From Academy to School: One Teacher’s MBE Journey








By Jessica Clingman, 5th Grade Science Teacher Princeton Day School

Editor’s Note: Periodically, the CTTL receives guest blog posts from teachers and school leaders who experienced one of its in-person programs. Jessica Clingman and some of her colleagues from the Princeton Day School in New Jersey participated in the 2018 Science of Teaching and School Leadership Academy and we are excited about how she took that experience back home to her school and most importantly to her science students. Enjoy this share.

After reading Neuroteach during a faculty book club at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey, I knew I needed to attend CTTL’s Science of Teaching and School Leadership Academy in the summer of 2018. In addition to that, I was certain my students really needed to know more about their brains. I asked around in my Middle School science department. Was anyone teaching how the brain works? Could I? Could I change my curriculum for 5th-grade science and do just that?

So, I found myself at the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in July of 2018, surrounded by leaders in the field of Mind, Brain Education. We dissected brains, went to Johns Hopkins University to see research in action, collaborated to create our own research for our classrooms in the upcoming school year, and learned a lot about how our brains learn and process information.

One roadblock to learning about the brain turns out to be neuromyths, facts about the brain that we assume to be true (but really have no backing in science and research at all). To bring this concept into focus for us, CTTL had all the participants at the Academy engage in a Face the MBE Facts: A Neuro-Myth Buster Activity. In our table groups, we received a pack of Neuro-Myth Cards. We were asked to read them, discuss them, and then decide if research showed these statements were true, false or indeterminate. There were emoji cards representing these three options. The cards were deliberately written to provoke discussions and debate. Of course, after we thought we had completed the task, we were surprised to find out that there was no neutral option and we had to sort those cards again!

Back at the hotel for the evening, as I processed all the amazing revelations from the Academy that day, I knew I needed to bring this same myth-busting learning experience to my students as a part of the new 5th-grade curriculum. But the Neuro-Myth Cards were written for teachers, not for 10 and 11-year-olds. So, I had some work to do.

First, I gathered the cards from the conference, my well-worn copy of Neuroteach especially chapter four and its section on neuro-myth busting, and the online version of a formative assessment found at I choose the neuromyths that I thought my students might already have. I rewrote the neuromyths for my younger audience. I changed “avoid having students memorize information since this is an outdated strategy” to “memorizing things is a waste of time” and simplified “hemispheric dominance in the brain means some people are dominantly left-brained (more analytical), while others are dominantly right-brained (more creative)” to “people are either left-brained or right-brained.” Some, like “we only use 10% of our brains,” were great just as they were written. I printed the myths on shipping labels and adhered them to index cards to create four sets of cards for my classes. I color copied the emjoi cards we had gotten at the workshop so I had enough for each group.

On about the fourth day of our brain study, I began my own Middle School Neuro-Myth Buster Activity. The students were given the exact same instructions, with the neutral emjoi included as an option. I heard some comments like “oh yeah, I read that you do only use 10% of your brain” telling me that some of these neuromyths were already present in these young learners, but I also heard a lot of confidence from my students in the idea of neuroplasticity and that their brains can change. There was an audible groan when they realized they would have to sort the neutral ones again, and the students definitely had a harder time agreeing on where the neuromyths belonged than my colleagues at the conference did.

The biggest change I made in the instructions was that I did not give the students the ability to self-check. The original cards had the answers on the back. I thought this might be a little too tempting. So instead, I created a Google slides reveal, so the students could get feedback after the activity about the choices they made. This method allowed us to debrief as a class and led to some edifying discussions. Our most rigorous one was over male and female brains being significantly different or mostly the same!

The wonderful take away from using this lesson is that young students do not have as many preconceived myths about the brain as some adults do. This strengthened my belief that teaching them about how their brains work and learn is the crucial work of a teacher at any age level, but especially those of us who work with younger students. The earlier they learn about brain science, the fewer of these myths they will presume to be true.

If Jessica’s experience inspires you to pursue this professional development opportunity, learn more about the weeklong Science of Teaching and School Leadership Academy or email

The CTTL and TFA, DC Region: The Power of a Replicable Public and Private School Partnership

By Julia Dean

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Did you know that our long term memory capacity is limitless? Are you aware that memory is a whole brain activity? How about that acknowledgement, affirmation, and even celebration increase our ability to remember?

