students to add fractions. We would start with fractions that have the same denominator, right? And so we'd have a bunch of problems like that. We'd want students to master that.

Now we might move on to where one denominator is just a multiple of the other denominator. So that's scaffolding, right? I'm moving on to that type of problem. I get students to master that, and now I start interleaving. So I bring back the other type of problem because then the student has to look at the problem and say, “Okay, what do I do with this denominator?”

“Is it the denominator's the same? So I don't need to look for a common denominator?” And if one's a multiple of the other, and then we keep moving on like that, right?

[00:32:06] Patrice Bain: Yes, that's exactly, and to bring it back, like I was saying earlier, I could not have asked my students, “Tell me about how flooding affected ancient river civilizations” if I hadn't blocked or talked about the Nile first and then moved on. So yes, you have to give them a platform, a baseline of information that they need to master before you can go to this higher level, which is critical thinking, which allows them to compare and contrast.

[00:32:42] Anna Stokke: Something I found really interesting when I was reading your book, actually, it, turns out that it seems a lot of the research on interleaving and spacing was done in regards to mathematics. 

Alright. And, and yeah. And has shown it been shown to be quite beneficial for mathematics teaching. Yet, and I can tell you, I've looked at lots and lots of math books, including for younger grades because I actually run an afterschool nonprofit math program for kids in grades four, five, and six. And so I've actually looked at a lot of textbooks at that level, and I've looked at a lot of textbooks at the university level in math because I teach at the university level.

And I can tell you that this is not at all common. Most textbooks in mathematics are usually just blocking. I will mention one, that’s Saxon Math. That's actually a really good textbook and you know, somebody can write it and then maybe they'll tell me about another textbook that, that uses interleaving and, and spacing well.

That's really the only one that I've noticed. But at the university level, I actually have online homework now, which isn't perfect, but the great thing about online homework is that it allows me to interleave and space because I can pick problems from any section of the textbook to design my problem set.

So we actually have to do a little bit of work to get good problem sets for students where we use interleaving and spacing. Are you able to talk a bit about the Taylor and Rohrer study on the results of blocking versus interleaving?

[00:34:25] Patrice Bain: Isn't that amazing, that graph? I show that graph every time that I present because it's like, “Whoa!” So yes, now that I have everybody's attention, so this was a study that was done with fourth graders, and they were learning, they were learning a new way to do math problems. And so some of the students blocked or did the same types of math problems throughout the class that day, and others were given problems, but it wasn't blocked.

It was interleaved, where they had to really think about how to solve each problem. And they were given a quiz at the end of class, and those who had blocked got a hundred percent. I mean, they'd been doing it all hour and so you get a quiz, boom. They knew it was coming, a 100%. And those who had interleaved who were really trying to still master how to solve the problem, at the end of class, they got an 81%.

So they were still having that little bit of struggle. They were still having to think about it. But the amazing thing is 24 hours later, they come back to class and they are given a very similar quiz. Those who had interleaved went from a 81% to a 77%, so they lost very little, but those who had scored a hundred percent the day before, 38%, 38%.

When you see that on a graph, it is amazing. It goes downhill so fast. So when you block, your students may know it really well at the end of class. That doesn't mean they're going to be able to do it that night for homework. That doesn't mean they're going to know it only 24 hours later. You were in the room, you taught it.

But blocking is not a successful way to have our students learn. Granted, it needs to be done at the beginning to give them a base, but then you need like that pitcher and batter. You need to be able to have the students try to figure out how best to solve the problem, and that's when they're thinking.

[00:37:11] Anna Stokke: Yeah, that's quite telling. I think we kind of know that this often happens, and we do need ways to get students to do the spacing and the interleaving instead of just cramming for exams. That's not to say we need to get rid of exams. That's not what I'm saying.

I just think we need to have better ways to prepare students in ways that the information stays with them later. And I think they've done a lot of studies on this for med students, right? Because medical, obviously, you don't want your doctor to forget the things that they've learned, right?

You want to be able to have a doctor who can react really quickly and they don't have to look something up in a book. And I think they found similar things. 

