Showing posts with label retrieval practice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label retrieval practice. Show all posts

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Beware The Reverse-Engineered Curriculum (or The Potential Pitfalls Of Going For Retrieval Practice Pell-Mell)

Aren't Knowledge Organisers brilliant? Isn't Retrieval Practice just the bees knees? As for Powerful Knowledge... sigh - the stuff dreams are made of.

Over the last couple of years, many of us have taken the outcomes of relatively recent research and applied it to the way we teach and we are pleased with how it's going - children are actually learning, retaining and retrieving information, something which, if we're honest, didn't always happen before.

But what seems to me to have happened is that we have found something that actually, reliably works, and we have made our curricula work for it. We've realised that retrieval practice does make a difference and we've begun to design a curriculum which focuses on what can be learned by that method.

Sure, there are other arguments for teaching Powerful Knowledge - it's supposed to ‘enable students to acquire knowledge that takes them beyond their own experiences’ (Young et al., 2014, p. 7) and for this reason it is often held up as essential for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who we see as needing to be upwardly-mobile socially. Powerful Knowledge is seen to be the answer to closing the gap between the rich and the poor.

Perhaps it isn't even Powerful Knowledge that we're even talking about here, but actually what is known as Declarative Knowledge - facts and information stored in the memory. I'm not sure Powerful Knowledge could be defined so narrowly. Powerful Knowledge is supposed to be more than that.

Whatever terminology we use, the focus on knowledge is potentially narrowing what is taught and how it is taught. And this narrowing is perhaps now coming as a result of the most vaunted method of teaching the knowledge from a knowledge-rich curriculum: retrieval practice. And more specifically, the activity that seems to have become synoymous with retrieval practice: quizzing.

Because retrieval practice works so well, we seem to have searched out the things that best suit the method: the sort of information that can be retrieved and recited e.g. history dates, word definitions, geographic processes, scientific theories and outlines of philosophical concepts, for example.

But is it right to have allowed a certain understanding of the concept of Powerful Knowledge to reduce our curriculum to the identification of exactly which pieces of information we are going to teach, and to the teaching of that information using retrieval practice techniques?

Indeed, possessing Powerful Knowledge, and being able to retrieve it, is supposed to be so much more than rote learning; more than memorising and regurgitating facts. Done right, it should, lead to better understanding and it should improve complex thinking and application skills.

But is an approach to teaching and learning which is satisfied by children who can simply recall information really what's best? The recall of information is not the end of the story. A high score on a (supposedly low stakes) quiz should not mean job done.

Actually, I'd argue, once the facts are memorised, that's when the real teaching and learning begins. Once children know the facts, that's when they can start to use and apply them in various ways. Powerful Knowledge is supposed to allow us to generalise and use what we've learned to think beyond the immediate context.

And don't forget procedural knowledge - how to do things. You can't teach writing, artistic techniques or how to use a tool just by teaching facts. Any time we model something (and this is something we should do a lot in teaching) we are teaching procedural knowledge. This procedural knowledge is separate from 'common sense' knowledge which we gain from everyday life, and therefore lands it more in the realms of Powerful Knowledge. However, the focus on bolstering the curriculum with declarative knowledge has the potential to leave procedural knowledge behind. A balanced approach is needed.

Does your recently-re-written curriculum (all 'i's dotted - intent, implementation and impact) allow the learning to go beyond the retrieval of facts? Or has a child who has learned all the dates on the knowledge organiser and filled in the gaps in the booklet succeeded in all you set out to do? And did that child get the opportunity to do anything else that half term, or did they spend all of their time ensuring they knew all the facts?

If we reverse-engineer the curriculum based on one teaching method which allows one aspect of what might be taught to be taught, then we might not end up with the curriculum we really need.

Those of us involved in curriculum design or review should think carefully about the problems we are trying to solve in order to decide on the criteria we need to set for our curriculum development. We should definitely identify the declarative knowledge we want children to learn - the facts, the information - but we should also be thinking about other kinds of knowledge too.

Things to think about

  • Don't narrow your curriculum down to just the things that can be learned through quizzing. 
  • Think more broadly about how a greater range of retrieval practice techniques can be used to help children learn things from a wider knowledge base than just simple facts and figures. 
  • Ensure that your curriculum really meets the needs of the children in your school and let them be your starting point.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Including Word Etymology On Knowledge Organisers

Knowledge Organisers, Key Fact Sheets, 100% Sheets - whatever you call them - are de rigueur right now, and for good reason: they help both teachers and children with teaching and learning. For teachers, they are a good guide as to what they need to teach (and the act of creating them can be a very clarifying process). For children, it's a one stop shop for what they need to know, and is the starting point for using various methods of retrieval practice to learn the information that their teachers think they need to know.

