What is the topic?
Mary Brabeck, PhD, NYU
Jill Jeffrey, PhD, Research Scientist

It doesn’t matter what subject you teach, differences in students’ performance are affected by how much they practice. Researchers who have investigated expert and novice performance have uncovered important distinctions between deliberate practice and other activities, such as work, play and rote repetition. Rote repetition — simply repeating a task — will not automatically improve performance. Effective practice is deliberate. It involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills.

Formal definition of practice (Gobet & Campitelli, 2007)

“Deliberate practice consists of activities purposely designed to improve performance. These activities typically require effort and are not enjoyable. Most students are incapable of working on practice activities for long periods of time” (Gobet & Campitelli, 2007, p. 160).

Why is this topic important?

Practice is important for teaching and learning in at least five ways: 

  1. Practice greatly increases the likelihood that students will permanently remember new information that they encounter by transferring it into their knowledge base. 

  2. Practice increases student facility or automaticity (automaticity means learning to apply elements of knowledge automatically, without reflection). Automaticity is usually only achieved through extensive rehearsal and repetition. Automaticity frees up students' cognitive resources to handle more challenging tasks. 

  3. When students practice solving problems, it appears that they increase their ability to transfer practiced skills to new and more complex problems (Glover, Ronning, & Bruning, 1990).  

  4. Practice helps students acquire expertise in subject matter and therefore it helps to distinguish novices from experts in given subjects. 

  5. Cognitive gains from practice often bring about motivation for more learning (Kalchman, Moss, & Case, 2001).

Teachers should think of practice not as rote repetition, but as deliberate, goal-directed rehearsal paired with reflection on problem-solving processes.  For example, when teachers have students practice identifying phonemes, the ultimate goal is for students to read with fluency and comprehension. Although fluent reading may be too complex a task for beginning readers to tackle, the more manageable task of identifying phonemes may “scaffold” students’ learning to achieve the ultimate goal of reading. That is, teachers should always design practice activities with the goal of transferring knowledge to new and more complex problems in mind.

General recommendations to teachers regarding practice:

Research (Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993) suggests several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance. Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction: 

  1. Because practice requires intense, focused effort, students may not find it inherently enjoyable; therefore, teachers can encourage students to practice more by pointing out every time that practice has actually improved their performance. Teachers can also motivate students to practice more by expressing confidence in students’ ability to succeed in solving practice-problems. Last, teachers can motivate students to practice by designing activities that maximize students’ opportunities to succeed. 

  2. Teachers should design practice tasks with students’ existing knowledge in mind. When students succeed at practice-problems the benefits of practice are maximized. On the other hand, when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice-problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. 

  3. Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedback.

  4. Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it.

What type of feedback is most effective?

Feedback is most effective when it contains descriptions of how students’ work meets performance criteria and what students can do to improve. This kind of descriptive feedback is more effective than feedback consisting of vague, general comments (e.g. “nice work” or “needs improvement”). Feedback should also be focused on the learning process. That is, teachers should focus their feedback on helping students reflect on their problem solving skills, as well as on progress they have made (Also see module on Using Classroom Data to Give Systematic Feedback to Students to Improve Learning).

Dos and don'ts

To maximize the positive effects of practice, teachers should keep in mind a number of “do’s and don’ts”:

  1. Vary practice activities. 

  2. Distribute practice over extended periods of time. 

  3. Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. 

  4. Before asking students to practice independently, model the problem-solving process that you expect students to use. 

  5. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently.

  6. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. 

  7. Provide students with completed sample problems as well as partially completed problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. 

  8. Wait until students actually need more information to solve a complex problem. This strategy — known as “just-in-time instruction” — helps keep the amount of information that students must hold in their short-term memories to a manageable level as they practice. The following link provides information on “just in time” teaching. 

  9. Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills.

