Learning From The Learning Scientists

27 November 2017

learning scientistsOn Friday Andy Tharby and Chris Runeckles from The Durrington Research School, led a session at our school INSET day.  They were discussing the work of The Learning Scientists who are a group of cognitive psychological scientists, based in the USA, who focus on the science of learning.  In particular, they focus on six effective study and teaching strategies that are supported by research evidence.

This is a fantastic example of ‘research mobilisation’ i.e. bringing the research evidence to the classroom so that it has an impact on student learning.  We have been using the strategies they suggest explicitly with staff and students for a couple of years here at Durrington.  This was an opportunity for Chris and Andy to focus on some of the misconceptions around each of these strategies and also to discuss how they can be implemented in a pragmatic way by teachers and students.

Rather than overload teachers, here a few simple things they can put in place to bring these strategies into their classroom practice.

Retrieval Practice

What it is:

  • Retrieving something from memory (often with the help of a cue).
  • Effort to retrieve information strengthens memory (desirable difficulty).

What is isn’t:

  • Re-studying notes/revision guides.
  • Asking students to retrieve something they have not already been taught!

How teachers can use it:

  • Daily and weekly quizzes/retrieval tasks.

How students can use it:

  • Flash cards.
  • Mind-mapping from memory.
  • Completing practice papers without notes.

Spaced Practice

What it is:

  • Returning to topics previously studied with increasing gaps.
  • Revision being chunked and spaced.

What it isn’t:

  • Mixing topics up together.
  • Returning to something done at the start of the lesson at the end of the lesson.

How teachers can use it:

  • Pause lessons – taking a lesson out of the scheme of work to go back over material previously taught.

How students can use it:

  • Two hours study on Sunday becomes 30 minutes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Interleaving

What it is:

  • Studying/revising different topics in the same study session.

What it isn’t:

  • Spacing.
  • Moving on to new material before mastery – a common mistake!
  • Something enjoyable or intuitive!

How teachers can use it:

  • Cumulative testing – e.g. mixing up questions from topics, during lessons but also in homeworks.

How students can use it:

  • Mix together flash cards, so each pile contains questions from different topics.

Elaboration

What it is:

  • Deepening understanding through questioning.
  • Interrogating answers.
  • Making connections between ideas.

What it isn’t:

  • Writing more.
  • Students teaching themselves new knowledge.

How teachers can use it:

  • Making sure that the reward for a great answer is another difficult question.
  • Not accepting superficial answers, but challenging them with further questions.
  • Creating a knowledge organiser that connects the same piece of knowledge to several concepts.
  • Targeting higher ability students with elaboration questions.

How students can use it:

  • Creating a concept map.
  • Asking themselves or a study partner “why is that answer right?” during a recall quiz.

Concrete examples

What it is:

  • Finding specific examples to understand abstract ideas e.g. when discussing ‘scarcity’ in a business lesson, using the example of trying to find a seat on a busy train!

What it isn’t:

  • Having to make up ideas to exemplify something.

How teachers can use it:

  • Using analogies in your teaching to explain difficult ideas.
  • Explicit teaching of key examples.

How students can use it:

  • Identifying concrete examples when revising.

Dual Coding

What it is:

  • Combining words and visuals.
  • Converting information into different formats.

What it isn’t:

  • Dependant on artistic skill.
  • Limited to one style.

How teachers can use it:

  • Case study diagrams – using diagrams to summarise large amounts of information.  Great example of this here.
  • Constructing and using diagrams to explain complex ideas.

How students can use it:

  • Creating cartoon strips to explain complex stories/events.
  • Turning text into flow diagrams.
  • Creating mindmaps.
  • Creating their own timelines.

learning scientistsVisit ‘The Learning Scientists’ website for more information about their work in this area.  The site also contains a wealth of resources on this six strategies including posters, videos and powerpoint presentations – all of which are free.

If you are interested in finding out more about how you can use ideas like this from cognitive science, to inform and develop your teaching and curriculum planning, you might be interested in our ‘Improving memory for success in terminal GCSE courses’ training programme – details and booking information here.

You can also email us with enquiries regarding leading INSET in your school.

flyer memory

 

Posted on 27 November 2017
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