St. Andrew’s faculty member Christine Lewis challenged Teach for America (TFA) Corps members and alumni of the DC region to consider these questions while teaching about the science of memory. Lewis modeled strategies that teachers can implement to help students remember material more effectively, such as the use of novelty, relevancy, and visualization, as part of the Brain Science and Advanced Instructional Delivery Fellowship.

In 2010, Gabriela Smith, Founder and President of the Crimsonbridge Foundation, and Glenn Whitman, Director of the CTTL at St. Andrew’s, cultivated this innovative public-private partnership with Teach for America, DC Region. Over the years, the partnership developed a fellowship for rising second-year TFA Corps members and TFA alumni in the DC region to receive training and feedback from veteran St. Andrew’s teachers. The Brain Science and Advanced Instructional Delivery Fellowship evolved from the CTTL and TFA DC’s common goal: to ensure that all students have teachers who understand how students’ brains learn, work, and thrive.

In Whitman’s words, “Each of us from the CTTL and TFA DC share authority for the design, facilitation, and measurement of impact that this professional development experience has. We each bring expertise and experience to this program. It is the type of mutually beneficial public/private partnership that I hope more schools will embrace, like St. Andrew’s has, in their regions of the country.”

This year’s fellowship allows TFA teachers, who instruct students in some of the most underserved schools in the region, to receive professional development from SAES teachers like Christine Lewis.

This is Christine’s third year as a CTTL facilitator with TFA DC in their collaborative program that is offered to second year TFA corps members and TFA alumni. This year’s topics include: the science of stress in the classroom and how to reduce its impact; the science of mindset and how to apply ideas appropriately within a diverse urban classroom; and, most recently, an introduction to the science of memory and its applications for improving academic achievement for all students. Fellowship participants also have the opportunity to earn micro-credentials in topics such as neuroplasticity through the CTTL’s partnership with Digital Promise.

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Christine had previously trained in and worked as a launch skills instructor for The New Teacher Project (TNTP), which certifies TFA teachers. Gaining insight and experience into the public school teaching world, Christine, in her words, “developed a deep respect for the individuals who took on this monumental task with no experience or real training other than my six week intensive.”

Through this partnership, Christine Lewis and other SAES teachers over the program’s history have shared their wide range of experiences and knowledge with TFA Corps members. In addition to sharing knowledge, Lewis notes that she “use[s] this time to embody enthusiasm and optimism for the career of teaching as a way to counteract some of the teacher loss that is often associated with TFA assignments.”

The professionalization and retention of teachers is at the heart of this partnership, which has positive benefits for SAES teachers as well, who gain an appreciation for the creative work TFA teachers are doing with the resources available in underserved schools in the District.

Earlier this year, the leaders of the Crimsonbridge Foundation, CTTL, and TFA DC presented at the National Network of Schools in Partnership’s 1st Annual Conference to share what they learned through their nearly decade-long collaboration. Though this journey included many iterations of the CTTL-TFA fellowship, their missions remained aligned: to serve every child to achieve his or her potential by supporting the teachers who work with them every day.

The Brain Science and Advanced Instructional Delivery Fellowship represents a model of collaboration between public and private schools and is one of several offerings the CTTL extends to TFA Corps members and public and charter school teachers. With the support of the Crimsonbridge, Marriott, and E.E. Ford foundations, the CTTL also provides scholarships for public school teachers to attend its Mind, Brain, Education science professional development programs, including the upcoming Science of Teaching and School Leadership Academy, which will take place this July.

For more information about the CTTL, click here.

Seniors Step into the Shoes of Teachers: A MBE Research-Informed Final Project

Written by Christina Chalmers’s International Voices Class
Edited by Cristina Anillo and Julia Dean

          St. Andrew’s English teacher Christina Chalmers challenged the seniors in her International Voices elective to integrate Mind, Brain, and Education research into a reflection on their experience working with Chicos and Kids, an organization founded by St. Andrew’s alumna Stephanie Quintero.

