Making learning ‘stick’

My basic teaching philosophy

In my teaching, I always seek to facilitate learning and increase independence. I like to promote teamwork within the class and I like pupils to have the opportunity to learn for themselves, not just find out answers when I stand at the front of the room and tell them. After all, what’s the point in that?

In order to do this successfully and avoid passive learning, you have to provide the right environment and resources. We live in a technological world and the current pupils we teach are all too happy to simply ask the web for the answer to a problem without really thinking for themselves. Whilst I am not in any way against technology (I am head of computing and am a keen advocate for the use of technology in lessons), I want pupils to at least have the chance to think for themselves, communicate with their peers and attempt to solve problems before asking Google.

An example of making learning ‘stick’ in a primary history lesson

In one activity I taught this week, I wanted my class to order the main periods in British history from the Bronze Age to the current day. I could have just given them a sheet with this information on, but what would the likelihood be of any of them being able to recall these facts later on that day, let alone next week? Highly unlikely I thought!

So instead, this is how I carried out this activity that meant that at the end of the week, they were able to recall these facts:

  1. Each group were given a set of historical period cards.
  2. I gave them a period of time to discuss with their group the order they thought the cards belonged in.
  3. Each table ordered the cards after coming to a consensus with the members of their group.
  4. I asked each group which time period they believed was first and last. We found that we had a consensus here – a good start!
  5. I then asked which period came after the Bronze Age – here we had vastly differing opinions amongst the groups.
  6. At this point, rather than giving them the correct order, I gave each group a tablet computer and an extended period of time to find the correct order. This encouraged teamwork and those who worked effectively with their peers ended up with more cards in the correct order than those who had struggled. (If you don’t have access to computers, the information could be provided in the form of text books or information from the web printed and placed around the classroom.) Whilst some pupils chose to search each time period individually, those who chose to search instead for an online timeline of these periods found the answers to their problems more speedily.
  7. Once the time was up, we went through the order together as a class. Those who had any cards in the wrong places were encouraged to move the cards around so as to have a full set of cards in the correct order.

The pupils enjoyed this activity and several days later, when I asked them to recall the correct order, collectively they were able to do this.

By creating activities that are memorable and involve discussion with peers and pupils actively participating in the learning, it makes sense that the learning ‘sticks’.

Promoting teamwork during activities

One of my favourite tools to do this is the Class Dojo app – an online reward system. I edit the rewards to promote teamwork and make sure that the app is visible on my board during these types of activities. Additionally, I use raffle tickets to reward characteristics of learning, such as teamwork or independence, depending on its suitability to the activity.

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String web group work

StringThis idea is taken from Talk Less Teaching and I have found it to be extremely useful.

To encourage all members of a group to participate, use wool or string during the discussion. Every time a person speaks, they take the ball of string/wool. This tracks who is participating easily from a distance for the benefit of the teacher, who can view participants in the different groups and ensure every child is taking an active role in the group. It also has the benefit of making all pupils aware that the teacher can track their participation easily so they are more likely to feel under pressure to take an active role rather than sit back and let the other members of he group do all the work.

You could reward pupils (e.g. with raffle tickets that are used to enter them in a prize draw. Alternatively, with house points or equivalent) by giving each pupil a reward equivalent to their contribution, e.g. 4 raffle tickets for 4 contributions.

Consensus

This is an idea I came across in Osiris Educational‘s Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners. When gathering ideas and discussing as a group, each group has a piece of paper with a circle in the centre. They put all ideas they generate on the outside of the circle. These are initial ideas and the group don’t have to agree with everything written down.

The next stage of the activity is to come to a consensus. They discuss the ideas they have generated. Any ideas that they all agree on are written inside the circle.

By the end of the activity, the circles should be filled with ideas that pupils have narrowed down and come to a consensus on.

Helpful for improving thinking skills and developing group work.