Consolidating and reviewing learning: task setting and assessment
At the time of writing, most pupils have been physically away from school for many weeks. When they do return, things are likely to be challenging. Aside from the obvious difficulties that will be involved in re-integrating people safely back into school life, we may need to think differently about the learning itself.
While teachers tend to have finely honed instincts about their pupils’ learning, we can tailor our provision more precisely by ascertaining exactly what pupils have remembered correctly over time and what may need to be revisited.
All teachers will be grappling with questions such as:
- How can we quickly assess what pupils have retained from prior learning and what needs to be readdressed?
- How can we make the best use of limited teaching time in order to create maximum progress for all learners?
In this new climate of increased anxiety, it is more important than ever to keep the ‘tone’ of revision and assessment tasks as light and low stakes as possible and the following strategies will work well with remote, online or classroom learning.
1. Balance the old and the new
Howard Gardner famously noted that ‘coverage is the enemy of learning’1. Ensure that any tasks set for pupils to complete remotely feature both new learning (curriculum coverage) and revision of the most important elements of prior learning.
2. Not everything needs to be revisited
Try applying the Pareto (80:20) principle to your planning. This rule, named after Vilfredo Pareto, states that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes.
Although it can be difficult to balance how much time and energy to devote to going back over prior learning, once you have identified the 20% of the curriculum which leads to the most progress in your subject/ year group (e.g. place value in maths or correct sentence construction in writing) you can confidently focus your efforts on revisiting just those aspects.
3. Three step check
A quick three step check at the start of each week/day’s learning could be used to challenge pupils to recall something from:
- last lesson
- last week
- last term.
4. Fill in the blanks
Robert Bjork’s ‘desirable difficulties’ research indicates that generation is a highly effective strategy for making learning memorable. Set pupils the challenge of reviewing prior learning by ‘filling’ in the blanks.
Begin by pulling together a summary of the most important elements of prior learning from previous terms. This could take the form of a worksheet or online task but should feature just the first letter of each important word.
Challenge pupils to see if they can generate the rest of the word from memory. For example, p……………. instead of pyramid or even photosynthesis. Use picture prompts as a support where necessary. Invite pupils to self-assess their work and to self check and edit their answers (see below).
5. Colour of correction
Ask pupils to check their answers and to write any corrections in a different colour and/or different font. This deliberate process of recording the correct answer differently can help to increase retrieval strength.
Ask retrieval questions out of context. For example, your class may be focusing on topic E this week but, mid-way through the session/week, ask them a question relating to topic B. This principle of interleaving is proven to strengthen memory. The randomised nature can be used to maximise pupil engagement particularly if you use language such as ‘this week’s memory lucky dip!’ to introduce the principle.
7. Pomodoro reflection
The pomodoro technique is a productivity tool that involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and, for the duration of that time, focusing solely on a given task or topic before moving onto something different. This short finite period could be used to frame a memory challenge for pupils to complete independently.
In the next 25 minutes, how much can you remember and demonstrate to me about topic X without looking back at your notes? Show your work in a manner of your choice.
Ask pupils to indicate how difficult they found this task and how confident they felt about their answers.
Invite pupils to submit their work so that you can gain a feel for what has been remembered, in what detail and by whom.
8. Pomodoro part 2
Next, invite pupils to compare what they produced in the 25-minute memory challenge with their original notes/work on that topic. Alternatively, you could provide them with a brief synopsis that you have prepared. Ask pupils to:
- highlight any key facts or details that they had forgotten
- add additional details to their pomodoro notes using a different colour
- add symbols, pictures, abbreviations, acronyms or anything else they can think of to make the additions even more memorable.
Once we are physically back in school, the classroom itself can function as a highly effective tool for memory. Try these strategies.
9. Under cover
Cover an existing wall display with a large cloth or piece of paper and challenge pupils to recall and describe what they think is underneath (after a long absence from school it may be necessary to provide pupils with prompts and clues to get them started).
Next, briefly reveal the display before covering it again quickly. Ask pupils to sketch/write down what they just saw. Were their first guesses correct? What can they tell you about what they saw?
Focus your input on what was not recalled or explained correctly.
10. Turn a word…
Ask pupils to focus on a single word that appears anywhere on display in the classroom. Set one minute on the timer and challenge pupils to see if they can turn that one word into a sentence during that time (this could be done orally or even pictorially with younger learners).
Reset the clock and ask pupils if they can now turn that sentence into a paragraph before the time is up. Provide picture prompts or clues to support if necessary. Again, use the subsequent teaching to address the aspects that were omitted or incorrectly expressed.
For more ideas about how to use the classroom environment to support memory and retention, see Dynamically Different Classrooms: Create spaces that spark learning by Claire Gadsby with Janet Evans.