Tag Archives: memory

10 Research Based Principles of Instruction for Teachers

I recently read an American Educator article from 2012 by Barak Rosenshine that set out 10 principles of instruction informed by research, with subsequent suggestions for implementing them in the classroom. It was also one of the articles cited in the “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” by Rob Coe et al and provided further elaboration on one of their six components of great teaching thought to have strong evidence of impact on student outcomes, i.e. quality of instruction.

Here’s my summary of the key messages from each of the 10 principles.

1: Begin with a short review of prior learning

Time-for-Review

Students in experimental classes where daily review was used had higher achievement scores. A 5-8 minute review of prior learning was said to strengthen connections between material learned and improve recall so that it became effortless and automatic, thus freeing up working memory.

Daily review could include, for example:

  • Homework
  • Previous material
  • Key vocabulary
  • Problems where there were errors
  • Further practise of knowledge, concepts and skills

2: Present new material in small amounts or steps

problem-solving-steps

Working memory is small and can only cope with small chunks at a time. Too much information presented at once overloads it and can confuse students, who won’t be able to process it. Sufficient time needs to be allocated to processes that will allow students to work with confidence independently. More effective teachers in the study dealt with the limitation of working memory by presenting only small amounts of new material at a time.

3: Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students

lots-questions

Questions allow students to practise new material and connect new material to prior learning. They also help teachers to determine how well material has been learned and whether additional teaching is required. The most effective teachers asked students to explain the process they used and how they answered the question, as well as answering the question posed.

Strategies suggested for checking the responses of all students included asking students to:

  • Tell their answers to a partner
  • Write a short summary and share it with a partner
  • Write their answers on a mini-white board or similar, followed by “show me”
  • Raise their hands if they know the answer or agree with someone else

4: Provide models

chemical modelStudents require cognitive support to reduce the cognitive load on their working memory and help them to solve problems faster. Examples include:

  • Providing clearly laid out, step-by-step worked examples
  • Identifying and explaining the underlying principles of each step
  • Modelling the use of prompts
  • Working together with students on tasks
  • Providing partially completed problems

5: Guide student practice

guidanceNew material will quickly be forgotten without sufficient rehearsal. Rehearsal helps students to access information quickly and easily when required. Additional time needs to be spent by students summarising, rephrasing or elaborating on new material so that it can become:

  • Stored in long-term memory
  • Easily retrieved
  • Used for new learning and problem solving

The quality of storage relies on:

  • Student engagement with the material
  • Providing feedback to the students to correct errors and ensure misconceptions aren’t stored

The rehearsal process can be facilitated and enhanced by:

  • Questioning students
  • Asking students to summarise the main points
  • Supervising students during practice

In one study, the more successful teachers spent more time guiding practice, for example by working through initial problems at the board whilst explaining the reasons for each step or asking students to work out problems at the board and discuss their procedures. This also served as a way of providing multiple models for students to allow them to be better prepared for independent work.

6: Check for student understanding

thinking aloud

More effective teachers frequently checked for understanding. Checking for understanding identifies whether students are developing misconceptions as well as providing some of the processing required to move new learning into long-term memory.

The purpose of checking is twofold:

  1. Answering questions might cause students to elaborate and strengthen connections to prior learning in their long term-memory
  2. The answers provided by students alert the teacher to parts of the material that may need reteaching

A number of strategies can be used to check for understanding, e.g:

  • Questioning
  • Asking students to think aloud as they work
  • Asking students to defend a position to others

7: Obtain a high success rate

80percentWhen students learn new material, they construct meaning in their long-term memory. Errors can be made though, as they attempt to be logical in areas where their background knowledge may still be weak. It was suggested that the optimal success rate for fostering student achievement is approximately 80%. Furthermore, it was said that achieving a success rate of 80% showed that students were learning the material, whilst being suitably challenged. High success rates during guided practice led to higher success rates during independent work. If practice did not have a high success rate, there was a chance that errors were being practised and learned, which then become difficult to overcome. The development of misconceptions can be limited by breaking material down into small steps, providing guided practice and checking for understanding.

8: Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks

Building site scaffoldingScaffolds are temporary supports that help students to learn difficult tasks, which are gradually withdrawn with increasing competence. The use of scaffolds and models, aided by a master, helps students to serve their “cognitive apprenticeship” and learn strategies that allow them to become independent.

Scaffolds include:

  • Thinking aloud by the teacher to reveal the thought processes of an expert and provide mental labels during problem solving
  • Providing poor examples to correct, as well as expert models
  • Tools such as cue cards or checklists
  • Prompts such as “Who?” “Why?” and “How? that enable students to ask questions as they work
  • Box prompts to categorise and elaborate on the main ideas
  • A model of the completed task for students to compare their own work to

9: Require and monitor independent practice

practiceIndependent practice follows guided practice and involves students working alone and practising new material. Sufficient practice is necessary for students to become fluent and automatic. This avoids overcrowding working memory, and enables more attention to be devoted to comprehension and application.