  1. Don’t ask students to practice complex problem solving without providing them with plenty of guidance and feedback.

  2. Don’t overload students by presenting information in redundant formats. 

  3. Don’t give your students complex practice problems before they have the skills they need to succeed.

Just in time teaching information can be found at:

Kester, L., Kirschner, P.A., van Merribe found at:G., & Baumer, A.  (2001).  Just-in-time information presentation and the acquisition of complex cognitive skills. Computers in Human Behavior, 17, 373-391.

Linneman, S., & Plake, T.  (2006).  Searching for the difference: A controlled test of Just-In-Time Teaching for large-enrollment introductory geology courses. Journal of Geoscience Education, 54(1), 18-24.

Novak, G. M.  (1999).  Just-In-Time Teaching.

Evidence and explanation

Research suggests that when teachers construct problems for students to practice, they should keep in mind the limitations of human memory.

Moving information to permanent storage is often explained as a multistore model of memory (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968; 1971; Baddeley, 1996). According to this model, our brains have three memory storage systems: sensory memory, short-term (or working) memory, and long-term memory. Learning occurs when we move information from working memory to long-term memory, and practice helps with this process.

Practice (sometimes called ‘rehearsal’) keeps the information in our short-term memory long enough for it to move to long-term memory. Once it is in long-term memory, it can be built upon to create more and more complex associations.

Most researchers agree that there are forms of Short-Term Memory (STM) for different modalities, such as visual STM, auditory STM and motor STM. For example, Badeley (1996, 1998) suggests that short-term memory is a dynamic place where sounds and images are turned into verbal and pictorial models. STM is also thought to have a "central executive" that manages the information it is holding. This central executive also controls our awareness of that information.

The implication for teachers is that they should present material in multiple modalities. If a child who is learning to read hears a word, sees the word, and sees a picture of the word, there will be more learning. The child can get the visual information from the visual STM and additional auditory information in the auditory STM. These two sensory sources of information supplement and complement one another. However, teachers must be careful not to have too much extraneous information in the classroom. Too much stimulation can put too much demand on working memory (Pass & Kester, 2006).

Short-term or working memory

Working memory or short-term memory, is stored for very short periods — minutes at most. Information in our short-term memory is generally housed in the temporal lobe of the brain (the hippocampal region). It allows you to remember phone numbers and also information that comes from long-term memory right before you need to use it. Short-term memory is also the memory system that is used when we cram for a test at the last minute. Attention difficulties, distractions and overload of too much information all negatively impact our short-term memory and cause it to fail. We all have a limited ability to focus on many stimuli at the same time, and if we don’t process the information, we lose it. Practice helps us increase our ability to access information rapidly and automatically. Practice also frees our brains to process more challenging information and problems. For example, if a child has memorized the multiplication table and can retrieve it automatically, working memory is freed to do more complicated math.

Long-term memory

When working-memory is stored, it becomes long-term memory. Long-term memory is the depository of memories throughout the brain that results from the ongoing chemical processes that change neuronal connections. The formation of long-term memories takes place over the span of days, weeks, and in some cases years. As the memories are consolidated, neuron connections become more and more efficient, and in the process, connections that are no longer useful are discarded from lack of use.

Although the capacity of our long-term is apparently limitless (as far as we know, no one has ever stored all that the brain is capable of storing), working memory can hold only seven items (plus or minus 2) at a given time, and these items “decay” rapidly (Miller, 1956).

Changes in the brain

Research on the brains of rats has shown that relatively short periods of practice can enhance the plasticity of the brain and actually change its structure (Rioult-Pedotti, Friedman, Hess, & Donoghue, 1998). Brain imaging has shown that even a brief lesson on new words changes brain circuits (Abdullaev & Posner, 1998; Raichle et al., 1994) and retrieval (Habib, Nyberg, & Tulving, 2003).

Experts and novices differ in the amount and structure of information stored in their long-term memories. These cognitive differences occur in large part because of differences in the amount of practice in which each has engaged.

Can we increase the capacity of our short-term memory?

