Tag Archives: spacing

Organising instruction & study: 7 recommendations to improve student learning

This blog is a summary of a Practice Guide by Pashler et al. from 2007, which sets out to provide teachers with specific strategies for instruction and study.

I came across it in a roundabout way via this paper by Dunlosky et al cited in the “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” by Rob Coe et al.

The central tenet of this particular Practice Guide is that learning depends on memory, which can in turn be strengthened by concrete strategies. These strategies help students to master new knowledge and skills, without forgetting what they have learned.

A note on Practice Guides

The Health Care professions have been using practice guides for some time now to communicate evidence-based advice to medical practitioners.

The recommendations contained within Practice Guides are intended to be:

  • Actionable by practitioners
  • Coherent in their approach
  • Explicitly connected to the level of supporting evidence

Levels of evidence are determined by the types of studies used to draw conclusions, ranging from stronger levels of evidence that come from RCTs, with more moderate levels of evidence coming from non-randomised studies, down to lower levels of evidence that are drawn from the opinions of respected authorities.

Practice Guides are not systematic reviews or meta-analyses that have been subject to detailed literature surveys. Instead they rely more on their authors’ expertise to identify the most important research relative to the recommendations made, in order to characterise its meaning and provide specific, actionable steps. The recommendations contained in this Practice Guide have been agreed by the authors concerned and subjected to independent peer review.

Recommendations


1: Space learning over time – moderate level of evidence

spacing

Most of the research in this area has been focused on the acquisition of facts and remembering definitions of terms. To improve retention, students should be exposed to material at least twice, with a delay of weeks to months between exposures. Short delays of less than about 5% of the time between exposure and testing should be avoided. In other words, if you want students to remember material for a test in 6 months time, avoid re-exposure within less than a week or two. “Overshooting” the delay is better than reviewing too soon.

Teaching strategies:

  • Regular, in-class review of previously covered material.
  • Inclusion of previously covered material in homework assignments.
  • Mid-term and final testing that includes cumulative material.

2: Interleave worked examples with problem solving exercises – moderate level of evidence

interleaving

Experiments and some classroom studies have shown that students learn more when switching between studying examples of worked-out solutions to problems and solving similar problems independently. In the studies cited, alternating and interleaving was more successful than giving students only problems to solve, or a block of worked examples followed by a block of problems to solve. Increasing the amount of variability between successive examples and problems was also beneficial. The scaffolding provided by the worked examples should gradually be removed with time by “fading” more and more stages of the worked examples into problems.

Teaching strategies:

  • Provide a worked example for every other problem, e.g. for 10 questions, make questions 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 worked examples.
  • Model the solution to a problem with the class, and then ask students to solve the next problem independently (just one!)
  • Ask some students to present their solutions, while others explain the steps (a worked example in its own right) followed by another problem to solve independently.

3: Combine graphics with verbal descriptions – moderate level of evidence

visual representationsAdding visual representations, e.g. graphs, diagrams or other graphic formats to text descriptions can lead to better learning than just using text. Any accompanying text should be positioned as close as possible to the relevant section of the diagram. This can be further improved with the use of verbal descriptions to accompany visual representations, which allow for both elements to be scrutinised simultaneously.

Teaching strategies:

  • Provide visual representations to support the explanation of processes or concepts.
  • Highlight the relevant parts of the visual representation while describing processes or concepts.
  • Using simplified diagrams that show the relevant parts, rather than more complex representations is sometimes more beneficial.
  • Share multiple visual representations, e.g. pictures, models, real objects etc. to illustrate how a single concept can be depicted in different ways.

4: Connect and integrate abstract and concrete representations of concepts – moderate level of evidence

abstract concreteHere, the research seems to suggest that teaching concepts using only concrete representations supports initial understanding but doesn’t support transfer to novel, but relevant contexts. Whereas, using only abstract representations initially can take longer to develop initial understanding, this greater initial difficulty is compensated for via improved application to different situations.

One proposal suggested to utilise the benefits of both is “concreteness fading” with initial concrete examples being gradually and systematically replaced by more abstract representations. Another is to explicitly identify and draw students’ attention to the relationship between the concrete and abstract components in representations of the same concept.

Teaching strategies:

  • Show the same idea in multiple forms to show that deep structure is constant despite surface changes.
  • Connect abstract ideas to relevant concrete representations and situations.
  • Highlight relevant features across both abstract and concrete representations.
  • Avoid using the same type of example repeatedly, i.e. examples all from one area, e.g. “sports”
  • Avoid knowledge becoming “inert” by allowing time to draw connections between multiple, interleaved examples that vary in their concreteness or abstractness.
  • Anchor new ideas in stories or scenarios that are familiar and interesting.

5a: Use pre-questions to introduce a topic – low level of evidence

Pre-questions are thought to activate prior knowledge and focus students’ attention on the material to be learned.

Despite recommending it as way to improve student learning, the panel deemed the level of evidence for quizzing to be low, as most of the research had been completed with college students, or based on laboratory experiments carried out on reading from written text, rather than tested as a component of regular classroom instruction.

