In recent years retrieval practice (combined with spaced practice) has completely changed my teaching practice – for the better. I have seen many of the benefits of Retrieval Practice first hand, which go far beyond the ability to recall information from long term memory. I have fully embraced the research and this evidence-informed strategy, as have many others around the world. However, there are still some classroom teachers and students that are quite sceptical and wary about the hype surrounding retrieval practice.
It can be argued that Dual Coding is a teaching and learning strategy that teachers have been using for years and years. Yet the term and the discussion around this approach has only become widespread in recent years (despite the work of Allan Paivio with his dual coding theory dating back to 1971 and he states that dual coding has its roots in the practical use of imagery as a memory aid 2500 years ago!). There are now lots of videos, blog posts, podcasts and presentations shared by educators about how dual coding can be used effectively in the classroom.
The exam season is fast approaching and this can often be a time of stress, anxiety and pressure for students and teachers alike. I have taught GCSE and A Level throughout my career and whilst some aspects have become much easier, for example in the first few years of teaching I would have fears that I wouldn’t teach all of the required content in time … but I always managed to with time to spare. Careful planning, confidence and experience can help teachers with these worries but I like many other experienced teachers are teaching new exam specifications for the first time. This has brought new challenges such as being the first year to sit the new exams, meaning limited examples of past papers and a lack of clear grade boundaries.
I didn’t fully engage with educational research at the start of my career but in recent years it has transformed my teaching practice and further built my confidence in the classroom. As a trainee teacher I was told that educational research informed us about VAK learning styles and the idea of the learning pyramid! This so-called research is now better known by many in education as edu-myths, theories that have been debunked because they are not supported by the science and research as initially claimed. This post isn’t about debunking myths but if that is something you are interested in then I can highly recommend the work of Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul Kirschner and visiting the popular blog by US educator Blake Harvard.
I discovered a quote by Jennifer Gonzalez where she interviewed Cognitive Scientist Pooja Agarwal “Retrieval practice: The most powerful learning strategy you’re not using” (you can listen to the podcast interview here) and this resonated with me because it wasn’t a strategy I was using for many years during my teaching career. Teachers often have so much content to get through that little time can be spent revisiting prior learning and subject content previously covered – I was guilty of this. Each lesson or week I would work my way through delivering new content on the specification or scheme of work and return to recall knowledge and understanding at a much later date. On reflection, it seems obvious that revisiting a topic 12 months later (or longer!) in the classroom just before the exam won’t be as effective as regular recall and retrieval.
The comic strip has often been a popular go-to resource and activity for teachers. They can provide an overview of events, tell a story and so on. However, the comic strip task can also be an activity that is a time waster and not support learning – wasting precious lesson time and simply keeping learners busy which of course is not good. The issues with the comic strip are that pupils can spend too much time on the illustrations and colouring rather than focusing on the captions and information, although many pupils can effectively communicate their understanding and knowledge through illustrations too. When using technology to create comic strips pupils can again place the focus on the layout, design and other features rather than the actual content. Dual coding ( combining written information with visuals to support) has become a widely recognised as an effective strategy to support learning and comic strips are a great example of this. I do believe that with guidance, clearly explained success criteria and a modelled example the comic strip can work very well in the classroom. You can watch an excellent video explanation of dual coding by the learning scientists here.
I am delighted to be featuring a guest blog post by Carmel Bones. Carmel is a former History teacher, Head of Department, Teacher trainer, AST and she is now an education consultant providing CPD for teachers across Europe. Carmel is also a well-known author amongst the History educational community and Fellow of the Historical Association. It was at TMHistoryIcons 2017 where I first heard Carmel share the idea of summarising pyramids. In a short amount of time Carmel managed to explain the resource with such enthusiasm and show various examples. I think this is a great idea and resource for the classroom. Carmel has kindly agreed to explain summarising pyramids in more depth. You can read her post below:
Adding captions, speech and thought bubbles can be done digitally with ease and simplicity. Although this can be achieved by Word, Power point, Keynote etc the quickest method in my opinion is using the app Balloon Stickies Plus. This great app is also FREE! The app allows the user to insert speech and thought bubbles and captions onto images very quickly (there is another free app called Bubble but most of the features are locked unless you are willing to pay). Balloon Stickies Plus app also allows the user to convert spoken word through recording into text – this has a lot of potential in the classroom for SEND and/or EAL pupils. Here I share some examples of how I have used the app with my pupils.
QR (quick response) codes are not new and certainly not just for the classroom but they have so much potential for teaching and learning – I think they are great! There are a wide range of websites and apps to create and read/scan QR codes, I would recommend the app QR Reader. If you haven’t created QR codes before they are very easy to do so, I was surprised by how straightforward and quick it was! If you haven’t tried QR codes in your classroom then it is worth trying, because again its very simple yet effective so here is another blog with some advice to get you started.
Learning grids are a fantastic resource that can be used across different subjects and with different year groups/key stages. If you are not familiar with this resource it is simple; it is a grid consisting of 36 boxes ( 6 vertical and 6 horizontal). Dice are required – dice can be bought cheaply online or at stores such as Poundland or Tiger. Pupils will roll the dice twice – to give them a number they can use for the horizontal and vertical line (for example 2 across and 4 down). I have used learning grids in a variety of ways; to re-cap previous learning, support literacy, as a plenary and much more! The idea of a linking learning grid is more complex and challenging.