One of the great realisations (it's more of a blindingly obvious reawakening) of the last few years, is that having a good vocabulary is key to understanding pretty much anything and that we must help children explicitly to develop their vocabulary.

If you don't know what a word means on its own, then how can you tell what it means in a sentence? And if you don't know what a sentence is trying to get across, how can you understand a whole paragraph? And if you can't work out what a paragraph mea... you get the picture: vocabulary is really important.

Often, when teaching a unit of work, in geography, or history say, there is a lot of terminology that is necessary to the explanation, but which itself is complex to explain. As a result, many teachers employing Knowledge Organisers and the like have taken to including key vocabulary too: words which will help children understand and talk about the concepts and facts they are learning.

But developing one's vocabulary isn't always easy. But, as Alex Quigley wrote, 'Etymology is a goldmine of an opportunity (too often missed) for teachers of every subject discipline'. He goes on to say that 'The stories that underpin our language can often illuminate the ideas and meanings we seek to communicate' - sounds good, right? Note the use of that word 'story' - our minds privilege story, and we learn stuff well if it is presented in story form. And what is etymology if it is not the story of a word? A story which can help us learn the meaning of that word.

Not only does learning the etymology of a word help us to understand the one word in question, it also arms us with knowledge which helps us to discover the meaning of other words that share the same root. For example, if children know that the root of the word 'terrain' is the Latin terra meaning 'earth' or 'land', they might be able to discover something of the meaning of the word 'territory', 'terrestrial' or 'terrace'. Further, they might come across the word 'terrarium' and link it to their knowledge of what an aquarium is and come to the understanding that a terrarium is like an aquarium without the water, but with earth in it instead.

Coming back to the Knowledge Organisers: if it contains information you want the children to learn, including word definitions, then why not also include some etymological information which might help the learning to stick as well as provide the basis for future understanding of word meaning?

It's simple enough to do. Here are some examples (click on the images to see them in more detail):



In order to create primary-level information about each word's etymology I usually use a combination of the google dictionary (just google the word + etymology) and etymonline. Using these resources I can usually create a child-friendly version, often opting for the 'deepest' root, usually Germanic, Latin or Greek rather than the various incarnations of the word. Here's an example:



If I were to use this word with a primary child (I probably wouldn't need to), I'd just choose to give the following: from Latin in meaning 'into' and carn- meaning 'flesh'. To get that meaning I also had to click through the link to the page for 'incarnate':



Once that definition were given, we could talk about how 'in flesh' has come to mean 'in human form'. We could also link to Chili Con Carne (meaning 'chili with meat/flesh') and the link to other Latin languages that use carne to mean meat. That's the sort of thing that is much easier to remember because it is a little strange, even though it makes total sense.

Obviously, putting the etymology on the Knowledge Organiser is only step one - what you do with that next is up to you. Certainly, you'd want to begin by teaching more around those words, displaying the words, definitions and etymology in your classroom, playing matching games, having multiple choice quizzes about the word meanings, locating those words in texts, finding other words with the same root words and working out their meanings... there are myriad possibilities.

If vocabulary is the gateway to knowledge learning, and understanding etymology is a path to vocabulary development, then half an hour spent on providing the etymology of your unit of work's key words is probably time well spent - have a go, and I'd love to see some your examples!

For more on teaching vocabulary, see my TES article 'Why Etymology Boosts Spelling And Vocabulary: https://www.tes.com/news/sats-why-etymology-boosts-vocabulary-and-spelling

For No-Quiz Retrieval Practice Techniques, click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/06/no-quiz-retrieval-practice-techniques.html

For my blog post, Using Mnemonics For Retrieval Practice, follow this link: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/07/using-mnemonics-for-retrieval-practice.html

For more information about using Knowledge Organisers in Primary, I've written a short overview and provided links to other educators who have written about their use: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2017/06/using-100-sheets-aka-knowledge.html

Monday, 9 July 2018

Using Mnemonics For Retrieval Practice


What is a mnemonic? Well, according to Wikipedia it is 'is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory.'

