Trying to get better with retention and retrieval practice

We are in the process of putting together a new curriculum.  And with a new curriculum, comes new knowledge…potentially.  Like many, as I think about new units, I also think about the Big Questions or the key knowledge points that I want my pupils to take from the unit.

In term 1 of our Year 7 curriculum, these were the core knowledge questions:

  1. What is the difference between a proper noun and a common noun?
  2. What is an abstract noun?
  3. What is a verb?
  4. What is the difference between an adjective and an adverb?
  5. What is the difference between a comparative and a superlative adjective?
  6. What is a fragment?
  7. What is a simple sentence?
  8. What is a compound sentence?
  9. What is a complex sentence?
  10. What is a compound-complex sentence?
  11. What is the difference between an independent and dependent clause?
  12. What is an appositive?
  13. What is the WHAT HOW WHY of our paragraph structure?

In term 2, these were the core knowledge questions:

  1. What is a memoir?
  2. What is an autobiography?
  3. What is a biography?
  4. What are the conventions of memoir writing?
  5. What is sensory language?
  6. What is a simile?
  7. What is a metaphor?
  8. What is personification?
  9. What is repetition?
  10. What punctuation marks do we use to demarcate our sentences?
  11. Why do we use a colon?
  12. Why do we use a semi-colon?
  13. Why do we use a dash?
  14. What is ellipsis?
  15. What is the difference between an apostrophe to signal possession and an apostrophe to signal omission?
  16. How do we accurately punctuate speech?

These questions are addressed as we go through the unit and I make use of my Do it Now time at the start of my lessons to embed these quite rigorously amongst low tariff recall for the moment questions.

Usually, I use the questions above in a very similar format for our termly knowledge test.  There is much discussion about how we assess at Key Stage 3 and I have always been a fan of embedding knowledge quizzes since I visited Michaela and read about what they had done in their first book.  Normally, the question appears as above or I will provide an example and ask the pupils to identify a verb, for example, within any given sentence.Knowledge test

Last week, due to the sudden need for Year 7 to be online I became concerned that doing it in this way might not be as authentic when pupils were sat at home without supervision.  For this reason, I decided to complete this term’s knowledge test through MCQs.  The test was in two parts: the knowledge from this term and the knowledge from the past term.  Now I have shied away and shied away from using MCQs because I find them almost impossible to write.  I was really nervous but actually with these core units of knowledge it turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated.  In addition, because they are MCQs (and therefore you don’t need to check an answer is marked incorrectly because of a typo), Google Forms is a win for this, marking the tests for you and giving pupils immediate feedback.

Knowledge test feedback

And just like, edu research gold, the results came in. In test 1, 52% of pupils were excelling whilst in test 2, only 39% of pupils were and Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve was set in motion.

What I have learnt is that I am rubbish at the forming of questions using the structure of last lesson, last week and last term.  Something I definitely need to improve upon if I want my pupils to retain knowledge in the longer term.

As a result, I have organised two things to support pupils in their longer term retention:

We (my class and I) have set up Quizlet. Pupils go back through their tests, identifying the questions they got wrong and use Quizlet to create flashcards to self-quiz at home.

The premise being here that pupils begin to take more responsibility for their learning. The questions are already formulated but they are focused on inputting the ones that they need to work on.

And yet, whilst this is a good idea in principle, what I have found this term is that I now need to regulate this a bit better.  Just to ensure that pupils are self-quizzing.  At the moment my only assurance of this is the knowledge test next term.

Secondly, I am writing the medium term plan for the next unit but something I can really do super quickly is populate my Do it now tasks with my recap and retention questions using the information I gleaned from their knowledge test.

The benefit of Google Forms is that you can quickly go through the results and identify the questions pupils in the main struggled with so you can spot the pattern and the trends.

This is a very quick win, but is also helping me to embed that last lesson, last week, last term structure so much more easily.  In addition, it also reinforces, for me, that schemes of work need to be flexible so that teachers can focus in on the areas in which their pupils need further support or revision.


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