          Ms. Chalmers’s students created and executed lesson plans for students at Gaithersburg Elementary School, a multicultural community that includes children from South America, Africa, and the Caribbean. The goals of the trip included serving the community, learning about the teaching process, and understanding the lives of immigrants and their children.

          For their final exam, Ms. Chalmers’s students reflected on how the experience helped them connect themes from the class to the community. In addition, students wrote about their own learning experiences in conjunction with their teaching experiences at Gaithersburg Elementary School. Read the following excerpts to discover the positive impact that Ms. Chalmers, a passionate and hardworking teacher, has on her students:

  • “By being in the shoes of a teacher, I know the effort and energy teachers put in everyday to teach a class. Before this, I really did not consider the directions and curriculum teachers have to design everyday to engage students. I will take this experience to college with me to help understand why teachers do the things they do and the effort they go through to engage you into learning.”
  • “Since my freshman year at SAES, I have seen huge growth in myself and my mindset thanks to my teachers… I have such appreciation for teachers that enjoy their job.  I believe that a good teacher is what makes the class, and as a student, I tend to work harder depending on if I like the teacher or not.  I do think that being a research informed student helps because it allows one to learn the limits of how much your brain can do and also shows just how amazing the human brain is.”

  • “There have been some strategies that some of my teachers used here at SAES that have helped me understand information while actually absorbing the information that is presented to me. For example, in a history class, my teacher used a PowerPoint presentation with pictures to try to explain information about a concept. I found this to be helpful because not only was I gaining information from the bullet points of information along with the pictures, but the visuals were helping me keep and remember the information from the PowerPoint… Now I appreciate my teachers and what they do more because I now see how hard it can be for them sometimes. Being a research informed student-teacher will help me as a college student because it will help me think more analytically and quickly when solving problems.”

  • “In the weeks preceding my lesson, I was very nervous and not keen on teaching a lesson mostly because I was not sure what to expect. Would the kids respect me? Would they like me? Would they pay attention to me? Did they even want to be there? Once I got the lesson with my first group out of the way, all my nerves, questions, and concerns vanished. With each group, I got better at teaching the lesson. One challenge I faced early on was keeping the kids engaged. However, I was able to solve this problem for the most part by participating in the activity, allowing me to be more engaged with them.”

  • “In ‘Infusing Psychological Science into Curriculum’ one researcher writes, ‘Should teachers be concerned with their students’ ability to learn? The answer to that question depends on a teacher’s belief about the primary goal of teaching… If a teacher believes that the goal of teaching is to develop student understanding, then whether and how students learn is a major concern.’ Teachers that believe the goal of teaching is to develop understanding are the teachers I’ve personally found myself learning the most from both in a classroom setting and a musical environment.”

  • “[One] interaction I had with a student was with a little girl who was absolutely silent. When I noticed that she was not talking to others in her group, I asked if she was ok, and if she knew what the directions were. When I asked the question she responded “yes” and showed me her work sheet, which was completely filled out with reasons why people should vote for her. This interaction gave me the knowledge that every kid is different when it comes to working in groups.”

  • “This experience really opened my eyes to how important teachers are in the world of education. According to the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), after the students themselves, teachers are the next greatest source of variance that can make a difference in a student’s achievement. Therefore, we need to ‘direct [our] attention at higher quality teaching, and higher expectations that students can meet appropriate challenges.’ Although, following this experience, I gained a greater appreciation for teachers and the role they play in shaping the youth, moving forward, I still am not likely to consider ever becoming a school teacher. However, I will move onto the next stage of life being a research informed student-teacher. This knowledge will aid my growth and ability to better communicate with my professors as I become a college student next fall.”

          Ms. Chalmers’s students appreciated this positive experience; they not only learned about the different voices in the community, but they also gained appreciation for the teaching profession and Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) science.  By employing their metacognitive skills, the students bridged the gap between MBE research and the classroom.  This experiential learning opportunity with Chicos and Kids allowed seniors to reflect on their service learning experience through a MBE lens while directly applying themes from their International Voices class with Ms. Chalmers, an educator who routinely integrates research into the classroom.

