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Research School Network: Powerful Teaching by Pooja K. Agarwal and Patrice M. Bain Powerful Teaching couldn’t come at a better time says ELE, Hydeh Fayaz

Powerful Teaching by Pooja K. Agarwal and Patrice M. Bain

Powerful Teaching couldn’t come at a better time says ELE, Hydeh Fayaz

by St. Matthew's Research School
on the

Powerful Teaching couldn’t come at a better time…

The vibrant yellow cover of Powerful Teaching is an indicator for how electrifying the contents within it are. Throughout this well organized, accessible and reassuring read, Patrice Bain and Pooja A. Agarwal provide readers with case studies, research findings and anecdotal evidence so the reader understands how to ensure that what our children learn today is remembered tomorrow, the following week, and for the years to come.

Being back in the classroom is a breath of fresh air for teachers up and down the country and it goes without saying that we want to make the transition as smooth as possible. The EEF document: Guide to Supporting School Planning: A Tiered Approach, 2020 – 21[1]’ names quality first teaching as the most important lever schools have to improve their outcomes for all pupils.’ Powerful Teaching is, therefore, an invaluable book which will provide practitioners with the confidence to tackle retrieval practice, spacing and interleaving and metacognition with proven strategies to use in any classroom the following day.

The Three Stages of Learning

The book begins with a reminder of the three stages of learning:

1. Encoding – how information gets in
2. Storage – when information sticks
3. Retrieval – getting information out

When learning is easy, it is not a good indicator of whether a pupil will remember it. We know this to be the case. As teachers, how often do we say we did this yesterday!’, whilst our pupils stare back like deer in the headlights. So what is it about a learning point, or objective, which makes it memorable? I’m reminded of Daniel Willingham’s assertion: Memory is the residue thought.’[2] Knowing something at the point of learning requires the pupils to be thinking about it. Remembering it, however – well, that requires the Power Tools.

What are the Power Tools?

Power Tool #1: Retrieval practice

Does retrieval practice truly have an impact on our pupils remembering knowledge and skills? Bain and Agarwal answer with a resounding yes!’

Doug Lemov defines retrieval practice as intentional’ and comments that the desirable difficulty of our brain forgetting is needed for effective retrieval practice, as we have to work harder to remember. [3]

It’s not only the remember and understand’ tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy that can be accessed through retrieval practice. A mix of basic concept questions and higher-order questions during retrieval practice’ can ensure that our children are exposed to the Higher Order Thinking that we so desire!

Since reading Powerful Teaching’ I have thought about the over-arching themes of the primary curriculum that I want my students to remember and drilled down into the aspects I want my children to be fluent in. This truly enables that in low stakes, high challenge opportunities, the knowledge I want is being transferred to my pupils’ long term memory. [4]

Power Tool #2: Spacing

Spacing of the retrieval practice means managing how often you quiz the children on specific knowledge taught (although we have a tendency to say learnt) and how far apart you quiz so that the brain has to work hard to remember. Daisy Christodoulou looks at the science behind spacing in her ResearchEd talk.[5]

Rate of forgetting with study repetition

Power Tool #3: Interleaving

Interleaving is the rearranging the order of retrieval opportunities during spacing without changing the content to be learned – so that the pattern of retrieval is not predicted by the children and that a rote’ method of retrieval’ is not enforced. Interleaving through periods of time in history will not confuse children because interleaving knowledge deepens their understanding – for example, of how periods link or how the word revolution applies to different eras.

Power Tool #4: Feedback driven metacognition

Pupils self-regulating their learning after explicit teacher modelling is what we aim for. As mentioned in the EEF guidance document: Children have to be aware of their strengths and their weaknesses, and can motivate themselves to engage in and improve, their learning’[6]. It is important for us to define what metacognition is with our pupils, if we’re expecting them to engage in it. The Four Steps of Metacognition’ resource found at [7] has most definitely been a light bulb moment for some of my year 5 pupils at St Matthews. 

Four steps of metacognition 2

Excuse the terrible metaphor, but when you build something beautiful, you need the correct tools to do the job and I firmly believe when building a robust education for our pupils, we need the Power Tools to accomplish it.


[1] https://educationendowmentfoun…

[2] Daniel Willingham – Why Don’t Students Like School, 2009, John Wiley and Sons

[3] Doug Lemov – Teach Like a Champion 2.0, 2015, John Wiley and Sons

[4] Mary Myatt – From Gallimaufry to Coherence, 2018 John Catt Educational Ltd

[5] Daisy Christodolou, Research Ed talk available here

[6] htt ps://educationendowmentfoun…

[7] https://www.powerfulteaching.o…

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