Reflections on day two of “improving memory for success in terminal GCSE courses”

12 March 2018

Author: Chris Runeckles

On Thursday last week teachers from south coast schools met again at the Durrington Research School to further their discussions on how we can improve memory in order to improve students’ performance in terminal exams.

The lessons from cognitive science on how memory works are having an increasingly transformative effect on teachers’ classroom practice across the country.  In ever-increasing numbers, schools are tapping into the benefits of deepening our understanding of memory for supporting teachers’ ability to deliver content-rich courses.  Durrington is one of several research schools currently providing training in this area and my colleague in delivering our course, Andy Tharby, is part of a working group that is in the process of producing what will be some excellent resources in this area.

Memory day 2 new

We started the day attempting to practice what we were preaching by giving delegates a retrieval practice quiz based on what we had covered on day one.  The quiz is shown below (answers on request!).

  1. How could you describe long-term memory?
  2. How could you describe working memory?
  3. Give two limitations of working memory.
  4. How did Benjamin Franklin develop his writing ability?
  5. How is extraneous cognitive load damaging to learning?
  6. Why is prior knowledge important to learning?
  7. What is the difference between learning and performance?
  8. What is the better model for learning: input, test, input, test, input, test or input, test, test, test?
  9. What are the six Learning Scientist principles for effective learning?
  10. Which of these principles has the strongest evidence of effectiveness?

This was useful in two ways; firstly, in terms of the retrieval practice that we know is so important, but also to give delegates a chance to switch perspective to the position of the student.  Furthermore, it allowed us to set the one of the main objectives of the day, which was to drill further into the subtleties of retrieval practice and iron out any misconceptions they might remain.  While memory strategies are multi-faceted, the strongest evidence in terms of effectiveness lies with retrieval practice and spaced practice, so while day one gave the overview of memory, day two narrowed the focus on to these two lynchpin strategies.

Delegates then spent some time reviewing their progress so far with the interventions that had been implemented since our previous meeting.  Some common and consistent problems emerged from this, with the most universal being taking staff and students with us and convincing them that these strategies are not simply another educational gimmick.  Andy then developed this theme but sharing his work on the most common myths that surround memory.  The detail of which you will find on his excellent blog here.

The second session of the day was largely didactic, with delegates hearing about further theory and research on memory.  For reference the papers discussed were:

Roediger, Putnam and Smith (2011) Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice

Hartwig and Dunlosky (2011) Study Strategies of College Students: Are Self-testing and Scheduling Related to Achievement?

Kornell and Bjork (2008) Optimising Self-regulated Study: The Benefits – and Costs – of Dropping Flashcards

As well as these papers we also (via the wonder of Youtube) heard directly from Professor Bjork who is a leading researcher in this field and whose work can be found here.

While the list below should come with the health warning that some of the studies involved were largely done on American college students, some of the key takeaways from this section of the day were:

  1. The testing effect: retrieval aids later retention
  2. Testing can facilitate retrieval of material that was not tested
  3. Testing provides feedback to instructors
  4. Frequent testing encourages students to study
  5. Students are unlikely to use a particular strategy purely on the advice of a teacher
  6. Students enjoy re-reading more than testing
  7. There is a correlation between high attainment and self-testing
  8. There is a correlation between high attainment and spaced practice
  9. When using flashcards it is better to retain the cards even after getting the answers correct

A consistent message delegates had given us from day one was that student motivation was a key barrier to successful implementation of the strategies we were propounding.  Therefore, we had a pause from memory and attempted to address this trickiest of hurdles.  While we could not give a conclusive solution we discussed the differing types of motivation as shown below:

  1. Amotivation – I don’t run because I can’t run (and I don’t need to run because I cycle instead).
  2. External regulation  – I run because I get a trophy and a track jacket for the activity. (Or my teacher will punish me for not doing it.)
  3. Introjected regulation – I run (or keep running) because I want people to keep thinking I am a good runner.
  4. Identification – I run because I know running is good for me.
  5. Integrated regulation – I run because I am a runner – it’s part of who I am.
  6. Intrinsic regulation – I enjoy running; it makes me feel good.

While we would all love our students to be intrinsically motivated, we accepted that the aim should be to move them from where they often are (external regulation) towards where we can realistically expect to get them (integrated regulation).  Accepting we could not give absolute clarity on how to do this, the best advice we knew was:self con

Therefore, finding ways to help students be successful in our subjects was the best way to motivate them, over and above any external intervention intended to build general confidence.

The final section of the day was handed over to delegates to decide how they would adapt their implementation based on the additional input of the day.  Here we made substantial use of the recently published EEF implementation guide, which is summarised in a blog you can find here.  This is an excellent tool for any school leader at any level thinking about an intervention.  Among the key pieces of information that elicited discussion, was that most large-scale interventions should be seen as a 2-4 year process.

Our next training day in the summer we be our last and will be an opportunity to evaluate the impact of the work done this year.

Posted on 12 March 2018
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