To be clear from the outset: an acrostic (such as Naughty Elephants Squirt Water, used to remember the points of the compass) is just one kind of mnemonic. Other kinds of mnemonics are stories, songs and rhymes.

From D.T. Willingham's AFT journal article
'What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?'
In D.T. Willingham's 'What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?' AFT journal article he summarises the three principles of memory (see the box to the left). He says that 'mnemonics work largely (but not exclusively) by using the first two principles... Mnemonics make meaningless material more meaningful, giving you something to think about and a good cue.

He also makes the point that 'learning something by rote memorisation is a great time to get creative.' Mnemonics '...give students ways to make up meaningful relationships. And the more creative or distinctive, the better.'

Many of those within educational circles who are currently promoting retrieval practice and other memory techniques seem to focus heavily on the testing effect. As such, it appears that quizzes have become the most widely used technique when it comes to helping children to remember things. I have already collated a selection of no-quiz retrieval practice techniques but in that blog post I felt my final recommendation of using stories, songs, rhymes and mnemonics needed some further exploration, hence this further blog post.

Image from Wikipedia
We can all testify to the ease in which we are able to recall the lyrics to certain songs, even ones we've not heard for a while. Most likely we will also remember their tunes - sometimes they pop into heads when were are least expecting it. Many of us will still remember MRS GREN/NERG, My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming (Planets) and Richard Of York Gave Battle (In) Vain. Some of us will even have mastered that knuckle thing to help you remember the number of days in each month. Each one of those is an example of how mnemonics help us to remember things - often things we don't even deliberately try to remember.

So, how can we harness these (dare I say it) fun and engaging ways of memorising information in the classroom? Well, first of all we need to be deliberate about it - we have to intentionally include these opportunities, recognising the potential they have to help children in their learning. It will take a bit of effort to search out a decent (I use this word purposefully) song or rhyme that links to your current topic. It won't be easy to put together a story that features the facts you want the children to learn. But, done well, it should be worth the extra effort.

Here a few quick pointers to get you started using mnemonics in your teaching:

Story

Hywel Roberts and Debra Kidd's latest book Unchartered Territories has a fascinating chapter on how story can be used as an aid memoire. It's a great book in general for those looking to inject some creativity into their lessons


It quotes D.T. Willingham: “Stories are psychologically privileged in our minds”. Roberts and Kidd suggest that we should place knowledge content (i.e. facts and figures) into a dilemma-led story which has four components (the 4 Cs of storytelling):

Causality – how events link through consequence (plot)
Complications – aspects of the stor where things aren’t as they seem
Conflict – tension to engage emotions
Characters – because we relate and connect to other humans

There will be very few stories out there that do this already for each area of learning that a teacher might be teaching so there is a lot of work to be done in order to use this technique. Teachers will need to write their own story, or adapt an exisiting one, in order to present the information in this fashion.

Once done, the potential is huge - children could learn the story Talk 4 Writing-style, they could write their own versions, use role play or toys to retell the story, even making some of these into films or animations. All of this could be considered rehearsal, and therefore retrieval practice. If they can remember the story, then they will remember the facts that are embedded in it.

Willingham also outlines another technique which loosely follows the principles of telling a story in order to memorise information:

From D.T. Willingham's AFT journal article 'What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?'
This point alone is worth exploring in much further detail, but for now this will suffice. I do plan to attempt to try out this method in the coming year so will be writing some stories linked to year 5 topics shortly - I will share these, and blog about the process.

Songs and Rhymes

Although some time is required for searching out songs and rhymes, there are often topic-specific examples already out there - many of them on Youtube. The more creative and musically-talented among us might be willing to turn our hand to writing original songs or rhymes (my brother-in-law writes and performs parodies of popular songs to teach physics facts, one of which was recently sung on Radio 1!) but often this level of commitment and skill isn't necessary.

The key here is to choose songs and rhymes wisely. Do they cover the content that we want the children to learn or are we settling for learning whatever the song's current content is? Is the content accurate (e.g. ensure the song is about English grammar and spelling rather than American English grammar and spelling)? Does it reinforce misconceptions? Does it support a good understanding as well as memorisation (Keep Change Flip is a great trick but it doesn't help with conceptual understanding)? Finding and selecting suitable material can sometimes take as long as writing your own!

If you do choose to write your own try using familiar tunes, such as those used in nursery rhymes and popular songs, as a memory cue.