What the CTTL is Reading This Summer: 2017? (Our Top Ten)


One of the great myths about teachers is that they do not work during the summer. Certainly teachers at schools that have recognized the need for classes to meet more than the magic number of 180 days, or year-round schools, would loudly disagree with this perception that is rooted in the outdated way in which the American school year was designed around the farming calendar (see also “The Myths of Having Summers Off” from Edutopia).

But in fact, the most dedicated teachers and school leaders need summer days to engage in what might be both considered a luxury as well as a necessity to advance their thinking about teaching and learning. The opportunity for uninterrupted time to read, to learn from others, and then to return to school with new lenses in which to design their programs, classes and work with each individual student is important professional development for teachers and school leaders.

So, what is on the CTTL’s Summer reading list to enhance individual teacher’s understanding of Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) Science research? The exciting news is that there continues to be a growing body of literature from various stakeholders in education: teachers, researchers, and policymakers that are translating MBE research into actionable strategies that teachers’ and students’ work should be informed by.

The CTTL’s hypothesis is that until teachers and school leaders understand how the brain learns, works, and changes, each individual student will not meet his or her full potential. We also have learned from our work with public, public-charter, state and private schools in the United States and abroad that few teachers have met our threshold for foundational knowledge, skills, and mindsets in MBE Science. Reading is a great next step to close the gap between where teachers and school leaders currently are in their MBE Science professional development journey and where they should be. Let us know what you are reading on twitter @thecttl and we welcome you to sign-up for a free subscription to the CTTL’s monthly newsletter “The Bridge”.

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 11.25.59 AM.pngNeuroteach: Let’s get the obvious, self-serving selection out of the way. Neuroteach was written by the Director and the Head of Research for the CTTL. So, while this suggestion is 100% biased, it is also 100% serving what many teachers are yearning for, a book written by classroom teachers that seeks to translate research into next day applications. The idea for Neuroteach was inspired by Toni Morrison who once wrote, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

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Learn Better: Ulrich Boser’s hot off the press book validates what we have come to learn about memory (thanks Peter Brown, Mark McDaniel, and Henry Roediger for Make It Stick). It provides strategies for students, teachers, parents, and policymakers to better think about the science behind learning and its implications for the daily lives of students and how we think about the future of teaching, learning, and schools.


Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 11.26.52 AMMaking Good Progress? This book was recommended by our friends in the U.K. who lead EvidencedBased Education. Simply put, they said this is their “go to” for rethinking of assessment. That was enough for us to buy it, read it, and begin to consider it in how we think about assessment for our students at St. Andrew’s.



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Overloaded and Unprepared: While this is the oldest book on our list (published in 2015) it was very influential as our school undertook an analysis and revision of its daily schedule this year. It forced us to address the question: “How do schools set a high and appropriately challenging academic bar while being mindful of students’ well-being and anxiety levels?” We also had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Pope at Stanford earlier in 2017 and we left thinking that if teachers and school leaders have not yet read her book, then they should.

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Leadership for Teacher Learning: We first became familiar with Dylan William’s work through researchEd and have found his work to be a much-needed lens into thinking about teaching and, in the case of this book, leadership.




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Clever Lands: We have been awaiting the arrival of this book ever since we saw Lucy Crehan present at the Wellington College Festival of Education in 2015. Lucy’s on the ground research and lived in experiences with teachers in countries like Finland, Japan, and Singapore will force all readers out of a local, state, or even national thinking about education. Cleverlands is a reminder that the evidence base for teachers, school leaders, and policymakers is a global one and we can look beyond our shores to find evidence of what works to enhance teacher quality and student learning. If only we all had the courage, and time, to take a journey like Lucy’s.


Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 11.34.48 AM.pngThe ABCs of How We Learn: Before reading this book from a team at Stanford University led by Dr. Daniel Schwartz, Jessica Tsang, and Kristen Blair, a fun challenge would be to consider what you or your colleagues think each of the letters of the alphabet will stand for. Then check your work by diving into this very accessible book that will provide you with 26 fresh ways to look at your teaching and learning and your school.


