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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More exciting than learning from text books!

text bookI recently read an article by Doug Belshaw (5 ways to make’ textbook lessons’ more interesting) which made me think about what I do in my classroom.

Text books contain a wealth of information that shouldn’t be overlooked. A more ‘old-style’ way of learning (‘turn to page 27 and answer all the questions’) can be turned into a far more exciting experience with a competitive element.

You can do this type of activity with any subject. I have used it in Science, History, Geography, RE and reading comprehension (making answering mock SATs reading questions more interesting).

To make this activity more competitive, provide the questions one at a time and reinforce the idea that they can’t have the next question until the first is correct.

How I do this in my classroom:

I take questions (perhaps from text books; perhaps some of my own) and have a set of them for each group cut up so that each question can be handed out individually. I also tend to have the questions on brightly coloured card (partly because I am a primary teacher; partly because it makes it easier to track which question each group is on).

I have a range of information that I arrange around the room. The information contains the answers for the questions, so there is no reason why all pupils can’t achieve. I have information on tables (maybe text books) and other information (from the internet) on walls, doors, and any other space I can find around the room.

I provide all groups with the first question. They then need to answer this and either tell me or write it on an answer grid before showing me. If correct, I then hand over the next question. There are obviously many ways of doing this, but one way I like to engage the lower ability pupils in mixed ability groups is to assign them the job of telling me the answer. I normally give them some kind of title (e.g. ‘the question collector’), as this elevates their importance within the group, and seems to increase their competitiveness.

Bizarrely, pupils don’t seem to realise that all they are doing is reading through information and answering questions, and instead become really engaged and extremely competitive. They really want to ‘win’ and beat all the other groups. They improve their skimming and scanning skills when it comes to finding the information; they learn what they need to know and are more likely to remember it as they will remember the activity. This activity allows them to take more responsibility for their own learning, increases independence and it is easy and quick for me to organise and facilitate.

This is an example of a style of lesson that easily adapts to a range of topics and subjects and doesn’t take days of planning to arrange.

With this type of activity, where I am trying to encourage effective teamwork, I will very often use a reflective activity at the end to evaluate how well they have individually participated, such as using raffle tickets, where I assign each group a number of raffle tickets or house points (more than children in each group) and they have to discuss who deserves them. I find pupils to be very honest and realistic when doing this, but obviously this takes some training.