Independent practice should involve the same material as guided practice, or with only slight variation. The research showed that optimal teacher-student contact time during supervision was 30 seconds or less, with longer explanations being required an indication that students were practising errors.

10: Engage students in weekly and monthly review

calendar reviewAs students rehearse and review information, connections between ideas in long-term memory are strengthened. The more information is reviewed, the stronger these connections become. This also makes it easier to learn new information, as prior knowledge becomes more readily available for use. It also frees up space in working memory, as knowledge is organised into larger, better-connected patterns.

Practical suggestions for implementation include:

  • Review the previous week’s work at the beginning of the following week
  • Review the previous month’s work at the beginning of every fourth week
  • Test following a review
  • Weekly quizzes

The full report by Barak Rosenshine: Principles of Instruction – Research based strategies that all teachers should know is available here.

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Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design

We recently held the first in a series of voluntary curriculum conferences for mid-leaders to share their ideas about what might influence the design of our new post-levels curriculum.

Ideas that were shared during our first meeting:

  • Designing a new English curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch (which you can read all about here)
  • An Ethic of Excellence (which you can read all about here)
  • Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design
  • Assessing without levels

Super Glue

Why do students struggle to retain information from one week to the next?  What can we do to help make things stick?

Head of Maths Neil Siday, shared his thoughts with us on how cognitive science might help us to achieve this by planning smarter.  Much of Neil’s thinking has been informed by reading Joe Kirby and David Fawcett’s brilliant blogs on cognitive science and memory, as well as the work we did recently with David Didau.

Getting the content and challenge right

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham states that your memory is a product of what you think about and not what you want to remember – in other words, if your students aren’t actually thinking and making meaning then it won’t be learnt.

Memories are created by the release of chemicals, like dopamine.  If we pitch the challenge just right, we create an emotional response that releases dopamine.  Too little challenge offers too little reward, too much challenge and students won’t engage emotionally.

Memory is also thought to be domain specific – which means that we need to fill it with meaningful subject content.  Making sure that tasks are designed to provide opportunities to actually think and solve problems are therefore key to retention.  Time should be spent building up structural knowledge with practice to achieve automaticity first, before extending to deeper learning.  Sharing worked examples, modelling, building time for students to think and asking questions that encourage students to think is important.

Willingham’s simplified model of the mind

Slide1

Working Memory

  • deals with ‘the here and now’
  • is used to process and filter what we teach, make meaning and form our understanding
  • has fixed, limited space, which is easily overloaded with distractions or irrelevant information, which leads to misunderstanding
  • is key to transferring information to our long-term memory

Long-Term Memory

  • provides background info to working memory to help make sense of info
  • is almost unlimited
  • is where retention occurs

When the working memory is dealing with new information it calls upon the long-term memory to help make sense of it.  This retrieval process in itself aides long-term retention.  The information needs to be worked on in the working memory for it to be retained.  It is therefore paramount that we plan tasks so that what “sticks” is what really matters.

Storage and retrieval

Memories have a storage strength and a retrieval strength.

Retrieval strength is basically how easy it is to recall information at a later date.  This decreases over time, which is why you struggle to recall some things that are “on the tip of your tongue”

Storage strength is basically how well information has been learned.  Deeper learning = greater storage strength.  With low storage strength, retrieval strength decreases quickly.

It is therefore desirable to have high storage and retrieval strength, although even when information is buried, it can quickly be re-mastered.

storage centre

Spacing and interleaving

Robert Bjork’s New Theory of Disuse describes how making learning easier increases retrieval strength.  However, without the deeper processing that encourages long-term retention, this retrieval strength quickly diminishes.  Contrary to our intuition, it is thought that forgetting is actually key to increasing our storage strength.

Hermann Ebbinghaus first introduced the world to his forgetting curve and the spacing effect back in 1885.

Slide15

The graph shows how the amount of newly acquired information we retain declines over time without any attempt to retain it. To increase retention over time Ebbinghaus thought that spaced repetition could help.  Spacing works on the idea that we learn better when information is spaced out in intervals over a longer time span rather than when information is repeated without intervals (massed presentation).  Each repetition is thought to increase the length of time before the next repetition is required.

Bjork also argues that spacing reduces the accessibility of information in memory and in doing so fosters additional learning of that information.  Building in opportunities to revisit information at the point of ‘almost forgetting’ for students is good, as it means they are more receptive to learning new information.

Spacing may well be one of the most effective ways to improve learning, but what do you do in between repetitions?  Bjork argues that an effective strategy might be to interleave our study, which requires learners to constantly ‘reload’ or retrieve information, allowing them to extract more general rules that aid transfer.