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Visible Learning in Action: While not the most recent of Hattie’s books, the case studies are a great way to look at his larger meta-studies. We finally had the chance to observe Dr. Hattie present at the 2017 Learning & the Brain Conference in San Francisco. While hearing first-hand about his research methods and conclusions was exciting, so was his “Kenny Rogers” approach to teaching and learning strategies.


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The Teaching Brain:  We quickly became a fan of Dr. Rodriguez’s work as she forced us to give as much consideration to each individual teacher’s brain as educators give each individual student’s brain. Dr. Rodriguez’s book grew out of her doctoral work at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and Dr. Kurt Fischer’s dynamic skill theory model.



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Emotions, Learnings, and the Brain:  One of the most important Mind, Brain, and Education science concepts that teachers and school leaders need to be informed by is the connection between emotion and cognition. That is what makes Dr. Immordino-Yang’s book so important. It is incredibly well-researched and includes the opening chapter, “Why Emotions Are Integral to Learning,” which should be required reading for educators. This book is equally important as we consider both the student learner and the adult learner within all educational settings.

Some interesting research papers:

There is scant time for teachers and school leaders to read research studies during the flow of the school year. Most teachers do not have the training to read research articles, and one article read out of context of the field of research as a whole is a dangerous activity we should avoid. But in the same way we ask students to stretch themselves to take on achievable difficulties, teachers should use the summer to work their way through ONE meta-study that aggregates and discusses multiple studies in one area. Here are some of our very accessible suggestions and pass ones you like along to us.

Spaced Practice: One of the Keys to a Student’s Final Exam/Project Preparation

In less than 3 weeks, each individual 6th through 12th grade student will share his or her knowledge and skills acquired for each of his or her courses via a final exam or project. Beginning next week, St. Andrew’s students will receive final exam review sheets, project guidelines, or rubrics from their teachers. This is the official commencement of the first of three distinct parts of the final exam period at St. Andrew’s (noted in green on the calendar).

The second distinct period, one that every current and former student (parents, that’s you) has firsthand knowledge of, is completing the exam or project itself (noted in orange on the calendar). However, far too many schools equate the exam with the end of the school year, which certainly was the case for St. Andrew’s until last year.

But instead of just receiving a final exam grade two weeks later, St. Andrew’s students have the opportunity to reflect and receive feedback from each of their teachers on their performance during four final class periods (noted in blue on the calendar).

This decision is informed by research from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring and others in the Mind, Brain, and Education Science field, which suggests that developing a student’s ability to think metacognitively and to receive timely feedback on assessment performance are some of the “biggest bangs for the buck” to deepen learning (more about the exam feedback period will be available in a future newsletter and CTTL blog post).


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What students do with the review sheets is a critical step in their preparation for exams and provides an opportunity for students and parents to talk about the research-informed strategy of spaced practice (as opposed to “massed practice,” better known as cramming).

Using this final exam period schedule, students should layout how they will space their practice and preparation for their exams and projects. Although it can be expected that students will study the night before each of their assessments, their preparation should not be limited to cramming. While at times the cramming strategy might be beneficial for the short run, it also contributes to increased stress and the likelihood that what was memorized will not be there when called upon under a stressful exam situation. 

Think about designing a 10-day period by spacing out what exams students study for on a particular night. It could look something like this:



or, to prepare for more than one class at a time, the spaced practice over nine-days could look like this:


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After setting a spaced practice preparation schedule, students should consider the following strategies as they consolidate, and further embed into memory, the skills and knowledge they have learned this year:

  • Retrieval practice: Always begin each study session with this strategy. Have your child take out a piece of paper and write and sketch what he/she knows (“dual coding” of words plus pictures may help, depending on the subject and student – students can experiment with it and see what works for them).
  • Flashcards (Handwritten or Quizlet): Most students usually use the cards incorrectly. They flip them over too quickly, creating a false sense of understanding. One important tip: students should not turn over the card to check for an answer unless they have deliberately considered the answer. The not-knowing-struggle-pause is the crucial step.
  • Self-testing: Encourage your child to use review sheets, check the posted answer guide, check notes where understanding is unclear, and check in with the teacher if questions or uncertainties remain.

