It was early morning when a bright eyed colleague bounced in and told me, ever so politely, that I would love to fill in her questionnaire. Fortunately for her, she was absolutely right. I am a geek and enjoyed spending the time thinking deeply about my approach to various areas related to mastery and retrieval.
It struck me that it might be worth dwelling on some of those questions, ponderings and sharing what few insights came as a result of those statements.
I do think retaining information is difficult, in fact I know it is for the vast majority of humans. The only way around this is to develop effective strategies of learning and to repeat things continually.
I draw a definite distinction between difficult and impossible though. The great Muhammad Ali, famously said “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”
My concern with my answer is not in my agreement, but rather in whether my students feel the power to overcome. Do they feel those little wins that lead to the big ones, or do I spend too long on the next challenge and the next one and …. You get the picture.
I left this question blank. Structure/routine. Routine is describe at times as the enemy of progress, a sure fire way to form rigid and ineffective practices. Yet, I think where knowledge is concerned the teacher must embody Robert Collier’s famous quote, “Constant repetition carries conviction.”
With knowledge recall there must be structures, else there will be slips between the cracks. I think I left it blank because I know the answer. I do try to return to core knowledge/information at the start of every lesson, but some lesson openings are chaotic. Students enter in the wrong manner and so dealing with that becomes priority.
I need to start thinking more carefully about how I ensure nothing gets in the way of a consistent retrieval practice. A very simple solution is to add a quiz slide to every title page. I always greet students at the door, perhaps I can change my posture so that I can also monitor their start to the lesson once in the room, and their approach to the quiz/task at hand.
If you’re not sure why my answers are in the agree boxes- google ‘Didau learning performance.’ There you will find far better explanation than I can offer.
I’m not sure why I ‘Strongly agree’ with the first statement, but only ‘agree’ with the second. Perhaps because the former feels reassuring, hopeful and comforting, while the latter is disorientating and frustrating.
I think the latter seems more counter-intuiting too. While true, it seems as though performance is about the best indicator we could possibly hope to have and so philosophically I see the point. But…so what. What on earth could we do about that. Ignore performance, carry on teaching long after we’ve gathered (reasonable) evidence of learning, self flagellate just in case. It all seems somewhat hopeless. How are the children benefiting from this idea.
It is evident that this is true. If you don’t have reference points to form memories, you will find it more challenging. If you have a short-term to long-term transfer deficit, you will find it more challenging. This question more poses, the ‘so what now’ of retention.
It suggests to me a varied spacing option, some students will need to return to the same information, while others move on to the next lot. A colour coded question system might support this or simply an unfolding list of questions. Whatever I decide on needs to be simple and light on extra workload. Else it will simply not be sustained.
Conclusions (of sorts.)
Well this isn’t so much a blog as a junking of thoughts. To some extent, that’s why I’ve not blogged in so long. My thoughts are swirling around at the moment. I see lots of details I know I will be tweaking, but I feel like a million dots are about to connect in one. This year spent reading and listening has left me with more questions than answers, but its left me wiser. I promised myself I’d shut up more this year, and read, listen and learn. I’m not sure I’ve always succeeded, but I’ve definitely improved. I’ve been staring at a magic eye and now a vision is emerging.
I’ve changed so much this year, but I know there are so many things I want to change further. I’m going to come back to my questioning and thinking really deeply about how I sequence. I’m five years in and I’ve formed habits, many good, but it’s time to break or reconsider some.
Timing my feedback, retrieval practice. Wording comprehension questions, and ensuring that the vocabulary is in place to make this meaningful. I’m boiling a million stews all at once.