Working memory, retrieval, recall, long term memory, working memory, cognitive load. These are all huge buzz words in education at the moment (or perhaps just in the bubble of education we occupy on Twitter), and so they should be. They’re nothing complicated (on the surface) admittedly. Teach kids in little steps, don’t teach too much at once and make sure you revisit things regularly. There are much better sources than me to scrub up on it through. Daniel Willingham’s ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ is the ultimate go to source, and for more succinct whilst equally brilliant breakdowns, you can’t beat Clare Sealy’s work on it at https://primarytimery.com/ (particularly – https://primarytimery.com/2018/06/10/cognitive-load-a-case-study/)
So what are the implications for the every day classroom? Well, simply, make kids revisit stuff loads and they’ll remember it more, and be able to use it to learn more new stuff. Imagine if every child in your class confidently and quickly knew every multiplication and division fact of the times tables to 12. Instantly, the teaching of fractions, area, ratio and algebra, to name but a few, just became ten times easier. As did the learning of them for pupils. Now imagine you are a child, and you’re trying to find fractions of amounts, but you don’t know what 64 divided by 8 is. Or you’re trying to classify an organism, but you can’t remember the difference between mammals, reptiles and amphibians. You’re trying to identify some shapes, but it’s been a year since you did 3D shapes and as far as you remember, a cone is just something you get ice cream in.
So how do we help them remember more? The constant revisiting is crucial. Low stakes, high frequency quizzing/testing/gaming all the time to make children remember stuff. Testing is not a dirty word, despite the overwhelming teacher response to hearing it being to go ‘nooo SATs, bad, THE GOVERNMENT’, testing is actually great for helping kids remember stuff and for us figuring out what they can’t remember so that we can teach it again. Rosenshine cites daily review as pivotal and I start most of, if not all of my lessons with review and recall (you can read about Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction more eloquently via Tom Sherrington here: https://teacherhead.com/2018/06/10/exploring-barak-rosenshines-seminal-principles-of-instruction-why-it-is-the-must-read-for-all-teachers/) For an example, just look at Times Table Rockstars. We use this in my class every day and if I go straight onto our class Seesaw account these are the sorts of scores I can pick off instantly.
There’s no massive magic from me there. Just daily practice. Times Table Rockstars is, in essence, a test. We just don’t sit the children on separate desks in a quiet hall with little more than a pencil and a glare whilst they do it.
Of course, it’s not the actual testing that makes children remember this stuff more. It’s the strengthening of the memory. We all know our email address password like muscle memory because we use it all the time, but if you asked me to find some data I had on my Y6 cohort in 2016, it might take me a while to find it because I’m not exactly sure where I put the file. If I used the file all the time I’d be fine: let’s get kids using their files all the time!
I thought for the rest of the blog I’d just detail some other things you can do to aid recall, making sure it’s effective and, dare I say fun (testing, fun, I know…) to aid learning in the classroom. One thing to say is that these can be used for any subject. Literally any: but for foundation and science, a knowledge organiser can be a great tool for aiding lots of these. I wrote about these here (https://theteachingbooth.wordpress.com/2018/06/19/remember-remember-the-hang-on-when-was-world-war-two-sir/) and I’ll put a picture of a Titanic one I used, below.
Short quizzes of four or five questions, which require a simple answer. Children can self mark using their knowledge organiser. You can circulate the room and see what’s going on. Children can check together. Easy, really quick and no fuss/stress/pressure.
We use a ‘Fast Four’ in Maths across school, though this evolves in Y6 and I personally use a Fast Ten. This is the first five mins of every maths lesson (followed by marking and then some counting/chanting/defining etc), with the whole basic skills session taking about 15 mins pre-lesson. Truly, I believe this type of testing led to every child in our Y6 class scoring over 30 on last year’s end of KS2 arithmetic test. Repetition works!
You can do this quite easily through apps like Seesaw too, where it’s easy and quick to challenge for feedback, and for homework, such as below.
Multiple Choice Quizzing
Mix up the regular quizzing above, as in these, children are given choices which they can underline, highlight, circle etc. The options should all be near answers that could ‘catch children out’ and avoid it being too easy.
Who was the captain of the RMS Titanic?
Who was the captain of the RMS Titanic?
The bad example is a bad example, not only because two of the people had nothing to do with the Titanic, but because children with a poor historic understand, who had previously learned about, for example, Winston Churchill, may walk away from the question with the misunderstanding that he has everything to do with every bit of history.
Fill In The Gaps
Children are given a section of their knowledge organiser, with information missing. They must fill in the gaps.
Pretty self explanatory, quick and easy. Some children will finish this well early and my advice is to get them to try and create their own quiz in this style, initially with the use of the KO, and perhaps later without (then checking with their KO that their quiz is accurate).
