Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by English teacher, Tod Brennan. Over the last year or so, Tod has been reflecting on the teaching approaches that used during his ITT and PGCE years. His lessons would be planned around teaching activities, that would keep students entertained and generally having fun. The problem was that during these lessons, students would often forget what he wanted them to remember, and remember what he really wouldn’t have minded if they forgot! This made him think more deeply about what learning really was. This definition (from David Didau) seemed to make sense:
Learning is the long-term retention and transfer of knowledge and skills.
Retention = durable
Transfer = across similar domains
More recently , Tod was told about the App Memrise. Memrise is an online learning tool, that uses principles of cognitive science, such as repetition and spacing, to help you remember things. Essentially, teachers go onto the website, design their own course and then publish it. Students then get the app and then access the course. The great thing about it is that it doesn’t ease up on the students. As teachers, we often ease up on the students, once we think they have remembered something – we’re too nice to them! Being a computer program, Memrise doesn’t do this. It keeps going until they have learnt it – the students will have to keep repeating the quiz until they remember it.
In Tod’s lessons, he has been using the app to help students remember the definition of complex words, or quotes, like the example above – A Christmas Carol. Once students start the course, they will see the key piece of knowledge that they are trying to learn – such as a word and a definition:
Then then have to answer a quiz question to test their recall. So for example here, they have to pick the correct definition of the word. If they get it wrong, they will have to repeat it until they get it right:
Once students have completed the course, students (and teachers) get a summary of their performance on the quiz:
This indicates how many times the student took each question, how many times they got it right (accuracy) and how many times they got it consecutively right (their ‘streak’). This feedback is obviously useful in terms of what students do and don’t know, but it also opens up a dialogue between the teacher and student e.g. ‘I noticed that you got topic X wrong, was there a particular reason why you struggled with it?’
Some reflections on using Memrise
- By introducing students to key terminology like this (at home, on their smartphone), it’s giving them a head start in lessons – by giving them a way in with complex terminology.
- It ‘removes the fear’ of students using key terminology – by using low stakes testing like this.
- It’s useful to use at the start of a unit of work, but then coming back to it, ‘drip feed’ fashion, again and again.
- By introducing an element of competition, it gets good ‘buy in’ from students.
- It’s great for getting students to recall things that they did the previous term.
- The class set of test results above, suggests that recall got better with time, whilst using Memrise.
- It gives students instant feedback, but this is not always a good thing. Teachers can introduce ‘desirable difficulties’ by delaying feedback, to encourage students to think more deeply and struggle. It’s for this reason, that apps like Memrise could never replace teachers – but it appears that it can certainly support the process of memory recall.
- As a precautionary tale, it’s important not to get too obsessed with apps like Memrise. Tod recalled how he had spent a great deal of time producing one course on Memrise for his students to use. Unfortunately, it didn’t work well and the students didn’t seem to benefit from it. As Tod had invested so much time on it though, he persisted with it – which unfortunately had a negative impact on his relationship with the class. The lesson learnt? If it’s not working, stop using it and maybe come back to it later.
- Guided self-reflection/meta-cognition. Chiu, C.W.T. (1998)
- Learning/retrieval. Henry L. Roediger, III, and Jeffrey D. Karpicke (2006)
- Easy to track and assess.
- Teachers are already using it- so they’ve probably done your job for you!
- Visual clue to planning revision session.
- Excellent way to embed knowledge/language…but it obviously isn’t a replacement for ‘targeting’ this language in the classroom.
- Opens up some excellent discussion – “why have you found it easier to learn the quotation ‘merciless iced east winds.’
- Resources are renewable and can be used across year groups.
- Competition- BIG buy in for many students.
- Heavy initial outlay of time in setting up – but once set up, it can be used in the future.
- Andy Tharby has reported some students lose focus with this after time, and the repetitive material could be boring.
- It is harder to track once students have completed. They can review material, but could easily chose not to. One solution might be to have a points score target or create new, more challenging, levels.
- Feedback: is it right for your students- at this moment and in this way?
How to create a course
- V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.) (2014). Applying the science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php .
- Bjork, R. A., Dunlosky, J., & Kornell, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning: Beliefs, techniques, and illusions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 417-444. http://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/pubs/RBjork_Dunlosky_Kornell_2013.pdf .
- Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Pashler, H., Bain, P. M., Bottge, B. A., Graesser, A., McDaniel, M. A., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organizing instruction and study to improve student learning (NCER Publication No. 2007–2004). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/20072004.pdf
- Potts, R. & Shanks, D. R. (2014). The benefit of generating errors during learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 644-667. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1399515/1/RPottsLastRevision.pdf
- Roediger, H. L., Putnam, A. L., & Smith, M. A. (2011). Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. In J. Mestre & B. Ross (Eds.), Psychology of learning and motivation: Cognition in education (pp. 1-36). http://psych.wustl.edu/memory/Roddy%20article%20PDF’s/BC_Roediger%20et%20al%20(2011)_PLM.pdf