In addition to students independently figuring out what works best for them, the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning is a resource for all students looking for strategies to help make themselves more efficient, confident, independent, and successful learners. Encourage your students to stop by!


Retrieve, Recall, Reflect and Refine: Preparing for Exams/Projects…NOW: A Blog Post on How to Make Learning Last


Written by Glenn Whitman and Dr. Ian Kelleher

As the weather warms and students see that they are in the home stretch of the school year, their brains and the brains of their teachers are starting to think about summer. At the same time, we realize at St. Andrew’s and many schools around the world that significant stressors await: national and state assessments of learning as well as school and teacher-designed final exams and projects.

The longstanding tradition of summative assessment final exams as the way to measure a student’s cumulative understanding remains a common pedagogical practice. When we first got to St. Andrew’s, we provided students with two sets of exams, one just before Thanksgiving and the other at the end of the year (we now only give one set of exams for yearlong courses). Like many schools, we have deliberated over the proper number and placement of exams. But for what reasons? We think there should be two goals of summative assessments: to maximize the learning of new knowledge and skills and to best develop students’ exam/project taking skills (since exams will be a feature of most of our students’ higher education lives).

What is the purpose of exams? The traditional responses include to: “know what students know” and “see how well students can recall a larger body of material.” But, at best, students demonstrate such knowledge and understanding for the short term. Part of the unspoken game of exams is that students routinely expunge all this from their brain the moment they leave the exam room. UCLA psychology professor Robert Bjork calls this “accessibility,” and it is a pointless goal for a year-long arduous, emotional journey in a class.

Learning is different from accessibility. Learning involves creating durable and flexible knowledge that students are able to use in novel contexts. If we want exams to be related to learning rather than accessibility, what can we do differently?

A research-informed experience every teacher who is designing a final exam or project should consider is one school’s approach after having students take final exams in June. The following September they gave the students the exam again, unannounced this time. But the teachers pared the exam down to the crucial, big-picture elements they absolutely hoped students would have taken from the course. Even with this tweak, the results, as you might guess, were disheartening. Most students failed, and the average was 58%. Should we have expected anything more?

But research suggests that there might be a better way to approach cumulative assessments. And, with one month before AP exams, and two months before final exams and projects, we propose a new way of thinking about final exams and suggest the following research-informed strategies as ways to have students strengthen their neural networks. One hope for this work is that it will reduce student exam stress, which, as the connection between cognition and emotion shows, can contribute to a student’s poor performance, even if he or she studied for the assessment.

Beginning a final exam/project development review/preparation period two weeks before exams commence, the current policy at St. Andrew’s, is not enough. In fact, if we consider MBE science and research around memory, the weeks ahead provide excellent opportunities to make the spacing effect, retrieval practice, and formative assessment common occurrences in our classes. So here are some suggestions:

1. Determine the essential knowledge and skills you want students to know and demonstrate on a final exam or project. As you ponder the 3-5 essential understandings and the content that underpins those understandings, consider seeing your students twenty years from now and what you hope stuck in their brains from your class.

2. Inspired by a recent Tweet from Learning Scientists (@acethattest, create a one-month (for AP Exams) or two-month (final exams/projects) calendar that includes daily content or skills you want students to recall at the beginning of each class with a quick, written or online formative assessment. Another tweet-inspired idea from Brad Dale (@bradjdale) 24-hours before the finals of the NCAA women’s and men’s basketball championships is to create a bracket of content you want students to recall and have students discuss a matchup or two per day. Start with your #1 seeds. What would they be for a set of world history events, math formulas, or elements on the Periodic Table (imagine H going up against Fe)?

3. If you already have taught some of the knowledge and skills that you will assess on the final exam, start providing students opportunities to see how much they have retained and can recall through weekly, or even daily, short formative assessments. As a reminder, a formative assessment is one in which students get to see where they are, you get to see where they are, and you both do things differently as a result of this insight. One practical guideline for formative assessments is to give them the lowest grade point value possible for students to engage deeply with the task. As St. Andrew’s biology teacher Phyllis Robinson said, “Right now students in my AP Bio class would do anything for two points.”