[00:37:57] Patrice Bain: On our very first year of researching retrieval in my classroom, Dr. Agarwal and I decided to do a pop final or an unannounced final exam at the end of the year. It didn't go in the grade book because that would not have been fair, but we wanted to see how much could students remember if they had did not have a chance to study.

They didn't know a test was coming. What do you simply remember at the end of the year? And we found that if items had been retrieved throughout the course of the year, students remembered 79% of it without any studying at all. As teachers, that's remarkable. We work so, so hard, we don't want our students to be blank slates every August.

We want them to remember what we taught them, and retrieval is, well all of these power tools, but we know from that research using retrieval how powerful it is.

[00:39:07] Anna Stokke: Yeah, and it's not like we have to redo everything that we're doing and, and completely change everything. It's a matter of just reshuffling a bit or changing things slightly. In the way that we design the practice, for instance, that we give students in, in math, we have to design it in such a way that we're doing blocked and scaffolded, followed by interleaving and, and spacing, and it'll make a huge difference.

 And you had some other techniques that you talked about in the book for retrieval, like exit tickets.

Do you mind talking about that?

[00:39:43] Patrice Bain: Well exit tickets are another wonderful idea. It's a way to, to wrap up the class. You could either have the students retrieve on an exit ticket of, you know, what are, what are the two most important things we learned today, or what are the two most important things we learned yesterday? And then you were incorporating spacing and retrieval.

I also started using mini-quizzes. When I gave that pop final that I, I briefly mentioned I had an aha moment that my number one student who had a hundred percent on every test, who had a hundred percent on every bit of homework, scored less than the 50th percentile in what was remembered at the end of the year, and I couldn't figure out why this person who, who scored so well, why couldn't, why did they not remember all that?

And so I realized that much of the homework that I was giving was not effective. In fact, I realized that my students had mastered homework. They were given a question, they would look up the answer, they would write it down and repeat, turn it in a hundred percent. But we didn't have very good conversations in class.

And two days later, I would get these deer in the headlight looks, you know, I don't remember. And so the next year, I decided to do away with homework. Now this does not work for everyone, but it worked for me. And what I knew would've been homework or what we discussed, I gave in a mini quiz the following day.

And so as I called a mini because it was on two-by-three cycle paper, they'd number one through five. And again, what would've been homework, what we discussed, I simply cut up in little pieces of paper and put it in a little bucket and I would randomly choose five. And students started listening in class differently because they knew that whatever we discussed could be on the next day's mini-quiz.

And they loved the mini-quizzes. It was low stakes, either no grade or just, you know, a minimal, maybe five points if needed. But the students, we started having deep conversations and learning absolutely changed. And it was because they were able to retrieve, I was spacing out what we were learning, and I'll get into metacognition in a bit, but it also utilized metacognition.

So there are these very simple things that absolutely increase learning and knowledge retention.

[00:42:40] Anna Stokke: So let's move on to metacognition. So that's your fourth power tool. So can you explain metacognition for us?

[00:42:48] Patrice Bain: Metacognition translates into thinking about thinking. But I like to take it a step further and I would define it to my students as it tells us what we know and what we don't know. Too often when students study for tests, they study what they already know. “I know this, I know this. Oops, I don't know that one, but I know this and this and this.”

And they will come in the next day so pumped that, “Oh, well, I'm going to ace this test. I'm so ready.” But of course, the test has all of the information on it, and then students tend to not do well. And it's frustrating for the student. It's, it's frustrating for the parent who saw the student studying for two hours at the kitchen table.

And so we need to give students an opportunity to test that metacognition every single year. After I'd started using research in my classroom, I would start every first day with, “I'm your teacher and I'm going to teach you how to learn.” To me, that was even more important than the curriculum. Why would I do that?

Because again, every single year in my sixth-grade class, I would have students second quarter, when the grades had come out, come up to me and say, Mrs. Bain, I have an A or I have a B in your class, but you would see their whole demeanor change. And they would say, “But I never get good grades. I always get D's and F's.”

And then they would simply sink and say, “I'm not smart.” It was like a knife to my heart every time. And I would just gather all my enthusiasm and say, “But look at you now. The only difference is now you're learning how to learn.” How can we, wherever we are in the world, have educational systems where students internalize failure by the time they're 11. We know how to change this.

