John Catt Educational
30 Apr 2021
Emma Cate Stokes finds this book a treasure trove of useful techniques and materials, but wishes it paid more attention to the primary classroom
In its simplest form, ‘retrieval practice’ is a pedagogical method that is all about moving knowledge from short-term to long-term memory, and Kate Jones is rapidly becoming the go-to person for understanding and implementing it. A practising history teacher who uses it with her students to ensure stuff sticks, what really shines through on every page of this book is that she practises what she preaches.
In her previous books, she has delved heavily into the theory behind the practice, and this book builds on those. While I would recommend reading the previous instalments, they aren’t strictly necessary. Here, readers will find exactly what the cover promises: a compendium of research-informed, tried-and-tested practical ideas and resources for implementing retrieval in the classroom.
Retrieval Practice: Resource Guide comes in at under 100 pages, so it is a short read. And crammed full of practical tips, ideas and takeaways, it’s perfect for busy classroom teachers looking to introduce a new dimension to their teaching immediately.
There are four chapters, each one placing retrieval in a particular context. The first, which looks at retrieval practice tasks in the classroom, is the one I found most useful. Jones explains that her teaching mantra when planning and delivering classroom tasks is “low effort, high impact”, and that is certainly the case here.
Each suggestion contains an example of what it could look like, a brief explanation of how it works and top tips for implementation. The layout is accessible and each tip can be taken in isolation, making the book easy to dip in and out of.
It is an excellent addition to Jones’ Retrieval series
The second chapter focuses on retrieval practice tasks to support literacy. I am sure this will be a particularly helpful chapter for secondary school teachers whose subject specialism isn’t English. Jones explains that the development of literacy skills shouldn’t fall to those only in the English department and offers a plethora of practical activities to support literacy across subjects via retrieval practice.
This does, however, highlight one small issue with the book. While Jones does acknowledge younger students and offers some examples of how activities can be adapted to suit them, overall the book feels more angled towards secondary teachers. Many of the activities wouldn’t be appropriate for reception or key stage one in their current form. This is not to say that primary colleagues can’t take the fundamentals of Jones’ ideas and contextualise them for their settings, but it would require some careful planning and reflection.
I found the third chapter, which responds directly to the context of our Covid world, particularly eye-opening. In it, we are given examples of how to implement retrieval practice with online and/or remote learning. Putting aside the many issues with accessibility and cost (among others), if your students have access to devices in the classroom or at home, you’ll be surprised at the many ways technology can be used to complement retrieval practice.
More than that: we’ve all heard of technology’s potential to lessen workload, close gaps and provide instant feedback, but the reality often fails to match the sales pitch. Here, Jones shows us how it can actually be done, which is surely every teacher’s dream!
The final chapter details how retrieval can be used to support revision, with a stress on year-round practice over last-minute exam preparation.
There is a lovely touch at the end of the book where teachers can scan a QR code to have instant access to Jones’ blogs, templates and study guides, all for free. These are very useful in and of themselves.
So despite the book being more appropriate for upper key stage two and secondary school teachers, it is an excellent addition to Jones’ Retrieval series. As a primary teacher, I can only hope it will be expanded further with a book specifically aimed at us.
No education book can hope to be all things to all parts of the sector. But the wealth of examples, tips and activities Jones sets out here are well thought-out and rooted in practice, and that means any teacher can at least use them as a springboard.