With careful curriculum design, interleaving multiple topics allows us to space them out, rather than blocking them together and gives us an opportunity to revisit and build on prior learning.

Slide2

Massed presentation

  • rapid improvement
  • performance
  • poor retention

Spaced presentation

  • sustained improvement
  • learning
  • improved retention

Activating prior knowledge

Knowing things makes it easier to learn new things.  When designing and mapping out our curriculum it is important we:

  • Build on prior knowledge as connections are built between the prior knowledge that is in long-term memory and new knowledge
  • Plan to return to, and draw on previous knowledge (build retrieval strength)
  • Make links / connections explicit

Connecting_the_Dots

Testing Vs re-study

Frequent testing is also thought to help us remember.  Testing does far more than assess knowledge or skills – in fact it provides opportunities for learning. The very act of retrieving information from memory makes it easier to recall in the future.

Practice testing has been shown to outperform re-study, where 4 blocks of study with practice tests outperformed 8 blocks of study without practice tests.  In this way, shorter, more frequent (e.g. once per week) testing would appear better than testing once per Half Term, as more retrieval from long-term memory occurs.  When mapping out a curriculum, building in plenty of opportunities for students to practice may be advantageous.

Pre-testing is also thought to aid long-term memory – even when students perform poorly on them.

Types of testing

We also need to think more about low stakes/high impact testing and other ways can we get students to demonstrate their understanding, apart from traditional test questions in traditional test conditions, e.g:

  • A quick pre-unit quiz – which has the potential to set up triggers and create a ‘cognitive buy in’ for students, who are more likely to want to know the answers
  • Multiple choice questions – which means more decisions and therefore more thinking as more potential incorrect options are opened up to them
  • Cumulative knowledge testing – e.g. questions from units 1 + 2 also appear in a unit 3 test

Key messages

  • Get the challenge right
  • Avoid overloading the working memory and focus on meaningful content
  • Activate prior knowledge, build concrete content and develop applied thinking
  • Build high storage and retrieval strength
  • Plan for spacing, interleaving and practice
  • Utilise low stakes, frequent, cumulative knowledge testing

Daniel T. Willingham’s book “Why Don’t Student’s Like School” is available from our Teaching and Learning library

Why don't students like school, Willingham

 

The Spy Who Loved Us – Part 2: A very special Pedagogy Picnic

DD ped picnic wed 2nd april

In The Spy Who Loved Us – Part 1: “The name’s Beyond…..” I shared how our English Department worked with David Didau to create a new curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch.  I also shared some of the important ideas that underpinned their design.

Not known for looking proverbial gift horses in the mouth and spurred on by that most famous of North East colloquialisms “shy bairns get nowt” I was delighted when David also agreed to reprise his Pedagoo London 2014 presentation especially for us at a very special, one-off lunchtime Pedagogy Picnic.

You are wrong!

First we were introduced to the work of Kathryn Schulz and “The Illusion of Naive Realism” from her book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

Squares A and B can’t possibly be the same colour can they?

Slide3

Wrong!

Slide4

It feels great to be right, however we aren’t very good at thinking we could be mistaken.  In this way, if someone sees things differently to us or disagrees with us then it must be the result of their bias or shortcomings.  This poor attitude to error can have a strong influence on our actions.  Illusions can help us to accept that it is possible for us to be wrong, even when we are convinced we are right.

The problem with intuition

Still not convinced?  Next we were shown this video clip based on Daniel Simons & Christopher Chabris’ research into the phenomenon known as “inattentional blindness”:

People often fail to notice the unexpected (like someone dressed up in a gorilla suit wandering into full view and beating their chest before wandering off again) when focused on something else.  Even for events as dramatic as the one above, the vast majority of people are convinced that they would notice.  In reality, though, many people do not.  Although 90% of people are convinced they would notice the gorilla, only 50% actually do.  Intuition says we would, the reality is we don’t.  Our intuition can be wrong!

We naturally protect ourselves from being wrong!

We were then introduced to some of David McRaney’s insights from You Are Not So Smart, who points out that accepting we can be wrong and spotting when we might be wrong is generally more difficult than we think.

“Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.”

“The other side just doesn’t get your point of view, and if they could only see things with your clarity, they would understand and fall naturally in line with what you believe. They must not understand, because if they did they wouldn’t think the things they think. By contrast, you believe you totally get their point of view and you reject it. You see it in all its detail and understand it for what it is – stupid.”

When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.”

Your first perception lingers in your mind, affecting later perceptions and decisions.”

With blindfolds urgently being tossed aside amidst the noise of cognitive shackles breaking all around, we were finally ready to re-examine some of the things we had been told were true.

Slide8

Mr Didau introduces the case for the prosecution

Wrong! Learning is invisible.  Learning and performance are different.  To paraphrase Bjork: We can only infer learning from performance.  Performance is easy to measure, but learning is not.

