One of the best books on teaching I have read in a long time is Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson’s book What does this look like in the classroom? This book seeks to help make educational research more useful to teachers by having experts in their field answer questions from those at the chalk face. One of the most useful chapters is on memory with contributions from Yana Weinstein (who writes for the peerless Learning Scientists blog) and Paul Kirschner. This book has added to my understanding of how we can support learning and builds nicely on the work of Daniel T Willingham, Sweller, and Rosenshine.
This post discusses some of the ways that I have tried to apply the principles I have read about to my own teaching.
In the past I have largely used testing to establish what pupils know and don’t know. This is still something I do and find useful, but increasingly I am also using it to help pupils recall information.
We know that forgetting is an important part of the learning process. Pupils find it hard to recall something but this struggle makes it easier to recall it in the future. The diagram below shows how this might work. Every time you review something you know you retain it for longer. A quick quiz at the start of the lesson is a great way to review something.
I am also trying to make sure there is more spaced practice where we revisit concepts and ideas again. Luckily geography lends itself very well to this style of curriculum design.
Link it in the schema
New information needs somewhere to “go” if we are going to find it easy to use, apply and remember. It is very hard to remember an abstract fact but far easier if it is connected to something we already know. The idea of sharing objectives with pupils has become so commonplace that I think I forgot why we did it. There is no point just reading out an objective or asking them to write it in their books, we need to explain how the new information they are learning fits in with what they have learnt before. We need to make the links very explicit. This can be combined with the quiz at the start of the lesson where the information they are quizzed on links to the new topic.
A picture paints a thousand words
I have tried to apply some of the principles of dual coding to my lessons. The idea behind dual coding is that we take in information on two pathways, visual and auditory. Although we see text we process it the same way as we do auditory information. This means that if we ask pupils to read along to something that is also being read out we run the risk of overloading this pathway and makes the information harder to remember.
It also suggests that we can use the two pathways to support the learning of new information. One way I have tried to do this is to make sure there is a visual representation of the ideas I am explaining; I am trying to make my own schema on a topic visible to pupils to use while they work. They can see my thought process and use it to support their own.
I have also tried to use the principle when designing things like knowledge organisers to think about the layout and make sure that it supports learning by ensuring there is a clear structure to the information.
Another thing I am attempting to do is to make sure that my delivery of information is clearer and more crisp. I was inspired by this blog by Ben Newmark – 10 principles for great explicit teaching.
In this he urges us to give more thought to how we talk to a class in order to ensure what we say is better remembered. One technique I found useful it to consider how we can use the power of stories to make the learning of case studies more memorable and also the need to make better use of the white board – linking to the idea of dual coding discussed above.
I have tried this term to give much more thought to ensuring that pupils are able to recall and use information with ease and it seems to be working. Their work shows a greater depth of understanding as they are able to use more complex ideas and their use of sophisticated language is improving in the classroom.
Learning involves a change in long term memory. If pupils haven’t remembered something there may have been limited benefit in doing it in the first place. Over the years I have seen a lot of lessons that have been “memorable” where the pupils have remembered the task but not the learning. They remembered making volcanoes out of Plasticine but not how an eruption occurs, they remember the primary school project on the River Nile but not where rivers start and how they flow.
Lets not plan memorable lessons but memorable learning instead.
Mark Enser – Geography