Andy started by telling us about degus – a rodent shown above. Having recently bought his son a hamster, Andy was reading some information about them and came across the degu. As he had never heard of them before, he turned to Google – where he found the following:
Like some other herbivores such as rabbits, they perform coprophagy (faecal reingestion) so as to extract more nutrition from their diet.
‘Why remember stuff when we have Google?’
Well this example illustrates that perfectly. Whilst Google may have given you part of the answer, if you didn’t know what ‘faecal’ and ‘reingestion’ meant, it probably wouldn’t mean much (which might be a good thing!) So we need to know things, and in order to know things, we need to remember them. We can’t just rely on Google.
Andy then asked us if anyone recognised the picture above. Only one person in the whole staff did – history teacher Jack Tyler. Jack informed us that it was in fact Quaker philanthropist and penal reformer Elizabeth Fry and that the picture was taken from a five pound note. Now, we all see five pound notes a lot, so why didn’t more people know the answer? Very simply, because we don’t think about it. To remember things, we need to think about them.
Why is memory important?
- New 100% terminal exams/GCSEs are in the pipeline, so we need to be preparing students for remembering lots of things.
2. Lots of factual knowledge are needed to perform a skill.
3. Curiosity – once we know something, we want to find out more.
4. Creativity relies on us being able to bring together lots of bits of knowledge and then doing something with it
5. Not a return to rote learning and drill-and-kill.
Two important types of memory
Declarative memory – memory for repeatedly encountered facts and data e.g. square root of 25; spelling words; capitals of countries; labelling the parts of a cell.
Procedural memory – memory for sequences of events, processes and routines. This is particularly important for more practical subjects such as PE, drama, dance and art.
In reality, most of the subjects we teach involve a combination of declarative memory and procedural memory.
Herman Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist who looked at memory and forgetting in the 19th century. Ebbinghaus made up a large number of ‘nonsense syllables’ and then tried to recall them, at set periods of time. As can be seen from the graph, after 19 minutes he had forgotten about 40% of them, and after 2 days about 75% of them. This has shocking implications for our students. After just an hour after your lesson that you have lovingly prepared, they will probably have forgotten about half of it…and then about 75% of it after 2 days!
All is not lost though! Further experimentation revealed that if the new information is reviewed, after the initial exposure, the rate of forgetting slows down. If the spacing between these reviews is increased, this appears to support memory and reduce ‘forgetting’. So, the simple message here is that once we have taught something, if students are going to remember it, we need to keep coming back to it.
Easier said than done, with our content heavy exam specifications and limited time! The work of John Dunlosky may provide us with a way forward:
John Dunlosky et al, Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology, Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14(1) (2013): 4–58.
It appears that two techniques seem to be particularly effective – practice testing and distributed practice. Regular quizzing provides the opportunity for practice testing and by distributed practice, we mean spacing topics out and coming back to them.
- Regular low-stakes quizzes/tests. (“Using our memory improves our memory.”) By low stakes, we mean not asking students to tell us their scores – that is for them to know. By keeping it low stakes, we reduce anxiety and this has been shown to be more effective. It’s important that these quizzes/tests cover content that was covered not just in the last lesson, but also last week and last month – and if they perform poorly, get them to do it again.
- Train students how to self-quiz – flashcards are very useful for this. The ‘Chegg Flashcards App‘ is great for this – as are Quizlet and Memrise.
- Elaborate interrogation – asking ‘why’ something is true. So develop your questioning, and their responses, by asking students ‘why?’ in response to their original answer to your question.
- Start lessons with a review of previous learning, by using a quiz/ discussion or stimulus material e.g. a picture/diagram from the previous lesson, or a sentence starter, for them to finish, that summarises the previous lesson.
- Build ‘pause’ lessons/revision lessons into curriculum/homework/assessment. A pause lesson is when no new material is taught, but the lesson is used to review previous material, go back over work they have struggled with etc. Our geography team have been thinking about this – read more here.
- Mnemonics for difficult-to-remember material – i.e. acronyms, acrostics, rhymes, visuals etc. – for example Richard of York gave battle in vain, for the colours of the spectrum.
- Overlearning – we usually think we remember more than we do, so avoid this by encouraging students to keep going over material, even of they think they have it.
The first diagram summarises what we normally do in secondary schools i.e. teach the curriculum and then revise like mad, in the few weeks leading up to the exams. This does not align with what cognitive science tells us work, in terms of memory. A better approach is the second diagram – blend revision strategies in, throughout the whole curriculum, using some of the strategies described above.
This was the challenge for our subject teams today. Below is a sample of some of the planned actions, from different subject areas:
How the new YouTube channel can be used as a revision aid for students to review material at home. Link here.
Devising and using trigger words to act as memory cues for longer answer questions. For example:
The Yalta Conference Feb 1945
Task: For each word write down everything you can recall about it’s relevance to the above topic
We are going to use more regular quizzing, using past papers across the department.
We are going to look at ways to introduce Pause lessons with Y10s this year and next year so that theory and coursework is more evenly spread across the year and there aren’t periods of time with no focus on either element of the course.
Revision lessons on several old topics followed by booklets with questions from all of those topics, mixed up so students have to remember what to do for each different type of question. Spent some time developing resources for use with year 11 sets eg pop quizzes, revision lessons, etc
We started off in languages with some discussions of how to support Year 11. We already do regular vocab starters/low-stakes vocab tests at the beginning. We are going to start getting students to make their own quizzes based on words seen in class (using their exercise books) and then swapping with a partner. We also talked about making words ‘memorable’ by linking them to funny ideas images – e.g. hacer de canguro (to do babysitting) literally means “to do kangaroo”. By linking this phrase to a picture, this will hopefully make it stick!
We are also going to do pause lessons starting in Year 10 and looked at places in the scheme of work where these would fit in. After some disagreement (!), we agreed on the following topics for the first term of Year 10:
* higher numbers/dates
*telling the time
*prepositions of place
Many of our students will not have seen these since Year 8 so it makes sense to revisit them here. From our experience, Year 11 often fall down on these areas and we have to cram in a revision session on these topics before the exams. Hopefully this way will be better!
We created a list of over 200 quiz questions to support memory/revision of A Christmas Carol. In Y10/Y11.
Drama & Music
Quiz sheets – To stick in question sheet for them to answer straight onto so that they have a record of the questions.
Flashcards – printed as a booklet so they don’t get lost