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Low stakes but desirable difficulty – how do we balance the two?

Written by: Kate Bridge
4 min read
Kate Bridge, Head of Physics, Haberdashers Girls School, UK Agarwal (2020) reflected that all good teachers engage in retrieval, but our focus is wrong. She stated that ‘we sometimes rely more than we should on getting information “into” students’ heads rather than having them pull the information out’. Instead, when completing formative assessments, we should use good retrieval practice that challenges the learner and creates desirable difficulty in the classroom. Rowland (2014) reports that the effect of retrieval practice is greater when the learning content is more complex, when the retrieval is more effortful and when feedback is offered.  So how do we achieve this? There is a balance in creating something that is hard enough to challenge but low enough on social stakes that students feel confident in trying. We need to create the struggle that takes their learning forward but also an environment where mistakes are not viewed as ultimate failures. I have observed po

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