And the key is teaching students how to learn. And part of this is metacognition. If I go back to what I was talking about for those mini quizzes, students would know right away, did they know it or not? And failure was not something that they would internalize anymore. They saw an, an error as, “Oh, I don't know that one yet.”

In fact, here's a quick story. I had a parent come into a parent-teacher conference and she said, “Oh, I just don't know about this. My son does not do well on these mini quizzes and I don't know why he doesn't. And I told him, I said, or I asked him, I said, you don't do well on these mini quizzes. Why not?” And she said, “Do you know what he told me? 

He said, ‘Oh mom, no need to worry. It's just my metacognition telling me I couldn't retrieve it yet.’” And she said, “What kind of an answer was that?” And I said, “Oh, the very best kind.” But this student knew that errors are roadmaps. That it shows, “Oh, this is where I need to focus my time.”

And when we educate parents as to how we learn too, it's like, “Oh, well, that's where you need to focus your time.” So metacognition is this wonderful strategy, this research principle that helps us figure out what we know and what still needs work.

[00:46:35] Anna Stokke: In math in particular, I think it's very common for students to internalize when they aren't performing well in mathematics because there's a lot of myths out there about math that math is for some people and not for others, which simply isn't true. But we do need to teach children well, we need to teach students well if we want them to learn the concepts and we need to use the techniques that, that you're mentioning in your, book as well as things like worked examples and scaffolding, and certainly, students can learn. 

In terms of older students, when they're studying, if they have trouble with a particular concept, that's the thing they need to practice more. And what you're saying is a lot of times students, what they'll do is they'll practice things that they're already good at, but this isn't progress, right?

We're not moving forward if we just keep looking at the things that we're already good at. So you found that talking to students about these things really improved their learning. And did you also discuss the science of learning with parents?

[00:47:43] Patrice Bain: Yes, I did. every chance I got. At open houses, I talked about learning. At parent-teacher conferences, you don't need to talk about grades. They can look those up on the computer. I talked about how their child learns. And so every opportunity I would have parent symposiums because like I talked about earlier with the teaching triangle, I found that the three of us working together, a child cannot fail.

[00:48:16] Anna Stokke: I actually really appreciated a lot of those things you wrote in your book about parents I'm a parent myself and, the thing about being a parent is you'd walk to the end of the earth for your child and when you're not sure if things are going well at school, it, it's really stressful for parents because they want to make sure that their child has the best opportunity for the future.

And certainly I went through that a lot when my kids were learning math the curriculum here wasn't great. A lot of it was being taught in strange ways, not because of the teachers, but because of what was going on in the system. And that was a really stressful time for my husband and me because we really worried about our kids.

And of course we taught them ourselves a little bit, a lot actually. So I really appreciated that you acknowledged parents and working with parents and, and you took the time to write that wonderful little book for parents. 

 I had Barry Garelick and JR Wilson on, and they were teachers and they talked about separating the wheat from the chaff. And you talked about something like that too. You had a different phrase, the stuff from the fluff, maybe. 

[00:49:28] Patrice Bain: Yeah. 

[00:49:30] Anna Stokke: That's good advice for teachers to focus on the important concepts so that you can use the best tools to teach students and, focus on those really important concepts.

[00:49:41] Patrice Bain: We know that students will retain what they think about. And if you spend a lot of time in your class on the fluff, they will remember the fluff instead of the stuff. In Cult of Pedagogy, Jen talks about the Grecian Urn. A teacher who was giving history, the students were learning the history of ancient Greece, and for an activity, she had them decorate a Grecian Urn.

Well, what did they remember at the end of the year? Decorating a Grecian Urn, but none of the history of ancient Greece. Fluff has its place. It can be attention grabbers, it can add to the visualizations that students have, but remember that students learn what they think about.

[00:50:40] Anna Stokke: At the beginning of your book, you mentioned that the science of learning sits dormant in academic journals rather than easily accessible in pre-service textbooks and, PD materials.

I would say too, even at the university level, I had never heard of any of these things.


