Evidence-Based Practice Guides in Education
The health care professions have embraced a mechanism for assembling and communicating evidence-based advice to practitioners about care for specific clinical conditions. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) had also published practice guides in education to bring the best available evidence and expertise to bear on the types of systemic challenges that cannot currently be addressed by single interventions or programs.
Although IES has taken advantage of the history of practice guides in health care to provide models of how to proceed in education, education is different from health care in ways that may require that practice guides in education have somewhat different designs. Even within health care, where practice guides now number in the thousands, there is no single template in use. Rather, one finds descriptions of general design features that permit substantial variation in the realization of practice guides across subspecialties and panels of experts. Accordingly, the templates for IES practice guides may vary across practice guides and change over time and with experience.
The seven recommendations in this practice guide reflect our panel’s consensus on some of the most important concrete and applicable principles to emerge from research on learning and memory (see table 2). The first recommendation about the spacing
of key course content is an overarching principle that teachers should attend to as they plan out sequences of instruction. This recommendation provides advice that is intended to help students remember information longer. Our second, third, and fourth
recommendations relate to how different forms of instruction should be combined: worked example solutions and new problems posed to the student (in Recommendation 2), graphical and verbal descriptions of concepts and mechanisms (Recommendation 3),
and abstract and concrete representations of a concept (Recommendation 4). Recommendation 5 reflects our ongoing concern with memory. In these days of high-stakes tests, teachers are often reminded of how often students appear to have mastered information and concepts in December or February, only to have forgotten them by June. As well as using spacing to mitigate forgetting, a substantial body of work recommends that teachers use quizzing, both formal and informal, as a tool to help students remember. Although forgetting is a reality of life, its effects can be somewhat mitigated through appropriate use of what we call
“spaced” learning and through strategic use of quizzing.
Recommendation 6 relates to students’ ability to judge how well they have learned new knowledge or skills—psychologists refer to this ability as “metacognition.” We recognize that this recommendation may strike the reader as a bit exotic. It is our belief, however, that students’ ability to manage their own studying is one of the more important skills that students need to learn, with consequences that will be felt throughout their lives. Psychological research has documented the fact that accurately assessing one’s own degree of learning is not something that comes naturally to our species, and fostering this ability is a useful, albeit neglected, component of education.
Finally, we have included a seventh recommendation that targets ways to shape instruction as students gain expertise in a particular domain. After students have acquired some basic skill and conceptual knowledge of a topic, we recommend that teachers selectively ask students to try to answer “deep” questions that focus on underlying causal and explanatory principles. A sizable body of research shows that this activity can facilitate learners’ mastery of a domain.
Recommendations and check-lists
These are the recommendations and check list, the “low, moderate, strong” remarks in parentheses inform corresponding level of evidence to support each.
Recommendation 1: Space learning over time (moderate)
- Identify key concepts, terms, and skills to be taught and learned.
- Arrange for students to be exposed to each main element of material on at least two occasions, separated by a period of at least several weeks—and preferably several months.
- Arrange homework, quizzes, and exams in a way that promotes delayed reviewing of important course content.
Recommendation 2: Interleave worked example solutions and problem-solving exercises (moderate)
- Have students alternate between reading already worked solutions and trying to solve problems on their own.
- As students develop greater expertise, reduce the number of worked examples provided and increase the number of problems that students solve independently.
Recommendation 3: Combine graphics with verbal descriptions (moderate)
- Use graphical presentations (e.g., graphs, figures) that illustrate key processes and procedures. This integration leads to better learning than simply presenting text alone.
- When possible, present the verbal description in an audio format rather than as written text. Students can then use visual and auditory processing capacities of the brain separately rather than potentially overloading the visual processing capacity by viewing both the visualization and the written text.
Recommendation 4: Connect and integrate abstract and concrete representations of concepts (moderate)
- Connect and integrate abstract and concrete representations of concepts, making sure to highlight the relevant features across all forms of the representation.
Recommendation 5: Use quizzing to promote learning
Recommendation 5a: Use pre-questions to introduce a new topic (low)
Recommendation 5b: Use quizzes to re-expose students to information (strong)
- Prepare pre-questions, and require students to answer the questions, before introducing a new topic.
- Use quizzes for retrieval practice and spaced exposure, thereby reducing forgetting.
- Use game-like quizzes as a fun way to provide additional exposure to material.
Recommendation 6: Help students allocate study time efficiently
Recommendation 6a: Teach students how to use delayed judgment of learning techniques to identify concepts that need further study (low)
Recommendation 6b: Use tests and quizzes to identify content that needs to be learned (low)
- Conduct regular study sessions where students are taught how to judge whether or not they have learned key concepts in order to promote effective study habits.
- Teach students that the best time to figure out if they have learned something is not immediately after they have finished studying, but rather after a delay. Only after some time away from the material will they be able to determine if the key concepts are well learned or require further study.
- Remind students to complete judgments of learning without the answers in front of them.
- Teach students how to use these delayed judgments of learning techniques after completing assigned reading materials, as well as when they are studying for tests.
- Use quizzes to alert learners to which items are not well learned.
- Provide corrective feedback to students, or show students where to find the answers to questions, when they are not able to generate correct answers independently.
Recommendation 7: Help students build explanations by asking and answering deep questions (strong)
- Encourage students to “think aloud” in speaking or writing their explanations as they study; feedback is beneficial.
- Ask deep questions when teaching, and provide students with opportunities to answer deep questions, such as: What caused Y? How did X occur? What if? How does X compare to Y?
- Challenge students with problems that stimulate thought, encourage explanations, and support the consideration of deep questions.
Pashler, H., Bain, P., Bottge, B., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., and Metcalfe, J. (2007)
Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning (NCER 2007-2004). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ncer.ed.gov.
This report is available for download on the IES website at http://ncer.ed.gov.