Children could also be asked to write their own songs and rhymes using pre-learned information, although some caution should be exercised here as additional skills will be required - this is not as straightforward as a free recall task (although it could follow a free recall task as well as additional teaching on how to write stories, songs, rhymes or mnemonics).

Expression/Word Mnemonics

These are what we most often think of as being mnemonics. Some of them rhyme, some of them are acronyms, others are acrostics and others of them make associations between something in the to-be-remembered material and an aspect of the material that is hard to remember. Some expression mnemonics make use of more than one of these techniques.

Here are some examples:

Rhyming: Divorced, beheaded, died / Divorced, beheaded, survived
Acrostic: (For the tuning of guitar strings) Every Afternoon Daddy Goes Back East
Acronym: (For coordinating conjunctions) FANBOYS
Associations: stalactites grow from the ceiling; stalagmites from the ground.

Never Eat Shredded Wheat is a rhyming acrostic.

Lists of such mnemonics can be found online such as these ones from Wikipedia, Adducation and Thoughtco. Expression mnemonics can be used to remember tricky spellings (I will never forget the Trunchbull's derision when Nigel spells 'difficulty': "Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs FFI, Mrs C, Mrs U, Mrs LTY. That spells difficulty.") and lists of facts, names or rules. It is worth regularly searching for such mnemonics when planning to teach something new although it might not be too daunting to create your own. There are also acrostic generators available on the internet.

Monday, 11 June 2018

No-Quiz Retrieval Practice Techniques

One common rebuttal of retrieval practice and quizzing is that it doesn't promote real understanding of the content that is being memorised - it is seen by some as rote learning of information that the learner will then find difficult to actually understand with any depth.

But retrieval practice is not about regurgitating facts without any understanding of meaning or context. In fact, retrieval practice should be seen more as a learning strategy - one which does more than just enabling children to recall facts and figures. Dr. Pooja K. Agarwal's Retrieval Practice website outlines the additional benefits of retrieval practice:
"By using retrieval practice as a learning strategy (not an assessment tool!), we exercise and strengthen our memory. Research demonstrates that this improvement in memory and long-term learning is flexible, which: 
• Improves students’ complex thinking and application skills• Improves students’ organization of knowledge• Improves students’ transfer of knowledge to new concepts 
In other words, retrieval practice doesn’t just lead to memorization – it increases understanding. Because students have a better understanding of classroom material by having practiced using this information, students can adapt their knowledge to new situations, novel questions, and related contexts. You can use a variety of question types (fact-based, conceptual, complex or higher order, etc.) to ensure that students are not memorizing, but using information flexibly."
(https://www.retrievalpractice.org/beyond-memory/)
The Deans For Impact guidance 'The Science Of Learning' outlines how this happens:
"Each subject area has some set of facts that, if committed to long-term memory, aids problem-solving by freeing working memory resources and illuminating contexts in which existing knowledge and skills can be applied. The size and content of this set varies by subject matter." 
(p5, https://deansforimpact.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/The_Science_of_Learning.pdf)
By memorising certain facts and pieces of information our minds are freed up to think more deeply - we can use this extra capacity to think about how what we already know (background/prior knowledge) can be applied to a new problem or situation.

Once this is accepted, some teachers still have a hard time accepting quizzing (which works on the basis of the testing effect) as an acceptable vehicle for retrieval practice, particularly for younger children. Although quizzing is supposed to be low stakes there are those whose concern is that it is too formal and not engaging enough for primary-aged children. Many would testify against this way of thinking citing experiences of children who love taking the quizzes. Nevertheless, perhaps there would be nothing wrong with exploring some alternative methods to quizzing so as to provide a wider range of situations that a child might be required to recall the information they have learned.

Before we look at some alternatives to quizzing (no-quiz retrieval practice techniques), here are some principles that should be followed when engaging in retrieval practice:

  • Make it challenging - ensure that it incorporates desirable difficulties ("certain training conditions that are difficult and appear to impede performance during training but that yield greater long-term benefits than their easier training counterparts" - https://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/research/#idd).
  • No grading - any form of grading, such as the teacher collecting in scores, will begin to make the activities feel like they are high stakes which has the potential to make students feel anxious which isn't conducive to remembering.
  • Mistakes are learning's friend - students will learn from their mistakes (as long as feedback is given which highlights their mistakes) and when asked to complete another retrieval practice exercise will be more likely to remember something they previously had got wrong.
  • Feedback must be given - see above; students won't know what they have got wrong or have missed out if feedback is not provided either by a teacher or a fellow student.

