What I do…Recall

In this series of blog posts I will write about the Way I Do things in my classroom. The topics will cover a broad range of areas such as planning/preparation, marking/feedback, writing notes, questioning, setting homework and managing behaviour.

In this first of this collection, I will look at something I have fundamentally changed in my teaching over the last couple of years. I will be exploring how I enable my students to remember what they have learned? Studied? Been taught?

(For more about what I have changed I have written a post about what I Used To Think here.)

This change has been an almost complete U-turn from the way I used to do things.

Here WAS a typical teaching cycle of mine:

  1. Teach a unit of work
  2. Assess students at the end of the unit
  3. Give feedback
  4. Start another unit of work

This method of teaching is typically known as ‘blocking‘. Typically, lots of universities prefer this method of teaching as they can’t assume the history of the teaching their students have received. So the provide intense blocks of teaching and then assessment at the end. Occasionally at a mid point of the block too.

I used to do this. I used to look forward to the first lesson back after a holiday/half term as I knew I would not need to plan any specific lesson, just provide a test/mock/assessment. The students would work in silence. I could catch up on my emails! The next lesson would be some peer/self assessment, which would save me some time in marking too. This would give me a week or so, to get back into the swing of things!

A lazy teacher? Care free?

However, the more I have been learning about learning, the more I have realised, this is not the best way to do things.

So I have instilled the following methods of working, which I think can be best described by these visuals by David Didau found here.

I found them when searching for the term ‘interleaving.’ As weaving in many different topics makes for a much stronger learning bond than blocking. Expecting recall from a variety of topics has helped my students remember key concepts longer. It also combines with the shift towards a completely linear examination system too. Which they will need to remember information first taught to them up to two years prior to their GCSE for example.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 09.40.11

This graph demonstrates that as the title states that learning can be lost as quickly as it is gained. We attempt to remind our students of what they have learnt by having starters/bell work/DNA activities. But, I do not think we do it well enough.

I have a system where I ask my students 10 recall questions, based on anything we have learnt since the start of the course. They must answer the questions in the back of their books, and if they are unsure about the answer, they must write the question down and find out in their own time. (I mark/check this part of their book.) Often, I do not give the answers, I remind students that the answers can be found in their books, on the class blog, via a peer or through a discussion with me. This then reminds students of the importance of attending lessons, writing good class notes and doing their homework. As any lesson time lost means they will be behind. I am trying to get students to realise, if they miss a lesson, it is their responsibility to catch up. (I have provided a series of ways I help with this, click here to read more.)

The graph below demonstrates that the time between when something is first learned and retained is fairly short unless reviewed. Or recalled as I call it.

At the start of every lesson I ask students to open their books and read a few pages. They should open their book on any page, as every page is relevant. I remind them, continually to make flash cards, revision pages/notes. I try not to call them ‘revision’ anything, I say these are topics/areas that you should be learning, knowing, not trying to remember only.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 09.40.25

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 09.40.33

My units of work used to look like the above. As I am sure lots of ours did. However, I prefer the way my lessons are taught now. They are more like the image below.

This method takes more planning, takes more preparation, takes more thinking, it is harder for a non-specialist to deliver. As they can’t simply be ‘one page ahead’ from the students. However, the gains are much stronger. Students are reminded consistently, continually and routinely that they are expected to revise, recall and refresh their knowledge on topic areas we have learnt since the start of the course. As they will be examined on the whole course at the end.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 09.40.41

Now, when I set an end of unit test, I do not say when the test will be. They know there will be one as the unit has finished. They will be asked to complete the test in between another topic. The feedback for the test will not be immediate. I will continue to teach a fresh topic in between feedback. I will only praise effort not attainment and I mark using this Aspirational Marking method.

One small proviso… Do not let the students get confused! The aim is not to jumble them up. It is not to spring things on them or to catch them out. The aim is to get them to develop their recall.

Part 2 will be about Way I Do… Behaviour Management




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