The research does seem to suggest, however, that when pre-questions are used to preview the content of assigned material, there will likely be gains in learning of the pre-questioned material, providing students don’t read selectively based on the content of the pre-questions used.

Teaching strategies:

  • Direct students’ attention to important facts and concepts by using pre-questions to introduce new topics.
  • Prepare several pre-questions that students can attempt immediately on entering the lesson as part of the “do now”

quiz

5b: Use quizzes to re-expose students to information – strong level of evidence

The act of practising recalling information from memory enhances learning, reduces the rate of forgetting and cements information to memory.

Laboratory experiments across a wide range of materials and ages have repeatedly demonstrated that testing promotes remembering of material on a later test, and is almost always more powerful than spending additional time studying material.

Teaching strategies:

  • Take every opportunity to prompt students to retrieve information.
  • Use closed book quizzes after teaching material, prior to final testing.
  • Ensure corrective feedback is provided following testing to ensure errors don’t remain.
  • Use websites, e.g. http://www.quia.com to share or create quizzes.

6a: Teach students how to use delayed judgement of learning techniques to identify concepts that need further study – low level of evidence

delayThe evidence in support of this recommendation comes mainly from experimental research in the laboratory, rather than in the classroom.

Without training, most learners cannot accurately assess what they know and what they don’t, and typically overestimate how well material has been mastered – “the illusion of knowing.” Knowing what you have and haven’t mastered accurately, is therefore essential in identifying what you still need to spend time studying, which in turn increases the likelihood of performing better when tested.

The “cue-only delayed judgement of learning procedure” is thought to be a key technique for breaking this illusion, which works as follows:

  1. Students should test their mastery of material after a meaningful delay.
  2. Students should only have access to “the cue” and not the answer when testing whether they know concepts or not, i.e. multiple choice questions should not be used for this purpose.
  3. Students should judge how likely they are to get the answer right, as well as answering the question.

A similar technique, the “delayed keyword technique” supports students to judge how well they have retained material they have read after a delay, for example a section of a textbook or a chapter of a book, by asking them to generate keywords or sentences that summarise the main points.

Teaching strategies:

  • Pre-prepare 10 questions (for example) that capture the core content to be learned.
  • Give the students the questions one at a time, asking them to use a scale of 1 to 100 to judge how likely they feel they would be able to answer the question correctly tomorrow
  • Ask students to review the material, use a text or ask the teacher to find out and record the answer to any question they did not score as 100.
  • Use repeatedly over the course of the year, teaching students how to use this technique independently.
  • Teach students to use the “delayed keyword technique” to generate four key terms and definitions following assigned reading out of class, followed by re-reading if they are unable to do this.

6b: Use tests and quizzes to identify content that needs to be learned – low level of evidence

The evidence in support of this recommendation comes mainly from experimental research of college students and laboratory tests, rather than in the classroom.

As previously stated: Inaccurate judgements by learners of what they have and haven’t learned well can mean subsequent study is focused on the wrong items.

Quizzing is thought to help students identify which items are not well learned, as does re-reading material when a test is interspersed between readings.

Teaching strategies:

  • Closed book quizzes following presentation of material.
  • Very short “spot check” quizzes covering material from the previous night or prior classwork.

7: Help students build explanations by asking and answering deep questions – strong level of evidence

deep endThe evidence base includes over a dozen experimental studies each, in both school and college settings, plus a large number of laboratory experiments.

Shallow knowledge is concerned with basic facts or skills, whereas deep knowledge is when learners are able argue with reason and logic, explore relationships between facts or concepts or answer “why?”

Interventions that specifically train students how to ask deep level questions while studying new material, e.g. classroom discussion, provision of exemplar materials and modelling how to ask and answer questions, have been shown to improve the rate and depth of student questions, as well as their comprehension of the material.

Teaching strategies:

  • Identify and prepare deep level questions that require deep level responses.
  • Ask questions that challenge students’ prior beliefs and assumptions.
  • Model the process of asking and answering deep questions.
  • Model and encourage students to “think aloud”.
  • Encourage students to respond to explanations by their peers.
  • Allow plenty of time to answer deep level questions.

The IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning by Pashler et al (2007) is available here.

 

Designing a new post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch

This is the 5th post in a series about how we are designing our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest update contains a miscellany of information and ideas that I’ve shared at our second curriculum conference and most recently at the Dare to imagine – Education for the 21st century conference and the Cramlington Festival of Learning TeachMeet.  It attempts to pull together more detail on:

  • context and why we are moving away from levels
  • the interplay between curriculum planning and assessment
  • tracking of progress

It also includes a number of curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework.

A new taxonomy?

Most of us are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy and the SOLO taxonomy, however, the end of statutory levelled assessment has brought with it a new kind of taxonomy that can be used to describe the various behaviours people often seem to exhibit in response:

a new taxonomy?

  • IGNORING – pretending it’s not happening
  • PANICKING when you realise it is happening
  • PROCRASTINATING – accepting it’s happening and deciding to deal with it later
  • WAITING for “something” to come along
  • SEARCHING what are others doing?
  • BUMBLING  trying to move forward without any real plan

Despite exhibiting a number of these behaviours ourselves this year, I’m pleased to say we are now at last well on the way to creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model.