4. For those teachers giving alternative exams or projects, use these recall opportunities to prime a student’s brain for the type of content, creativity, connections, and skills you want them to demonstrate.

5. As you work through the final third of the school year and introduce new content and skills to students, find ways for students to “hang” prior knowledge onto that new knowledge. For example, as students study the Korean and Vietnam Wars in history class, a teacher will have them review the causes of the previous wars they have studied that year to find points of intersection and departure. For example, it seems ships are always a common theme: remember the Merrimack and the Monitor, The Maine, Lusitania, and Pearl Harbor and the Maddox?

6. Teach students important memory strategies such as:

– Flashcards: Most students usually use the cards incorrectly. They flip them over too quickly, creating a false sense of understanding. One important tip: students should not turn over the card to check for an answer unless they have deliberately considered their response. The not-knowing-struggle-pause is the crucial step.

– Self-testing: Use review sheets, check the posted answer guide, check your notes where understanding is unclear, and check in with the teacher if questions or uncertainties remain.

– Retrieval practice: Take out a piece of paper and write and sketch what you know (“dual coding” of words plus pictures may help, depending on the subject and student – have kids experiment with it). Or create a post-it note organizational masterpiece. As with self-testing, check with notes afterwards and see the teacher if necessary. In the words of Dr. Judy Willis, who worked with St. Andrew’s teachers in 2014, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

7. Interleave new material with recap blasts of older material. Where it fits naturally, “spiral” by building on previous knowledge, though this is not always essential. For example, see the diagram below for an illustration of how spaced learning can look differently from massed learning.

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Research suggests that spaced review leads to higher test scores and longer term retention of learning than massed studying, as shown in the diagram below.

8. John Hattie’s giant meta-study of 300 million students found that the most important aspect of successful learning is to use the right strategy at the right time. So what exam preparation strategies work for each individual student? Have students go into Schoology, or your Learning Management System (LMS) equivalent, to see how they reflected on the exam or project from the previous year. Focus here on the strategies, not the grade, and what can be gleaned from prior experience.

9. When writing review questions, try alternating questions for students to do with worked example answers. Research suggests that this pattern improves learning.

10. Try this: two or three weeks prior to your final exam or project, provide students a giant formative assessment in the form of a “mock” exam. We see this as a game changer for how students prepare for exams, how teachers grade final exams, and how feedback is given. Such an assessment would do three critically important things:

    • allow the teacher to know what students know and don’t know (and thus bring focus to review sessions)
    • allow the student to know where he or she is currently with the material
    • allow both the teacher and student to do something different ahead of the exam

It means that the teacher can give feedback at a point in time when students can actually choose to make good use of it. All the ‘red pen’ on final exams is perhaps the least ‘bang for your buck’, and greatest waste of effort, that teachers do. So let’s cut it out. Also, by this point in the year, we should be aiming to give students less detailed feedback –leaving them to put in the thinking to fix their mistakes, using their notes and then their teacher when necessary. By the end of the year, we want our students to have taken a step forward in being independent thinkers and strong self-advocates, so let’s incentivize this in the exams.

Although giving students a mock exam may seem like “giving the test away,” that is, in fact, the whole point of the mock exam since our goal is for students to see where they are, where they need to get to, and what they need to do before the exam. We believe a mock exam could even work as a lead-in to a final project.

If you feel that giving a mock exam would be too much of a giveaway, we suggest you rethink the content of your exam: does it weigh too heavily on surface knowledge rather than the deep thinking that we want students to engage in? A great exam will require that magic mix of surface knowledge and deep thinking of our students.

As teachers, we are passionate about our subject and would love for as much knowledge and skills to stick with our students as possible. Instead of bemoaning our students’ amazing ability to forget, let’s work strategically to help make durable learning happen. Make the spacing effect, retrieval practice, and formative assessment your friends this spring. So when we ask students who LBJ was, they will be more likely to say Lyndon Baines Johnson than Lebron James.

For more research-informed ideas, follow the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning on Twitter @thecttl and sign up here for The Bridge, the monthly newsletter of the CTTL.  Each month The Bridge analyzes a specific aspect of teaching and learning through a Mind, Brain and Education Science research-informed lens.