And I've been a university teacher for 20 years and I've gone to lots of conferences on teaching higher education. This stuff is not well known and it's quite unfortunate. And also, it’s been featured in the media, but there are always lots of fads in education and we never really know what's what.

So how do we know that the science of learning isn't a fad?

[00:51:22] Patrice Bain: Well, we know it's not a fad because it is based in research. As a teacher, I can't tell you how many professional development days I had where it was based on the shiniest newest object, the latest gadget, the newest computer program, and it didn't teach. It was the fluff. And the science of learning truly is based in research. Just robust research backed over and over with, with robust studies.


Something to do if, if you're a teacher and, and you're curious about something, there's three sites that I'd like to recommend: Google Scholar, another is and another is site And those are three ways that you can look up, for example, if you were to look up coding, storage, retrieval, boom, you would see how many papers, research, peer-reviewed research papers this occurs in. 

If you looked it up with, you would see how many studies are based on that. Or if you put, should put in retrieval. So you know when you're given professional development, type it into one of those three. Is what you're learning research-based? If it is, it's here to stay.

We will keep adding to it as more research is done, but it's not a fad, it's not going to go away.

[00:53:14] Anna Stokke: Exactly and research-based, by that we mean an actual research study that was well-designed, not something like an essay or something that is measuring performance by engagement. We have to be careful because there's, there's a lot of claims out there about things being research-based, but we have to sort of separate whether this is really valid research or not.

[00:53:42] Patrice Bain: Yes.

[00:53:43] Anna Stokke: Another thing you mentioned in the book that I, I want to mention, and I thought this was a great idea. A lot of money gets spent on PD and bringing in speakers that cost thousands and thousands of dollars. And one of the things you suggested was teachers could form a study group. They get your book, they go through the book together, they discuss it, very low-cost PD.

And I think that's a really great idea. I recommend that people consider doing things like that. Your book is, is fantastic. It's really easy to read, it's very accessible. And so I think that's a really great idea.

[00:54:22] Patrice Bain: Thank you. I would also like to encourage another site, which is If you go to, you can download templates of all my strategies. Use them, adapt them, make them yours.

[00:54:42] Anna Stokke: And I will put up a resource page that links to a number of the things that we talked about in the episode, and so people can check that out last question. Do you think we're headed in a direction where the science of learning is becoming more accessible for teachers?

[00:55:01] Patrice Bain: Yes, I do. In fact, I feel we are in a learning revolution. I tend to surround myself with like-minded individuals and what is going on is so exciting. I like what is happening in the UK. There's just so much of the science of learning happening over there and they have a couple conferences that are coming to the United States.

One this past year, it’s called researchED. It was held in Frederick, Maryland and it was fantastic. It will be held again in November of 24. One coming up this fall is called “Festival of Education.” It's normally in the UK. It's the first time it will be in the United States. 

So maybe I can give you some links that you can post too that, this is where if you are interested in pursuing this type of information and being around like-minded individuals who are so excited about learning, these are places to go. And also on Twitter, there's an incredible circle of camaraderie on Twitter regarding the science of learning.

[00:56:21] Anna Stokke: That's true. And you mentioned researchED, and I've recorded an episode with Tom Bennett, the founder of researchED.

So by the time your episode airs that episode will have already been published, so that will tie together nicely.

[00:56:37] Patrice Bain: Great.

[00:56:38] Anna Stokke: So Patrice, I want to thank you so much for coming on today and for all the work you're doing. It was absolutely just wonderful to meet you.

[00:56:46] Patrice Bain: Oh, it was great to meet you too, Anna. Thank you for putting all of your knowledge out on the airwaves for people just to pick up and absorb. This is wonderful what you're doing!

[00:57:00] Anna Stokke: It is my pleasure and I have met some really passionate and really knowledgeable people, and I'm enjoying all of it. So it's, it's my pleasure to do it.

I hope you enjoyed today's episode of Chalk and Talk. Please go ahead and follow on your favourite podcast app so you can get new episodes delivered as they become available. You can follow me on Twitter for notifications or check out my website for more information. This podcast received funding through a University of Winnipeg Knowledge Mobilization and Community Impact grant funded through the Anthony Swaity Knowledge Impact Fund.

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