Let me start with a heartfelt lament: I WISH I HAD KNOWN ABOUT THE LEARNING SCIENTISTS LAST YEAR 😭
Now, upon receiving my (ex) most dreaded question ‘how do I remember quotes?’ from a student, old me would blushed, said something forceful and firm about effort, and concluded with a hesitant summary along the lines of: “errrm, well, errr, you need to use flash cards and… little but often… and mix it all up a bit, change is as good as a rest, err, yeah that will work…” (plus various other aphorisms.) The truth is, teachers generally haven’t ever experienced much of a struggle in their subject areas, so it’s not really an obstacle that teachers have personal experience of overcoming (exceptions, of course.) I’ve always been aware of this, and feel that cognitive science studies have given me a way to truly understand how to train for exams.
After reading the blog posts from ResarchEd and having my attention directed to Learning Scientists, I know better. Or, at least, the scientific logic behind how to revise effectively. At long last, I can give proper advice that I believe in! And yes, I admit the baser part of my ego was delighting in the idea of stunning my students through the oh-so-casual use of terms such as ‘neural plasticity‘ and ‘dual coading‘, but that turned out to be a minor pleasure in comparison to feeling as though I was genuinely supporting my students to remember more… aaahh. Historically, scientific thinking and I have never proved particularly compatible; however, the Learning Scientists have helped me arrive at a long awaited eureka moment. And I mean long. I feel I can finally begin to make sense of how it is that one can accumulate, store and quickly access vast quantities of information in that slimy, blobby lump of grey matter that’s stored in the old headbox.
How will this help my teaching? That rather hefty volume of texts required at GCSE for a start… Again, Learning Scientists, I lament that I did not find you sooner.
So I started testing it all out on KS3. At my school, KS3 students complete fairly rigorous end of year examinations in each subject. This year, I thought I would put together some slides on the science/process of learning, in order to try and help my students to carry out effective revision. This was my first time referring to scientific evidence in in my attempts to teach how learning ‘works’, so I was rather nervous! However, it seemed to be well received by KS3 students. Phew!
Now, I am NO expert on this and certainly do not pretend to be! I let the Learning Scientists do the hard work for me and shared their videos on spaced practice and retrieval practice with my students. We then reviewed the slides I created below. The slides are directed at KS3 students, not researchers or experts in ‘neural plasticity‘. (See, there I go, ‘dropping it in’ again.) Also, I have cited all of the websites from which I have copied and pasted/gathered information.
Learning Scientist YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjbAmxL6GZXiaoXuNE7cIYg
The students were immediately interested and motivated by the examples shared on the slides. A few of them had older siblings and were already hearing of the horrors of quotation retention at GCSE. They were enthusiastic to start working with flashcards in a more focused manner, and also to begin planning where and when they would be able to fit in 20 minute revision slots, along with when it would be appropriate to revisit certain topics (which pleased me enormously as it provided me with a chance to dazzle them by impressively dropping in another fancy term: interleaving.) We also discussed connecting ideas on the cards; considered how to revisit simpler revision cards and explored how to expand the knowledge upon them as well as connect them with other cards.
I placed particular emphasis upon how the skills in English (e.g. inference, analysis and comparison), along with subject terminology, will essentially remain the same throughout their time at school. As English teachers, I think we have all experienced how the grammar lessons we teach often seem to be forgotten year upon year, which I suppose is what happens when knowledge is taught in isolation and if it is reinforced in English lessons only. I was very pleased when students began to question whether you can really learn anything without practice, as this demonstrated their understanding of the importance of retrieval practice, and how it is their responsibility, as well as their teacher’s, to keep embedding previous knowledge.
Anywhoo, the students began to genuinely understand that cramming for end of year exams would ultimately only do them a disservice, as they would need to draw upon the same base of knowledge for their final school examinations; meaning that they may as well sustain practice via structured revision throughout their time at school. (A much preferable alternative to homework??) I believe this lesson fostered some extremely useful conversations regarding ‘learning how to learn’. (Everyone’s favourite example of polyptoton, no?) I’m confident that students left the lesson with an increased consciousness of the process of learning, and how they can best practice/learn independently.
So far, I focused mainly upon spaced practice and retrieval practice. This PPT is still a work in progress, but I am happy to share it when it is completed.
Up next: elaborate interrogation.
Thank you so much to everyone who shared slides/observations from ResearchEd!