For example:

Teacher: “Warsaw is the capital of Poland”……”What is the capital of Poland?”

Student: “Warsaw”

Teacher: “Excellent progress!”

Performance is a very poor indicator of learning.

What we teach, students learn (the input/output myth)…..wrong!  According to Nuthall, over half of what we teach is not learned by most of our students.  We shouldn’t fool ourselves that the performance we see equates to what our students have learned……..or as Professor Robert Coe put’s it:

Slide11

As well as being clear about the difference between performance and learning, we heard how the introduction of what psychologist Robert Bjork terms “desirable difficulties” may help.  Although it feels counter-intuitive, making it more difficult for students to learn may actually improve retention and transfer in the long term, despite slowing down performance in the short term.

Why?  According to Bjork, each item we commit to memory has a storage strength and a retrieval strength, for example:

Slide13

Bjork’s New Theory of Disuse describes how making learning easier increases retrieval strength and leads to better performance in the short term.  However, without the deeper processing that encourages long term retention, this retrieval strength quickly diminishes.  Instead, we want students to make mistakes and forget, as re-learning forgotten information takes less time each time it is revisited.  In other words – increasing storage strength depends on the power of forgetting.

We can achieve this by spacing learning out.

Slide15

With careful curriculum design, interleaving multiple topics allows us to space them out, rather than blocking them together (massed presentation) and gives us an opportunity to revisit and build on prior learning.  Whereas blocking “feels right” and may increase performance in the short term, interleaving is thought to lead to deeper learning in the long term.

Slide16

David also urged us to introduce as much variability as possible into our teaching.  Changing teaching rooms, changing the displays students looked at, changing seating were all strategies that supported desirable difficulty, which again ran counter to many of our pre-conceived notions.

Another difficulty that challenged many of us in our thinking was testing.  We were posed the following question:

Slide18

You may be surprised to know that 4. is the most effective study pattern – many of us certainly were.  We do need, however, to rethink our definition of ‘tests’ as large, summative assessments to incorporate higher frequency, lower stakes testing, for example quizzes, multiple choice questions etc.

Wrong!  There’s no such thing as an outstanding lesson.  There is such a thing as outstanding teaching however, where students achieve consistently outstanding results and really learn.

David then reminded us of Ofsted’s criteria for outstanding teaching and learning (how could we forget!)….

Slide19

….before systematically unpicking and re-examining each statement:

Sustained and rapid progress?  Wrong!  Sustained AND rapid  progress are an oxymoron.  Slowing performance and increasing error increases retention and transfer (see previous).

Systematic, accurate assessment?  Wrong!  Very little assessment is systematic and accurate in the right way.  Mark schemes can be highly subjective.

Well judged, imaginative teaching strategies?  Wrong!  If based on judging performance rather than learning.

Sharply focused and timely support?  Wrong!  Struggle is good – it supports transfer from working to long term memory and avoids learned helplessness.

Enthusiasm, participation and commitment?  Wrong!  They are poor proxies for learning.

Resilience, confidence and independence?  Wrong!  Independent learning doesn’t result in independence, it can create dependence.

Frequent and consistently high quality feedback?  Wrong!  What do we mean by ‘high quality feedback’?  Feedback that supports performance in the short term or learning in the long term? Frequent and immediate feedback can degrade learning.

Engagement, courtesy, collaboration and cooperation?  Wrong!  Politeness is desirable but has little impact on learning.  There is a time and a place for group work.

Despite all the evidence that suggests ‘Feedback is King’ we were encouraged to adopt a more critical stance.

Slide22

To further illustrate this, David shared this table from Dylan Wiliam, which shows how easy it is for our feedback to have unintended consequences when students can exert less effort, reduce their aspiration or ignore it altogether!

Slide21

The point being – a theme that this presentation had as its very core – was for us all to beware silver bullets and anything that we are told is “the answer”.

In summing up David shared this final slide:

Slide25

The one that stuck most for me?  After nearly 20 years in teaching it has to be the Arthur Quiller-Couch quote about being prepared to ‘murder your darlings’ and acknowledging the fact that, over the years, maybe I just might have got a few things wrong….

“I reached the wrong ends

By the wrong means

It was the wrong plan

In the wrong hands

The wrong theory for the wrong man

The wrong eyes

On the wrong prize

The wrong questions with the wrong replies

Wrong”

Depeche Mode: Wrong

With many thanks to David who, in only a short time had such a tremendous and long lasting impact, not only on my own professional development, but also on our English department who “haven’t been this excited in years” as well as our teaching and learning support staff who now question absolutely everything (thanks David!)

You can read David’s original post following Pedagoo London 2014 here.  I’ve also included links within this post to lots of other posts David has written that are relevant to this one.  Do take the time to read them (although be prepared for your head to hurt……a lot!)

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