Our students are going to have to remember a lot. Our current Year 9 Geography class will have to hold the details of the Lesotho Water Highland Project in their heads, ready to apply it to a question in two years time. My Year 10 class are currently very knowledgeable about the problems facing the people of Lagos and can talk in depth about the issues of the Eko Atlantic development; will they be able to do this next year?
I have some reasons to be optimistic because the brain has a seemingly unlimited ability to store information – the problem is sometimes in getting it out.
On Monday’s CPL session I shared a piece of research that would be familiar to many. The researchers asked people to identify the correct 1 cent coin from a selection of options. Despite having been exposed to the sight of this coin thousands of times, around half of people could not identify the right one.
Exposure to something doesn’t create a strong memory. In order to remember something Daniel T. Willingham, in his book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”, says that we must think hard about it. To get my classes to remember the details of water supply in Lesotho and urban issues in Lagos I have been trying to find ways to make them think hard.
One way to help students to remember is to get them to change the form of the information. Turning text into a flow diagram or into a picture. One thing that Durrington High School have been successfully doing is to represent case studies as pictures showing the key information that needs to be remembered. By thinking about how to show something you are creating a memory. To work out how to show “Hurricanes form in water heated to over 27oC” I have to think about what it means. Thinking about meaning creates memory.
Another method we have been using are knowledge quizzes. David Didau talks about the importance of forgetting in creating memories. By spacing out retrieval, and making pupils struggle to remember, they will find it easier to recall the information in the future. An example of this would be the quizzes my Year 12 class do every Friday. Some of the questions will be about material they covered that week but some questions go back to topics covered much earlier. Struggling to recall will create stronger memories.
Shaun Allison’s and Andy Tharby’s wonderful book “Making Every Lesson Count” really emphasizes the importance of excellent teacher explanation. It is a major tool in teaching well and yet something that isn’t always given much attention. One reason it is critical when finding ways to get pupils to remember is that the brain seems to be programmed to remember stories. If we can impart information that is illustrated by a story it is more likely to stick. My GCSE class remember the process of freeze-thaw because they remember my story of what happened when I thought it might be a good idea to chill a case of beers in a freezer when working in a cafe. It wasn’t such a good idea but it gave me the perfect story for a class years later. Swings and roundabouts.
Pupils wont remember by accident or even by being exposed to our brilliance. It is something we have to plan for.
Questions to consider
- What role does the recollection of information play in your subject?
- What techniques do you use to help pupils remember key information?
- How can pupils revise effectively in your subject?
By Mark Enser (Geography)