More on memory.. Making sure that they know what I want them to know…

Further to Kevin’s last post on memory, I have been thinking more about this.

You just need to google image search Knowledge Organiser to know that this is popular, but let me start by saying that nothing in this blog is new.  Those of you that remember Mrs Nicholls, will remember that she had loved key word lists.  Those of you that remember Abbi’s presentation last year on memory will know the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve and the need for spacing learning; it is something that we have talked a lot about. As a result, I have spent some time thinking about it and have read  Why don’t students like school – Daniel Willingham and Make it Stick – Brown and Roediger) This has now begun to affect my teaching; having always been been taken with the idea of constructivism (see my blog on Style over substance) I have focused hard on making learning meaningful for students. Yet, whilst I still maintain that this is helpful – students need something to link their new knowledge to, I am now far more focused on knowledge. This is partly inspired by Daniel Willingham ‘memory is the residue of thought’, and the understanding that the new syllabus for GCSE and A Level are going to include much more stuff to learn, I have to make sure that my students are ready for this.  So, I am making a slight change in pedagogy:

  1. I make sure that I know what I want the students to know. (I know that sounds silly, but sometimes I can get carried away with doing the fun stuff!)
  2. I make sure that they think hard about what I want them to know
  3. I make sure that I know that they know what I want them to know.

We have, for a while, been focused on memory at school and I have been focusing on cue cards.  My GCSE Year 11 group have hundreds of them that they have created since the beginning of Year 10 and they know that they need to use them to revise.  They have cue cards for Bible Verses and key words of all the topics.  However, I wonder if my students spend more time making the cue cards rather than using them, some of them lose the cards AND the quality of the cue card is dependent on the maker.   So, I have taken some inspiration from some of the people I follow on Twitter and have created knowledge organisers* for each of the topics that I teach for the exam (I do 5, AE does the others).  This is not to replace the cue cards or mindmaps, or past papers, but to supplement them.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 19.00.39

Each Knowledge Organiser is a one page summary of the very minimum that they need to know.  Obviously, some will know far more than this, but it does mean that every student will have the basic definitions and knowledge to build upon. I plan to use these in my revision lessons over the coming weeks. The one above has a list of all the key words for the unit, Bible verses and key information that they must know.  It also has a list of what the specifications says that they must know.  I have numbered each of the definitions.  So, I can ask the students to cover the word, and then quiz them on the definition or vice versa.  I can ask them to cover the Bible Verse and quiz them on those and so on.  I can set them learning homework and then we can then focus in class on exam technique and applying the knowledge that they are learning at home.

*Check these out if you haven’t heard of knowledge organisers before; they write much more coherently than I! @joe_kirby Joe Kirby Knowledge Organisers and @Jamestheo Knowledge Organisers – James Theobald.

If these are helpful to my current GCSE group, I plan to create these for our new GCSE schemes of work before I start teaching them… Does anyone else do anything similar? I would be interested to know?