Children are given key parts of their knowledge organisers, for example, a list of dates, and must match them to the corresponding event. It could be a list of significant people and what they are famous for. Again, this is easily extended with children making their own quiz if they finish (though these activities are designed to last a couple of minutes).
Create flash cards of key vocabulary/people/dates. Children face the pile of cards face down as a table or a pair and then in turn they turn one upwards onto their forehead without looking at it. Other children must describe what is on the card without saying any of the words on the card. This is my FAVOURITE one at the minute and we use it all the time. It’s so good for circulating the room and honing down definitions and ironing out misconceptions. Take the one below, for example.
As I circulated the other day, I heard someone say to the girl holding this card ‘it’s what you get when you divide something by 2’. Now, the girl was easily able to guess that this was ‘half’, but I wasn’t satisfied enough that we truly knew the definition of half, so at the end of the game I addressed that definition initially asking ‘what’s 16 divided by 2’ and ‘what’s 40 divided by 2’, and pointing out the explicit difference. Whilst the definition initially given was ‘ok’, I pointed out that as a sound definition it was only about 15% satisfactory (an arbitrary number I’ll give you, but I was on a roll). Five minutes of hashing it out got us to ‘Half is what you get when you split something into two equal parts. If you were finding half a number then half is the quotient after you have divided the dividend by two. Half can also be a verb meaning to divide by two’. Next time we played I honed in on the half card and was hearing much more solid explanations.
Quiz, Quiz Trade
Create multiple cards (enough for the class) which each have a question and the corresponding answer on. Children circulate the room pairing up with the nearest person to them who does not currently have a partner. Children ask each other their question, coaching their partner (or, in some circumstances just telling them) to get the answer. When both children have given the correct answer, they swap cards and begin to move around the room again. It doesn’t matter if they get repeat cards: overlearning is good. This is great for so many things: below you can see children in Year 6 using it to practise their spellings.
Just A Minute
Children get one minute to stand and vocally recall as many facts about the topic as they can. Other children in the room should count how many facts the chosen child can recall, to ensure they are engaged. You can also do this as partnered work, where the first partner shares and the second partner counts; the children would then switch roles. Children should be strict with their counting of facts and not accept anything with an inaccuracy. There’s something really motivating about this one. I recall being observed in history last year and a girl absolutely punching the air because she managed to recall 23 key facts about the Titanic, in one minute, in front of the head, which was her record. She then, later in the class, wrote an extremely eloquent and well-thought-out response to the question ‘Do you believe Edward Smith was most at fault for the sinking of the RMS Titanic?’, where she wasn’t bogged down in remembering who he was, or who any of the other main players involved were, or what the other causes might have been. All the key information was in her head ready to go. You can see a video example of ‘just a minute’ below.
Children get four minutes to write down as much as they can remember from their knowledge organiser/about the topic. After the four minutes they get one to two minutes to check and correct their writing using their knowledge organiser, and to count how many facts they could recall. This is a great one for circulating, and also for getting children to read out their writing and get other children to check it. You can do a cheeky bit of grammar correcting whilst you circulate too (though not too much or you’ll take the focus off the task).
This one requires a bit more setting up and also requires the use of iPads. You create a multiple choice quiz on the Kahoot programme, children log in through Safari, using a code provided and then get a set amount of time (decided by you) to answer each question. Children get points for speed and the programme automatically ranks them.
Mark My Test
Give children five questions you might give them in a regular quiz, but give them your ‘answers’ as well. This should be a mix of right and wrong answers. Children get a few minutes to mark and correct your answers. Usable for so many different things. There’s a maths example below.
Children get a bingo card with key words/people/dates etc on them. The teacher reads out the definition, the person’s relevance or the event etc and children mark off their card as they hear ones that are on there. This one can take a while longer to prepare, so bear that in mind.
Write The Question
Children get five pieces of vocabulary or key persons or dates etc, and they have to write a corresponding question for which the fact could be an answer to.
You give children: Stanley Lord
Children could write: Who was the captain of the SS Californian?
Give children something like a blank map or diagram and ask them to accurately label it in a few minutes. They can self check by using knowledge organisers or a fully labelled version displayed on the board. Children could also be given a series of events and have to order them chronologically. After a few weeks of labelling a diagram of the heart regularly, you can see the type of diagram produced by children in their books below.
Weighted Oracy Responses
Children are given a question, with a list of vocabulary that could be part of their response. More complex vocabulary is given more points. Children are given silent thinking time and then give their answer to a partner, with both children calculating how many points they got. Children return to silent thinking time and then repeat the process, seeing if they can improve their answer. This was one someone sent me on Twitter and despite my best efforts I can’t find their tweet to thank them, so if they’re reading this – THANK YOU (and please let me know so I can credit you).