Extensive and deliberate practice makes it possible for students to access and apply increasingly complex information without explicitly thinking about it. In other words, it increases automaticity (see earlier discussion of automaticity) (Case, 1985, 1991). Automaticity leaves students' working memories free to process new information (Kotovsky, Hayes, & Simon, 1985). Since working memory can be overloaded at any time, any 'savings' from automaticity become very important. When there is too much information in our working memory it will fail, and the chemical processes that transfer information to our long-term memories fail too. Long-term learning is enhanced by a distributed process in which information is repeated with time in between practice sessions, rather than by crammed practice.

Reviews and tests are forms of practice that can improve learning. Tests (or quizzes) that are given immediately after a learning exercise give children opportunities to practice. Because learning is recent, students tend to do well on these tests. However, their success does not ensure long-term retention. Teachers can provide time during class to give students additional practice in taking tests. Some tests, such as tests with open-ended answers have been shown to enhance learning because they involve students in the "retrieval" of information from long-term memory. Tests are more effective when they are given at spaced intervals and when they are given more frequently (Cull, 2000; Dempster; 1991; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006).

Chunking information, or combining small bits together in short-term memory, is another strategy that students can use to increase their STM holding capacity. Although chunking gives a student more capacity in their STM, its usefulness depends on how much knowledge a person already has. The more knowledge one has on a topic, the more likely that one can “chunk” incoming information into larger and more meaningful chunks. This is why knowledge itself adds to one’s ability to solve complex problems. Children who use chunking are more likely to be strategic about their learning. Teachers can help children become more strategic by explicitly teaching them strategies like chunking.

Click here for an example of chunking

Chunking can develop experts’ schema. Information stored in the brain in larger chunks of integrated concepts are known as “schemas.” For example, a novice chess player who does not yet have complex schemas for chess playing has to devote his or her limited working memory to processing large amounts of information while playing (Anderson, 1966).

An expert, on the other hand, can easily access schemas from long-term memory (deGroot, 1966). With practice, a novice player can construct chess-playing schemas and therefore increase the amount of information stored in long-term memory. In this way, practice with accessing and applying knowledge helps one to transfer that knowledge into a “permastore” of long-term memory so that he or she can more efficiently utilize space available in the working memory (Elo, 1978; Kotovsky & Fallside, 1989).

Information on different theories explaining expert performance

Many researchers (e.g. Ericsson et al., 1993) argue that differences in the amount of practice account for the majority of performance differences between individuals, resulting from differences in the amount and structure of knowledge stored in long-term memory. This position is contradicted by other researchers that emphasize innate, genetic differences, or “talent” as the main factor accounting for differences between expert and novice performance (Plomin, DeFries, McClearn, & Rutter, 1997). More recently, researchers have emphasized an interaction between innate and behavioral factors in accounting for differences in performance levels (Gobet & Campitelli, 2007). Overall, the research supports the view that practice plays a large role in performance differences. Moreover, research suggests that deliberate practice can go a long way in lessening performance differences between individuals who are thought to possess talent and those who are not (Chase & Ericsson, 1981). See Gobet and Campitelli (2007) for a comprehensive review of this debate.

Example of chunking

The following digits can be seen as a random list of numbers: 14921776. Random or meaningless information taxes the limited capacity of short-term memory (STM). However, if a student "chunks" the information into two dates (1492: Columbus discovered America; and 1776: the year the Declaration of Independence was signed) it leaves room in the short-term memory for more information. 

Chunking allows several units of information to be compressed into a single meaningful unit or chunk (e.g., whereas the random number string above represents 8 discrete units to be stored in short-term memory (near its maximum capacity), the two meaningful dates represent only two chunks of information to be stored. This leaves space in the STM for more information to be held. And when more information is held in STM, there is more information available for transfer to long-term memory where it can be permanently stored.

1. What can a teacher do to maximize the positive effect of practice?

When teachers assign students to complete practice problems that are structurally similar but different in surface features, it helps them discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information in a given problem. This outcome makes it more likely that students will be able to transfer knowledge gained from practice to new and more complex problems.