So, although quizzing is one popular (and easy) way of ensuring that facts are remembered and recalled, here are some other ways to prompt retrieval of information from the long-term memory. All of these activities could be done by individuals, in pairs or in groups:

Free Recall

Also known as 'brain dump', 'show me what you know' or 'stop and jot', free recall is a learning activity which simply requires students to write down everything they can remember. Giving a specific prompt will make it clear what you expect and imposing a time limit will bring a bit of challenge. Alternatively a given number of points might be required. For more see: https://www.retrievalpractice.org/archive/2017/free-recall

Linked to this is 'Inkshedding': students free-write about a particular topic and then share their writing with other students. Other students might then provide feedback (written or verbal) or continue the writing to form a dialogue.

Megan Smith, in Assessment as Learning: The Role of Retrieval Practice in the Classroom, an Impact journal article, warns that 'for some students, writing out everything they know on a blank sheet of paper may be a daunting task that does not lead to much successful retrieval. To increase success, teachers can implement scaffolded retrieval tasks (read more about them in the article)... With scaffolding, the students can successfully produce the information and work their way up to recalling the information on their own.'

For more information on scaffolding retrieval practice for primary-aged children, see Megan Smith's  How to Create Retrieval Practice Activities for Elementary Students article on the Learning Scientists website.

Retrieve Taking

Instead of asking students to take notes whilst reading, watching or listening, ask them to write down what they remember once they have finished the activity. For more see: https://www.retrievalpractice.org/archive/2018/5/11/retrieve-taking

Think Pair Share

Think Pair Share is a fairly common technique but it can be adapted to ensure that principles of cognitive science are applied: "Have students write down their response, switch papers to add to another student's paper, and then discuss. Students will have a richer discussion after receiving feedback in writing from another student first." The Retrieval Practice website goes on to outline how spacing and interleaving can be used in Think Pair Share. For more see: https://www.retrievalpractice.org/archive/2018/think-pair-share

Two Things

During a lesson, stop and ask students two write down two things based on a specific response. Students then pass their paper to another student who adds one more thing to the paper and passes it back. Alternatively, students can share their two things with a partner or a group in order to gain feedback. Examples of prompts/questions given on the Retrieval Practice website include:"What are two things you learned so far today? What are two things you learned yesterday (or last week)? What are your two takeaways from today? What are two things you'd like to learn more about? What are two ways today's topic relates to previous topics?"

Last Lesson, Last Week, Last Month (or Can You Still?)

This is simply a case of asking students questions about previous learning; it builds on the concept of spaced practice. Questions can be asked verbally with verbal answers required; the questions and answers could also be recorded in writing. If the activity is a written one, a cloze procedure, multiple choice answers or true/false statements could be provided instead of requiring a written answer. For more see: https://theeffortfuleducator.com/2017/12/10/less-is-more/ and https://themillpedagogy.wordpress.com/2018/05/04/interrupting-the-forgetting-last-lesson-last-week-last-month/

Sorting

With an activity like this it is easy to see how knowledge might be used flexibly once it has been remembered. Students are provided with statements, facts, figures and so on, and they are asked to sort them into categories (provided by the teacher). The sorted items can then be checked against a book or with other students. They can also then be used to help form a short written summary of each category. For more see: https://theeffortfuleducator.com/2017/12/10/less-is-more/

Linking

Similar to Sorting, Linking could utilise loop cards, dominoes or Tarsia puzzles to make connections between pieces of information. This could take the more simple form of questions and answers which match up, or facts and figures which are somehow linked.

Stories, Songs, Rhymes and Mnemonics

Well-written stories (read this interesting article about presenting information in stories), songs, rhymes and mnemonics might be memorised and recalled. Although there are plenty of these already out there for a range of subjects, quality is often an issue so they should be chosen with care. These could be recalled verbally or in writing, including as a cloze procedure.

For more on using Mnemonics, read my blog post 'Using Mnemonics for Retrieval Practice'.

Similarly, students could be asked to write their own using pre-learned information, although some caution should be exercised here as additional skills will be required - this is not as straightforward as a free recall task (although it could follow a free recall task as well as additional teaching on how to write stories, songs, rhymes or mnemonics).