Research School Network: Memory strategies you can try today Dr Niki Kaiser, Network Research Lead at Norwich Research School


Memory strategies you can try today

Dr Niki Kaiser, Network Research Lead at Norwich Research School

by Norwich Research School
on the

We have previously explored the role of memory and meaning in learning. But what does this look like in practice? How can we support memory and retention in the classroom? How can we help pupils to make links, and build meaning from what they’ve learned?

Here are three ideas from some popular educational books:

1) Picture prompt
Kate Jones (Retrieval Practice: Research and Resources for Every Classroom)

What it is: show a picture to a class, and ask pupils to recall information linked to the image. 

How it works: the image provides retrieval support, but pupils have to work to recall relevant information.

Watch out for: make sure pupils are recalling relevant information, not just describing what they see.

Why it’s worth trying: this can be implemented in a number of ways and can be a spoken or written exercise. Students don’t need to be able to read or write, so you could try it with younger pupils, too. 

Bonus points! It encourages pupils to elaborate on their ideas: you can ask them why they’ve made a particular connection and how things are linked. This takes them beyond simple factual recall.

2) Learning by summarising
Zoe and Mark Enser (Fiorella and Mayer’s Generative Learning in Action)

What it is: summarising learning to support comprehension. You can produce longer summaries at the end of a learning sequence, or shorter ones interspersed throughout. Summaries can be written or spoken.

How it works: summarising requires pupils to collate and reorganise the main points from their learning, encouraging them to engage with it in a generative way. 

Watch out for: this is less effective for material that has already been condensed and synthesised, for example diagrams and tables in a science textbook.

Why it’s worth trying: summarisation has been shown to boost learning and retention, as it requires pupils to engage with the meaning of the material, and make links and associations between things they already know. 

Bonus points! You could make sure some summary work is carried out without referring to notes or books, to ensure pupils are really paying attention to the information they’re summarising, and making connections.

3) Peer-supported retrieval
Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli (Teaching Walkthrus)

What it is: pupils prompt each other to recall information and answer questions. They then quiz each other in pairs, swapping roles halfway through, taking on the roles of both quizzer and quizzee. Afterwards, the pairs discuss common errors, difficulties and gaps in knowledge.

How it works: this helps pupils retrieve knowledge, but also encourages them to give each other active feedback, and prompts them to elaborate on what they know.

Watch out for: manage the allocation of pairings, so that less confident pupils aren’t dominated by more confident pupils.

Why it’s worth trying: encourages dialogue and peer challenge. 

Bonus points! Pupils themselves can promote formative assessment, and suggest material that needs more examples, or even reteaching.

It’s important to remember that knowing the what’ is not in itself sufficient. Even the best strategies can become mere box-checking exercises, if you’re not sure exactly why you’re doing them. Understanding the research behind teaching approaches is important.

It’s also crucial that we think about how teaching approaches will be sustained over time. Any teacher that has been teaching for more than a few years will probably have experienced being told to try some shiny new approach, only to find it’s been quietly scrapped some time later.

That’s why our professional development courses are delivered via a series of sessions, delivered over a few months. They give teachers the chance to explore the evidence behind approaches, reflect on their practice, and think about how they will implement practices, so they lead to sustained change.

Memory Friendly Teaching begins on 14 January and you can sign up to it here.

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