Students’ problem-solving skills also increase when teachers distribute practice over time rather than “cramming” practice into short periods (Bahrick & Hall, 2005). For example, homework that involves practice is more effective when assignments are shorter, more frequent, and distributed over longer periods of time (Cooper, 2001). This distributive effect is particularly important because it also makes it more likely that students will recall information over longer periods of time. That is, distributed practice helps students transfer information into their long-term memory.

Teachers should also have students begin homework during class.  By doing so, teachers can monitor students to make sure they understand and can solve practice-problems correctly before they practice independently at home.  If teachers are unable to monitor this initial practice, they should explain to their students where they can obtain the information (textbooks, web sites, handouts, etc.) they need to complete the assigned practice problems.

Reviews and tests are a form of practice that can improve learning. Tests provide opportunities for practice that enhance learning. Open-ended test questions also provide practice in retrieving information. Both reviews and tests are most effective when they are well spaced and frequent (Dempster, 1991).

Teachers can scaffold students’ learning by having them practice on partially completed problems before they ask students to practice independently on complex problems (Paas, 1992). This is because conventional “whole task” problems place too many demands on the working memories of novice learners.

Teachers can train students to reflect on their thinking when solving problems by providing them with lists of questions. This kind of “strategy instruction” helps students to construct schemas more efficiently by facilitating a metacognitive awareness of the problem-solving process. That is, students learn more about how they learn and this helps them with new learning.  As with all scaffolds, they should be diminished gradually as learners become increasingly independent.

Teachers can increase students’ abilities to transfer existing problem-solving knowledge to new problems when they prompt students to reflect on problem-solving strategies they have used before. (Renkl, Stark, Gruber, & Mandl, 1998; Rosenshine & Meister, 1992; Stark, Mandl, Gruber, & Renkl., 2002).

2. Is homework always effective?

There is no question that homework can provide students with opportunities for practice. However, research on homework (Cooper, 2001) suggests that the relationship between time spent on homework and students’ academic achievement varies with grade level.

3. How much time should be spent on homework?

Although high school students appear to benefit from at least two hours of homework per night, there is little or no relationship between time spent on homework and academic achievement for elementary school students.

Younger students may benefit more from supervised in-school practice than from homework. Middle school students may benefit from one to two hours of homework per night (Cooper, 2001).

4. Will practice activities negatively affect students’ motivation? Aren’t practice activities the same as “drill and kill” instruction?

Students are more likely to be motivated when they receive the instructional support necessary for them to succeed at school tasks. Teachers can accomplish this by providing students with well-designed practice activities. However, students may lose their motivation if they are trying to manage too many cognitive demands at once.  Although practice is often confused with rote learning, researchers emphasize that there is a difference between mere repetition and deliberate practice. For practice to be effective, appropriate instruction, guided practice, as well as descriptive and timely feedback must all be present.

5. Does practice with “authentic” problems increase learning?

Because of their relevance, “authentic” problems or “real-life” problems may motivate students. But, the positive effect of practice is only realized when teachers provide instructional supports that address the limitations of students’ working memories (Anderson, Reder, & Simon, 1996, 2000; Sweller, van Merrienboer, & Paas, 1998; van Merrienboer, Kirschner, & Kester, 2003). If there is cognitive overload and the working memory is taxed beyond its capacity, students will lose motivation even if a problem is highly relevant to them.

Problems with “authentic practice problems”

Although “authentic” practice-problems sound like they would motivate students with their real-world context; they may also include too many variables at the same time. Students’ working memories are thus required to manage too many bits of information, and many of these bits may not be directly involved with the construction of desired schema (Sweller & Chandler, 1994).

6.  Is there such a thing as too much practice?

Merely repeating a task will not automatically improve performance. Because deliberate practice is most effective when it involves intense concentration, students are more likely to benefit from frequent, short practice sessions than from long “cramming” sessions.

Even in the early grades when students are acquiring foundational knowledge, practice should not be confused with rote learning.  For example, phonics instruction is most effective when it is practiced alongside more complex skills like identifying main ideas in stories (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000). Similarly, instruction that encourages students to reflect on their problem-solving strategies while practicing them is more effective than is practice without such reflection. Teachers can foster this meta-cognitive learning by providing students with frequent opportunities to discuss their problem-solving strategies (National Research Council, 2005).

