Each week at Reigate School, in Surrey, where I am a teacher of geography, I am given the role of writing two short sections of our Teaching and Learning Newsletter. I do not do this in any official capacity, merely as a result of repeated hints and pestering to the powers that be that it was something I wanted to do and which I thought would benefit staff and of course students! A different component of our What Makes Great Teaching at Reigate School model (below) is discussed each fortnight. They are intended to be bite-sized, easily-digested pieces to slowly drip-feed the idea to staff, rather than ground-breaking, in-depth analyses of a wide range of research.
They feed into work we carry out to move the school forward in our Teaching and Learning group (named Teaching Without Walls – the creation of and run by our Assistant Head, Richie Emerson – tweets at @RichieEmerson3). The aim of this group, which all staff are able to attend should they so wish, is to look at educational research and discuss how it might look in our classrooms. Members will go away and try and tweak their lessons in light of discussions in the group, and then ideas are disseminated at Inset and through the newsletter. One rule: no fads or gimmicks!!
There was some interest on Twitter in my publishing these weekly pieces, so if these can be any use to anyone involved in education, please feel free to use or steal! Here are the first two Blogs of the Week and Research Pods, focussing on Retrieval.
BLOG OF THE WEEK – Retrieval ( 1 )
This week’s blog is by a science teacher from Bath named Rachel Wong. It summarises what retrieval practice is beautifully, along with why it is important and how it can be put to best use. It’s also vital that we share these reasons with our children to achieve ‘buy in’. I know many of us are beginning our lessons with retrieval practice now and children seem to be really on board with it is as they understand how it is benefiting them. I even had one of my hardest-to-reach year 11 children (unprompted!) thank me at parents’ evening for making quiz questions for the start of every lesson for the class at it was helping him to remember and teaching him what he should be doing at home! Enjoy the blog!
RESEARCH POD – Retrieval ( 1 )
Starting this week, we are going to be discussing fortnightly one element from the what makes great teaching model at Reigate School. This fortnight we thought we would start with retrieval practice. So what is retrieval practice? It’s all about children being made to bring back to mind previously learnt material. Research from Cognitive Science from the past one hundred years tells us that children who are actively asked to recall previously covered content in the form of short tests or quizzes, either completed at home, in class, or preferably both, perform better than those who do not, or who simply revise at home using re-studying methods, eg, re-reading notes or copying them out. Or by having content simply re-taught to them by the teacher.
These latter methods don’t make children THINK hard enough, and what we think about, we remember. Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Willingham in his book ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ puts it as: MEMORY IS THE RESIDUE OF THOUGHT. This is my favourite educational quotation as it applies to so much of what we do in lessons! As early as 1885, the German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus conducted research on memory which led him to describe the Learning Curve (see below) He stated that unless new material is revisited (retrieved, not simply re-studied or re-taught, unless it truly has been forgotten or not understood in the first place and needs to be), then it will be forgotten. However, he also described the ‘spacing effect’, that is to say, that time between each retrieval practice session needs to be left – forgetting is actually part of the learning process! So there is little point in retrieving material covered in the previous lesson unless it is necessary for that lesson’s learning – to build on children’s existing schema (the web of knowledge in their brain). Retrieval practice is therefore a vital part of what we do as teachers to ensure that learning truly sticks and isn’t just a fleeting, one off event for our children.
BLOG OF THE WEEK – Retrieval ( 2 )
This week’s blog of the week is the second to look at retrieval as a method of strengthening our students’ long term memories. It looks at the work of Siegfried Engelmann who stated that the majority of lessons should contain review and only 15% new content. His argument, based on research, was that teaching new content in small chunks and spreading new concepts out across lessons, meant that ‘re-teach’ or revision lessons at the end of topics or close to exams became unnecessary. The spacing effect, detailed by Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve of last week’s newsletter was being fully utilised. I hope you find this of use and that there’s something in this blog to guide your use of retrieval.
RESEARCH POD – Retrieval ( 2 )
Continuing with our theme of retrieval practice from last week, I wanted to share some more ideas from some of the related research and evidence with you. As we said last week, retrieval is, essentially, students being tested in some way and being made to retrieve previously covered content from their long term memory. Every time they do this, it strengthens their web of knowledge in their long term memory (their ‘schema’) and their ability to retrieve things at a later date. If nothing has changed in their long term memory, nothing has been learnt.
One of the best known and most often-referred to pieces of research was carried out by Karpicke and Roediger at the university of Illinois in 2006. The research involved 120 18-24 year old students. Here is the abstract from their research paper which sums up their method and findings:
’Taking a memory test not only assesses what one knows, but also enhances later retention, a phenomenon known as the testing effect. We studied this effect with educationally relevant materials and investigated whether testing facilitates learning only because tests offer an opportunity to restudy material. In two experiments, students studied prose passages and took one or three immediate free-recall tests, without feedback, or restudied the material the same number of times as the students who received tests. Students then took a final retention test 5 min, 2 days, or 1 week later. When the final test was given after 5 min, repeated studying improved recall relative to repeated testing. However, on the delayed tests, prior testing produced substantially greater retention than studying, even though repeated studying increased students’ confidence in their ability to remember the material. Testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing it.’
The graph below forms part of their paper and illustrates the different outcomes shown by those that simply used re-studying techniques and those that used self-testing (retrieval) techniques. In every case, at every point in time, those that used retrieval had the better outcomes. If we can build this into our lessons, we can start to improve our students’ ability to retain and retrieve information. And knowledge retrieval when introducing new concepts also gives them something to hook their new knowledge to, helping them to make sense of what we are teaching and building their ever-increasing internal schemas. A simple technique that can yield fantastic results!