Most teachers have never heard of the forgetting curve, first researched in the late 1800s by Frederic Ebbinghaus.
All teachers know that kids “lose” their academic skills over time (the summer slide?).
Jon Corippo has been riding the Ebbinghaus effect with spectacular success since 2001…scores go up 20 points daily, and retention is through the roof in his classes.
If you teach humans of any age in any subject, you need to know this pedagogy!
The Fast and Curious: A Blueprint for Accelerated Learning and 4X Retention @EduProtocols
The Fast and Curious: A Teaching Strategy for 4X Retention
by guest author, Jon Corippo –
If you visit any classroom in the world, you will see a version of this kind of workflow – students will do their assignment, on paper or digitally, or for a certain amount of time, usually 8-20 minutes. Teachers then “collect” the work, the collection process on paper taking from 1-3 minutes. Students then move to the next segment or leave class as the period is over or recess begins.
Does this sound familiar? Well, it turns out that this time-honored anachronism is just about the worst way you can teach. It’s comfortable, and it seems sensible, but the classic classwork model is out of sorts with what research says is the best way for humans to retain and lock learning into their long-term memory. And it turns out we actually have researched names for this learning that almost now educators are aware of in practice.
My learning on this subject started in 1999, yes, even before Y2K. I was getting ready to give my Latin Roots cumulative final for my 8th graders. We had been doing one unit per week, as is the norm. But this was the big show. Forty-five Latin roots all in one sitting. I knew that this test would result in a classic grade distribution (a bell curve). I decided to try something different with the goal of “busting the curve”.
Long story short: The lowest grade in the entire class was 83% percent, and the vast majority was 90% plus. I had no idea that I was actually using the Ebbinghaus effect and Ipsative learning in practice. In fact, I would hear neither of these terms for almost 20 years. Both were by accident.
Zoom forward twelve years. Still, before Kahoot, Gimkit, Quizizz or Blooket existed, and even Quizlet was just a flashcard tool. I had been working with some English teachers in San Jose, CA. To end the day, I asked if the teachers would like to try something with Latin Roots. They said, of course, they were English teachers, so they loved Latin Roots. So I launched them into an 11-question quiz into Socrative (I’d only done this on paper before), and they were stunned after the first round that they were only scoring 27% on average. How could this be?? They were English TEACHERS! I had played a little trick – these were more obscure Latin Roots from Michigan State. I asked if they would like to hear the answers. I quickly shared the most missed items (almost everyone had at least three correct) and then asked if they wanted to play again. 100% yes. They could not leave that score there.
We played again. 86%. They were still struggling on three. I reminded them of the correct answers. Want to play again? YES, they replied. We can get this. We are ENGLISH TEACHERS.
As the final round ended, we saw a class average score of 96% ( I think 2-3 questions were missed in total). I asked them how that felt. They were amazed that I had not “handed out” anything. They were amazed that there was no “set up” to the lesson and the direct instruction had been so brief. They were very satisfied with their growth, proud even. I pointed out the most important detail of all: the elapsed time from beginning to end was 14 minutes.
This was the birth of the EduProtocol called The Fast and Curious. I think it took another 2-3 years to give this process an actual name. I’ve done this exact same flow in over 400 classrooms and with groups as large as 120 second graders and up to 700 adults, all at once. The Fast and Curious Eduprotocol is like clockwork, entirely predictable in any class setting when the conditions are all met. It’s not been researched yet, but I consider it a phenomenon. Just like magnets are mysterious to us, we don’t know EXACTLY why it works, but when the conditions are met – we know what the result will be.
The Ebbinghaus Effect – The Forgetting Curve
Then, I bumped into the Ebbinghaus Effect by accident at about age 55. After over 20 years in education, I was Googling images to help explain repetitions. And there it was. Except it was called The Forgetting Curve. Also known as spaced repetitions. VERY popular in sports, fitness, and advertising. I think it’s underused in education because education speed and repetitions are frowned upon. But speed and reps are what power human attractions to Tetris, golf, and knitting. Luckily, I had already adopted a mindset of speed and reps in my class pedagogy, so I was able to see the beauty of The Forgetting Curve immediately. (To help shift your mindset, try reading 17 Ways Football is Better than High School by Herb Childress. Herb’s work explains why the same kids will not work in class and then go work super hard in football (or band or ag) one hour later. Circa 1998. We’ve known the answer for decades, but we can’t change the direction of the ship heading over the cliff.
The Ebbinghaus Effect says that if people do something four times over four days, their retention zooms from the low teens to the high 80% range. This is what happened on my Latin Roots quiz with my class: we did the test daily, with immediate feedback. So simple.
So here’s how I leverage the Ebbinghaus Effect/Forgetting Curve in my classroom:
Monday – here’s the quiz. Go. No pre-teach at all. Most classes will finish the first round in the 25-40% range. We’ve only been in class for 3 minutes. Then, I use the data immediately to read back the 3-5 most missed items. I try to give a mnemonic or an example of the missed items. Then we play again immediately. The score will typically bump up 20-25 points.
Tuesday – repeat.