Some thoughts on levels

  • Although originally intended to provide information on progress, there is a danger they have become a label that discourages a common intellectual mission and perpetuates a fixed mindset.  “Joe is a level 5” or worse still “I’m a level 5.”
  • The temptation to move up levels quickly in the name of “progress” is at odds with our desire to secure a deeper understanding of the big ideas, not just isolated content, and to allow more time for mastery of fundamental knowledge and skills.
  • The various models used to aggregate test scores, APP and the use of sub-levels by schools makes them unreliable.
  • High performing school systems don’t use levels

Can you re-think assessment in isolation without re-examining your existing curriculum?

Despite levels becoming non-statutory at Key Stage 3, the freedom to innovate and deliver the curriculum we want has always been there.  The limited amount of change in some cases between the old and new National Curriculum could offer little incentive to change, with some schools deciding to “stick” rather than “twist” or bolting on new assessment systems to their existing curriculum.

round-hole-square-peg

On the other hand, it also represents a golden opportunity to design curriculum and assessment systems that teach and assess what we value.

  • To make links and connections between big ideas explicit
  • To develop individuality and the ability to think
  • To specifically develop skills and habits of learning as well as knowledge.
  • To go “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
  • To provide our students with formative feedback that means something
  • To allow for simple, meaningful reporting to parents and carers

Re-designing curriculum and assessment isn’t easy though.  We have to ask ourselves searching questions and think hard.  It takes time and we have to allow for that and ensure we provide ample opportunities within school.

Big ideas

Each of our subject areas have determined their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills that weave through their curriculum – the golden threads.

For example, in science:

Slide04

Planning for excellence (and beyond)

Progression is then mapped out for each big idea by asking:

  • What does excellence look like?
  • What can my students do?
  • What do my students need to understand next?
  • What does this enquiry prepare students for next and how does it build on what they have already done?
  • How can we go beyond the boundaries of the existing Key Stage?
Slide09

Big Idea 1: All materials in the Universe are made of very small particles

Cognitive science and curriculum mapping

We’ve also looked at how a knowledge of cognitive science might support the way we construct programmes of study in each subject.  In particular how it could help us to:

  • encourage students to engage emotionally with content by ensuring appropriate degrees of challenge
  • avoid overloading working memory by linking to the big ideas / building on prior learning
  • build storage and retrieval strength by mapping our programme of study to incorporate spacing and interleaving

Slide1

Here’s an example of how we might space and interleave some of our big ideas to ensure progression of knowledge and skills across our science programme of study:

Slide07

A threshold assessment rubric is then developed for each unit that:

  • Sets the bar high
  • Focuses on assessing the key knowledge and skills for that particular unit
  • Scaffolds down from the beyond threshold
  • Supports the development of deeper understanding and skill development
  • Enables provision of formative feedback that supports progression to the next threshold

Slide08

It is only at this point that the lesson-by-lesson overview is then created, containing links to the last interleaved sequence; the learning intentions; specific, pre-planned probing questions that encourage thinking as well as the “products” we expect students to create.

Slide14

How often though, do we begin our planning at this point, rather than defining our…

  • Purpose
  • Big ideas
  • Key knowledge and skills
  • Progression
  • Mapping
  • Assessment criteria

…in advance?

Tracking

Establishing progress necessitates the need for a baseline, which can be a tricky business.  In the past, we have tended to lean heavily on KS2 test data,  however in our initial discussions we see this as an opportunity to use a wider range of data to include:

  • KS2 English + Maths test scores
  • KS2 Teacher Assessment and dialogue with feeder schools
  • MidYIS / CAT3 ability testing
  • FFT estimates
  • Internal tests on entry
  • Reading ages
  • etc.

Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this using simple statements about progress relative to it, rather than targets that place ceilings on student achievement.

Slide16

Threshold performance could then be used to discuss “flight paths” to GCSE using the current grades A*-G or the new GCSE points system.

Slide17

e.g. if a student’s was currently working at the “securing” threshold they might usually be expected to progress to grade B/C (using current GCSE grades) or point 7/6

If they were working at the “developing” threshold then we might expect them to progress to grade C/D…etc.

What concerns me at the minute though, is how the use of some of this data fits with our thinking about a common intellectual mission and that all students are capable of excellence.

In fact, after months of reading, discussing, thinking and investing significant time (and cost) to allow joint discussion, planning and collaboration sometimes this feels as close as it gets to where my head is at right now.

Slide18

We’ve still got lots to work out and will need to evaluate the efficacy of all our work as we progress, however, in choosing to design a curriculum and assessment system that we value, it’s clear we share a real excitement, hope and optimism about the future.

Slide19

Here’s a link to an Excel version of our curriculum planning tools.  There are a number of planning sheets contained in the workbook, including some “Big Picture” questions by Pete Jones.  Feel free to use and adapt as you see fit.  I would love to hear from you if you decide to use any of them in your school.  Feedback is always welcome.

Dan

 

 

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!)

IMG_2688