7. Does practice work for all academic subjects?

Practice is correlated with student achievement across all developmental levels and across all subjects.

Practice in Reading: NICHD’s (2000) analysis of strategies for reading instruction suggests that several kinds of practice activities are beneficial to students. Phonemic awareness practice, phonics practice, and read-aloud practice all showed significant positive effects on student achievement in the early grades. Teachers should always keep long-term goals in mind when they are designing practice activities. The ultimate purpose of phonics instruction, for example, is not for students to identify phonemes. Rather, it is to improve their reading comprehension. The goal of practice is to transfer acquired skills to new and more complex problems. Therefore, practice activities should always be designed with that transfer in mind.

Silent reading finding:
The panel found no positive effect for silent reading practice. This last finding seems to contradict the correlation between quantity of reading and reading proficiency, and needs to be investigated further. However, it is consistent with the argument that authentic tasks that are not accompanied by well-designed instructional scaffolding are insufficient.

Practice in Mathematics: Studies in math education show that practice is effective when teachers design appropriate practice problems, distribute them over time, and provide students with sufficient feedback. Practice is ineffective when it is not appropriately designed, not well distributed, and when adequate feedback is not provided.

For whom does the strategy work?

All students benefit from well-designed, developmentally-appropriate practice activities. Such practice activities can also provide a bridge over the gaps that exist between different achievement levels. Teachers should view these achievement gaps in terms of unequal opportunities for students to engage in appropriate practice rather than in terms of unequal learning abilities. As children grow older, they become better able to benefit from instruction on appropriate strategies like rehearsal and “chunking” information.

Special populations benefit from practice activities that are designed to meet their needs. For example, research on children with language processing problems suggests that their difficulties are due to sensory perception rather than an inability to learn. One reason that language-learning impaired students have difficulty learning to read is that their phonemic recognition and spatial discrimination perceptions are impaired. Appropriate practice activities have been shown to help these students compensate for their difficulties (Merzenich et al., 1996). Cooper’s (2001) examination of homework practice suggests that students with learning disabilities benefit most from short, skill-reinforcing activities that are carefully monitored.

Description of research on the use of practice activities with children with learning disabilities

An extensive meta-analysis of interventions for students with learning disabilities found that practice-drill-review instructional strategies were generally effective across academic subjects (Swanson, Hoskyn, & Lee, 1999). Another meta-analysis of inclusion settings found that time-on-¬task correlated with student achievement across subject areas (Brophy & Good, 1986). Therefore, practice activities appear to be a key factor in student achievement across grade levels, skill levels and academic domains.

In summary: well-designed practice activities result from careful planning where teachers: 1) model problem-solving processes; 2) design partially-completed examples on which students can practice; 3) sequence activities logically; 4) space practice activities appropriately; and 5) monitor student practice providing guidance and feedback.

Is practice effective across the age span?

Children grow more strategic as they get older. Younger children are less strategic — they are less likely to rehearse, practice or chunk spontaneously or to know how to do these things well. They are also less likely to monitor their own knowledge or to use metacognitive strategies. Younger children also are less likely than older children to know that they need to rehearse or practice more. Therefore, teachers of younger children should introduce them to such strategies as rehearsal and practice, and in this way help students improve their learning.

Deliberate practice is effective across all age levels. Fundamental skills practice is more appropriate for earlier grades than it is for later grades. Teachers can focus younger students on the skills they will need later when they tackle more complex tasks. For example, phonemic awareness instruction is more effective for preschool students than for older elementary school students (NICHD, 2000), but it is a skill that is very useful in later grades.

Teachers should design developmentally appropriate practice problems for students. Students’ memories and attention spans develop with age (Gomez-Perez & Ostrosky-Solis, 2006; Lechuga, Moreno, Pelegrina, Gomez-Ariza, & Bajo, 2006). So, older students in general have greater attention spans and greater memory capacity than younger students. This may account for developmental differences in the benefits of homework (Cooper, 2001; Muhlenbrook, Cooper, Nye, & Lindsay, 1999) and age differences in the amount of practice that learners engage in (Ericsson et al., 1993). Teachers should plan the type and amount of practice students are expected to do with these developmental differences in mind.