A History Student Recall


By Glenn Whitman, Director of the CTTL

Attention. Calling each of my former students. Come back. Whether it was geography 6, AP United States History, Historical Methods, or United States/European History since 1860, I ask you to clear your schedules for a year to return to St. Andrew’s to retake my class.

This student recall is not because you were poorly taught one, five, or twenty years ago. Most of you did well because of your work ethic, and this was before any of us had heard of Carol Dweck’s research around growth mindset or Angela Duckworth’s work around grit. You successfully drew a world map by heart, scored high on AP exams, and produced essays or oral history projects that met the scholarly standards of each assignment.

But this is why you should disrupt what you are currently doing to return to your alma mater for another year of history. I am an exponentially better teacher today than I was when I first taught history in 1991, and I can also say I am a better teacher today than even five years ago. Yes, I know the content of my course really well. That naturally comes from teaching the same class multiple times as well as from a deliberate focus on growing my content understanding through research and reading. In fact, as I write this I have just finished reading Lincoln’s Sword, a book not only about Lincoln’s greatest speeches, but also his speech writing process. When I ask students to write, I often encourage them to “channel their inner Abe Lincoln.” Next year, and in subsequent years, I will be better able to guide them to this threshold based upon my deepened content understanding. My future students will thus be better served during our study of the Civil War as well as taught to be more efficient, confident users of language to articulate their interpretations of the past.

While the improvement in my content understanding is measurable, what my former students would most benefit from is the improvement in my understanding of the learning brain, how it works, learns, and thrives. This has only been possible because my colleagues at St. Andrew’s and I have been part of a professional development journey unlike any other.

When St. Andrew’s committed to training and providing professional development in Mind, Brain, and Education science to 100% of its then, 6th through 12th grade faculty and now Preschool through 12th grade faculty, none of us knew where it would lead the school or each individual teacher. Ask almost any public or private school teacher about the introduction of a new initiative to enhance teacher quality, student achievement and to close the education inequality gap and you will certainly get a smirk and a story about surviving the latest education fad only to be replaced by another one.

But why does this MBE science professional development initiative have such enduring power at St. Andrew’s? Look at our mission: “To know and inspire each student in an inclusive community dedicated to exceptional teaching, learning, and service.” Any definition of exceptional teaching and learning must require teachers and students to understand the learning brain. Until teachers and school leaders develop their Mind, Brain, and Education Science knowledge, skills and mindsets, their students will not meet their full potential in school.

I am confident that a student will never forget his or her brain for class. However, I am less confident of whether a student uses his or her brain effectively during a class period. I used to think that if a student was not learning, then that was because the student was not trying and that the burden of learning was on the student, not me. I taught the history; afterwards, it was each student’s responsibility to learn it. But now I know that for learning to happen, a teacher and student must share authority for whether something will end up being received, filtered, and then recalled by a student’s brain.

So for my former students, who I am asking to return so I can provide you an even better history class experience, what can you expect? First, I have a better awareness of how emotions, sleep, and identity impact cognitive functions. Remember that time you pulled the “all-nighter” for the Cold War Period LOPP (I use the term LOPP instead of test, quiz or exam), but the next morning you could not recall so much of what you tried to imbed in your long term memory? For the visual artists I taught, I have created assessments that will allow you to use those strengths to demonstrate your knowledge of historical events. And yes, the amount of homework I give has decreased, and I would like to think that the homework is not only less, but also it is better. Need to memorize history terms? I will no longer merely suggest that you use flashcards but rather have you consider applying the testing and spacing effect to your study strategies while I provide you more formative assessments to practice recalling the three S’s of the Civil War Period, the five I’s of the Progressive Period, or the 12 causes of the Great Depression. In addition, we will follow-up a summative assessment with “test” corrections, and meta-cognition opportunities to reflect on your current strengths and weaknesses before moving on to the next unit.

And here is the good news, I assume you will enjoy even more success in my class. But, if your new grade does not surpass that of your old, we will keep the original grade on your transcript. Regardless, your experience will be that much better and when asked at a social event, “Who was LBJ?”instead of saying LeBron James, you will be able to recall the complex presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

So former students, what do you say?