Research School Network: Getting to the Root of Retrieval Putting Evidence to Work: Secondary Case Study

Getting to the Root of Retrieval

Putting Evidence to Work: Secondary Case Study

by Great Heights Research School: West Yorkshire
on the

If I think back to my own teacher training and early career, the findings of cognitive science were not a feature of training or discussion, but these findings are now woven through all stages of teacher training. Terms such as retrieval practice are now well known and understood but what does the evidence actually tell us about this area and what are some of the key considerations for implementation?

At a large secondary school of nearly 1500 pupils, we decided to rethink our approach to retrieval practice by revisiting the evidence.

Cog sci image

Like many schools, as we became more familiar with the findings of cognitive science, we introduced retrieval in the form of a Do Now’ activity. As you walked around classrooms at the start of each period, screens would be awash with various types of Do Now tasks and questions but we wanted to ensure our approaches were maximising learning to its fullest effect avoiding surface level compliance and lethal mutations.

We explored the evidence as a leadership team to ensure we had a shared understanding and clarity of purpose. We agreed that the very title Do Now’ wasn’t helpful in harnessing the rationale for this phase of learning and so Activate’ was born.

We questioned the pupil learning experience for our lively learners, what about the procrastinators and those that might be late to lessons? Often they were walking in once the Do Now had been completed so the very pupils that need the most support in ensuring secure prior knowledge, were missing out in this phase of the lesson. This was limiting their ability to access the lesson which later presented with behaviour issues and toilet requests.

This was followed with training for staff, a focus on the nuance and why of retrieval rather than the immediate how’ and what’. We have also spent time with the pupils to explore the purpose of this stage of learning emphasising the importance of participation even when learning is challenging.

Applying the principles of cognitive science is harder than knowing the principles and one does not necessarily follow from the other. Principles do not determine specific teaching and learning strategies or approaches to implementation. Considering how cognitive science principles are implemented in the classroom is critical.

Active ingred retrieval

We made small tweaks to classroom routines, printed copies of Activate tasks can be found in the same location in every lesson providing ease of access for latecomers. We are also integrating our approaches for the explicit teaching of vocabulary within Activate tasks providing teachers with a bank of formats to assess depth of word knowledge beyond recall of definitions. These we are some of the areas where we are tight’ but we also wanted to ensure that the approach was loose’ to allow subject specificity and responsiveness to the phase of learning. 

This work is ongoing but we already seeing significant developments in this area with staff and pupils united around a shared understanding of the evidence. As leaders, we are also developing ways of working that integrates a thoroughness of reviewing research evidence alongside the need for working at pace.

More from the Great Heights Research School: West Yorkshire

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more