Research on expert performance shows that experts increase their deliberate practice over time. For example, research by Ericsson and colleagues (1993) on expert violinists revealed that they began in early childhood practicing no more than five hours per week. However, by their early twenties, they practiced around thirty hours per week. Because deliberate practice is so taxing, it should be balanced with sufficient periods of rest. Younger learners tire more quickly and lose their motivation to persist if they are not allowed sufficient rest (Ericsson et al., 1993; NICHD, 2000).

Developmental Timeline

The following provides a detailed timeline on practice at different ages:

  • Elementary students benefit little or not at all from homework (Cooper, 2001; Halford Maybery & Bain, 1986). 

  • Expert violinists practiced fewer than 5 hours per week at the early childhood stage (Ericsson et al., 1993). 

  • Research supports the idea that practice can help elementary students overcome processing deficits (Merzenich et al., 1996). 

  • Practice with phonemic awareness has been shown to have a positive effect on reading outcomes in elementary through 6th grade. Effects were not as strong for disabled readers as they were for at-risk and normally progressing readers. The effects of phonemic-awareness instruction were strongest when it was provided in earlier grades (especially pre-k and kindergarten), in small group settings, in shorter training programs, and to English-speaking students (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Research suggests that systematic phonics instruction helps students learning to read. The effects of systematic phonics instruction were greater when it was provided in earlier grades (especially kindergarten and 1st grade) (NICHD, 2000). 

  • A meta-analysis of intervention strategies for students with learning disabilities found that phonics instruction positively affects development of vocabulary, though the results on comprehension were unclear (Swanson et al., 1999). (The mean age for the study participants was 11; 78% of the studies targeted 9-14 year age range.)

  • Research suggests that repeated and guided-repeated oral reading strategies have a positive effect on reading performance through grade four, especially for non-impaired readers (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Programs aimed at encouraging students to read more (e.g. self-selected, silent reading) yielded no significant positive effects on reading achievement (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Swanson et al.’s (1999) meta-analysis suggests that “the teaching of whole language without due attention to decoding places LD children at greater risk than the use of more traditional programs” (p. 254). 

  • Vocabulary instruction (both explicit and implicit) has a positive effect on vocabulary acquisition. Research indicates that students should be exposed to vocabulary repeatedly and in multiple contexts (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Research suggests that reading comprehension strategy instruction (e.g. cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies) has a positive effect on reading comprehension and memory in grades 3-6. The effects were greater when strategy instruction was more intensive and when students were instructed in multiple strategies (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Research suggests that “drill-repetition-practice” instructional strategies are beneficial to students with learning disabilities across all age groups and across all subjects (Swanson et al., 1999).

Middle School
  • Middle school students may benefit from one to two hours of homework per night (Cooper, 2001). 

  • Research suggests that partial-task practice problems are more effective than whole-task practice problems for some 13 year-old math students. Partial-task practice lowered the processing demands on working memory for all students, but it only increased learning for students with low prior knowledge. Students with high prior knowledge benefited more from whole-task practice (Ayres, 2006). 

  • Research suggests that when modeling problem-solving strategies, the use of worked examples is beneficial to middle school students’ writing performance. As with Ayres’ (2006) study, however, the positive effects were limited to low-performing students. The results suggested that “low-level” writers benefited from worked-example practice problems, while “high-level” writers benefited from “goal-free” practice problems. 

  • Research suggests that the use of repeated and guided-repeated oral reading strategies positively affect students’ reading performance. This is especially true for students with reading problems (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Programs aimed at encouraging students to read more (e.g. self-selected, silent reading) yielded no significant positive effects on reading achievement (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Swanson et al.’s (1999) meta-analysis suggests that “the teaching of whole language without due attention to decoding places LD children at greater risk than the use of more traditional programs” (p. 254). 