Wednesday – repeat.
On Thursday, the class might be at 90%, and then we will do the final rep. Not there yet? We will play on Friday.
This phenomenon works in all subjects and grade levels. I’ve used it with 4-and-a-half-year-olds and school superintendents. I’ve had 400+ people who don’t speak Turkish at all move from 0% to 40% to 96% on Turkish foods in under 10 minutes.
Teachers will ask: aren’t they just memorizing? My response is that I’ve been waiting for my entire career to have kids memorize certain academic elements – and we’ve been trying all manner of failures on this: flashcards, memory games, crosswords, word searches, writing sentences, and more. The Fast and Curious is by far the best way for humans to memorize key/common terms and things like math facts. And they love playing it.
Here’s why kids aren’t gaining these skills in the normal “turn in your work” model. Humans crave feedback. And they want it fast. Why do we have all that sports data on screen now? Because people want to KNOW. And they want to know now. How fast was that pitch? How long was the hang time on that punt? What is the F1 car speed, when is he hitting the brake what’s his split lap time?
But in school – we put things in a box and wait. Sometimes, we never get a grade or any feedback. When we deny feedback, we interdict a basic human question: how did I do?
I was doing the Fast and Curious in India, and Dr Sunita Gandhi said to me, “Well, isn’t this just ipsative learning? And I said….what’s that? She explained the basics of the idea. It’s learning from yourself. Just like in Solitaire. Or Pac-Man. You play. You get a score. You consider ways to get a better score. Then you play again. And again. You play over and over because you want a better score. What does the high score give you? Most of the time, nothing. It just feels good to be good – to beat the challenge.
I quickly realized that by not giving students immediate feedback, we were actually disenfranchising them from the game of school. No score, no curiosity. Their OCD never kicks in. Now that worksheet isn’t a quest – it’s a chore. As educators, we are not leveraging the ipsative nature of learning.
I returned to the classroom for one glorious year during the height of COVID. I had been doing a lot (hundreds) of Fast and Curious demos – but this class was a long-term study project. One of my students was very well known for his non-participation. He did nothing for the first four weeks of school – but slowly, I got his gamer side plugged into the games. He started playing; he rose up the ranks. At the end of the semester, we did the same 45-word Latin Roots quiz I used to do with my 8th graders. But now it was in Gimkit. On average, the students answered about 108 questions each on a quiz with 45 words. The class average was 92%. My non-participater ended up tops in the class – he’d answered 139 questions (doing the quiz almost three times in under 15 minutes), only missed five total questions, and beaten the entire class by thousands of dollars (you earn money in-game for going on winning streak and accumulating points).
Why don’t more teachers approach their class instruction this way? The Ebbinhaus Effect/Forgetting Curve and Ipsative learning are well known in all parts of our lives except for school. I believe we labor under the misconception that more time on a singular task is “better” learning when it turns out that 6 minutes a day is far more effective. I know that we think we need to grade “after school” on nights and weekends. It’s not actually the case. We assume that since educators are buried under mounds of paper, there’s no way we can do the assigned work three times more often; it’s just simply unthinkable.
Teachers will ask: Do kids retain information this way? Yes. In fact, they will retain it at a dramatically higher rate than seeing it once on a worksheet and then once on a test. Read up on The Ebbinghaus Effect – it’s been well-documented since the late 1800s.
We have massive amounts of teacher experience using the Fast and Curious pedagogical approach using our particular techniques to generate research-informed practices that are highly repeatable, as seen in the images accompanying this article.
If you are still reading this – try The Fast and Curious in any of your favorite CFU-type tools. Gimkit, Blooket, Wordwall.net, 99Math, and Quizizz are some of my favorites for this process. Give your kids (or adults) a random quiz on something they aren’t ready for. Go over their answers and play again. You’ll be amazed, and you’ll save a lot of work for yourself next week!
The EduProtocols Team is partnering with SG/DEVI Sansthan using these approaches with ALfA–Accelerating Learning for All, to take these pedagogies to schools in the United States.
Eduprotocols and ALfA hold the potential for not only far better academics but also far better self-concept, away from comparison with others, and to create a more humane world as well through greater collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
If you are intrigued, you can see many more EduProtocols like this at EduProtocolsplus.com and choose from one of our five books on Amazon.
Grab a copy of one of Jon’s Eduprotocols books!
About Jon Corippo
Jon shares, speaks and leads educational professional learning for educators internationally. Jon has been named a County Teacher of the Year, 2019 Top 100 Educational Influencer, an NBSA 20 to Watch Educator, an Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Certified Innovator. Jon is the co-author of The Eduprotocol Field Guide, and The Eduprotocol Field Guide Book 2 (both Amazon #1 best-sellers) and contributor to the Eduprotocols Math Edition (another #1 Amazon best-seller!).
Jon also wrote the conclusion for the #1 Best Seller 100 STOP Series first edition.
Jon created the CUE Rock Star series (Rock Star Teacher, Admin, and Specialty events) and, as the former Chief Academic Officer and Executive Director of CUE, led and designed highly effective professional learning for over 60,000 educators.
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