  • Support for positive effects of vocabulary instruction (both explicit and implicit) on vocabulary acquisition. Results indicate that students should be exposed to vocabulary repeatedly and in multiple contexts (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Research suggests that reading-comprehension-strategy instruction (e.g. cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies) has a positive effect on reading comprehension and memory in grades 3-6. The effects were greater when strategy instruction was more intensive and when students were instructed in multiple strategies (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Research suggests that “drill-repetition-practice” instructional strategies are beneficial to students with learning disabilities across all age groups and across all subjects (Swanson et al., 1999).

High School
  • High school students appear to benefit from at least two hours of homework per night, Cooper, 2001). 

  • Students may benefit more from practicing the transfer of component skills than from practicing whole-task transfer (Pollock, Chandler, & Sweller, 2002). Examples worked out in advance for students were more effective for algebra problem solving transfer than were conventional problems for 9th and 11th grade students (Sweller & Cooper, 1985).

  • Repeated and guided-repeated oral reading strategies positively affect reading performance. This is especially true for high school students with reading problems (NICHD, 2000).

  • Programs aimed at encouraging students to read more (e.g. self-selected, silent reading) yielded no significant positive effects on reading achievement (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Although research supports a positive effect of vocabulary instruction (both explicit and implicit) on vocabulary acquisition in grades 9-11, few studies have been conducted at that level. Results that do exist suggest that students should be exposed to vocabulary repeatedly and in multiple contexts (NICHD, 2000). 

  • Research suggests that “drill-repetition-practice” instructional strategies are beneficial to students with learning disabilities across all age groups and across all subjects (Swanson et al., 1999).

Where can teachers get more information?

Anderson, J. R.  (1996).  ACT: A simple theory of complex cognition. American Psychologist, 51(4), 355-368.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R.  (Eds.).  (2000).  How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Carver, S. M. & Klahr, D.  (Eds.).  (2001).  Cognition and instruction: Twenty-five years of progress. Mahwah, NJ:  Earlbaum. 


Abdullaev, Y. G., & Posner, M. I.  (1998).  Event-related brain potential imaging of semantic encoding during processing single words. NeuroImage, 7(1), 1-13.

Anderson, J. R.  (1996).  ACT: A simple theory of complex cognition. American Psychologist, 51(4), 355-368.

Anderson, J. R., Reder, L. M., & Simon, H. A.  (1996).  Situated learning in education. Educational Researcher, 25(4), 5-11.

Anderson, J. R., Reder, L. M., & Simon, H. A.  (2000, Summer).  Applications and misapplications of cognitive psychology to mathematics education. Texas Educational Review.

Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M.  (1968).  Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In K. W. Spence & J. T. Spence (Eds.),  The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 2, pp. 89-195).  New York: Academic Press.

Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M.  (1971).  The control of short-term memory. Scientific America, 225(8), 82-90.

Ayres, P.  (2006).  Impact of reducing intrinsic cognitive load on learning in a mathematical domain. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20(3), 287-298.

Baddeley, A..  (1996, November 26).  The fractionation of working memory.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 93, 13468-13472.  Retrieved from the PNAS Web site

Baddeley, A.  (1998).  Human memory. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bahrick, H. P., & Hall, L. K.  (2005).  The importance of retrieval failures to long-term retention: A metacognitive explanation of the spacing effect. Journal of Memory and Language, 52, 566-577.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R.  (Eds.).  (2000).  How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Brophy, J., & Good, T. L.  (1986).  Teacher behavior and student achievement. In M. E. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed., pp. 328-375). New York: Macmillan.

Carver, S. M. & Klahr, D.  (Eds.).  (2001).  Cognition and instruction: Twenty-five years of progress. Mahwah, NJ:  Earlbaum. 

Case, R.  (1985).  Intellectual development: Birth to adulthood. New York: Academic Press.

Case, R.  (1991).  The mind's staircase: Exploring the conceptual underpinnings of children's thought and conceptual knowledge. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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