#DevelopingExpertTeaching Series: Consolidating Learning

Following on from my Doing a Masters as a Deputy Head post, here’s the first post in the #DevelopingExpertTeaching Series. This post focuses on consolidating student learning.  This article was published in The Chartered College of Teaching’s Impact journal on 20th September 2022 (Access for members here: https://my.chartered.college/impact_article/strategies-for-consolidating-learning-in-a-primary-school-setting/)   Using retrieval-based “Pop Quizzes” to consolidate learning in…

Following on from my Doing a Masters as a Deputy Head post, here’s the first post in the #DevelopingExpertTeaching Series. This post focuses on consolidating student learning. 

This article was published in The Chartered College of Teaching’s Impact journal on 20th September 2022

(Access for members here: https://my.chartered.college/impact_article/strategies-for-consolidating-learning-in-a-primary-school-setting/)

 

Using retrieval-based “Pop Quizzes” to consolidate learning in KS2 foundation subjects.

 

Abstract

The teaching of foundation subjects in primary schools is not often given as much consideration as core subjects. Bjork and Bjork’s New Theory of Disuse shows that an element of forgetting can lead to stronger retrieval and stronger storage strength for newly learned content. Their research particularly highlighted the use of retrieval practice, which, although already a component of my classroom-based practice, could be refined in a way that would lead to better outcomes for children. Following the implementation of retrieval-based Pop Quizzes, I found that indeed the retrieval strength and storage strength of the curriculum content increased, meaning children knew more, could remember more and could do more. Investigating whether this could be applied to other concepts or subjects within the primary curriculum began to show pleasing results.

 

Exploring consolidation research

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 2014 and the ever-growing emphasis on children “knowing more (including knowing how to do more) and remembering more,” (OFSTED, 2019) ensuring children consolidate their learning and do not simply “perform” has become a particular priority within my practice. Add to this the fact that my current setting serves an area of high deprivation with the evidence showing that, on average, this vulnerable group of children underperform when compared to their non-disadvantaged peers in key attainment measures – and that 86.5% of children speak English as an additional language – meaning that the processes involved in translating from target language to home language and back places an increased demand on the working memory – there is a growing risk that children with high performance masks true learning and that this will only become clear at the end of KS2. In order to mitigate this, providing children with strategies to develop rapid recall and retention of knowledge and concepts is vital before children get to Year 6. This has been a whole school priority over the last two years but has been a particular line of inquiry within my own practice, outside of the usual parameters of reading, writing and maths.

One barrier to effective consolidation is that ‘topics’ are often only taught once (for example, The Vikings is taught in Year 4), meaning that children only see that as Year 4 learning and not – in the broader context – how it links with both prior and future learning. Efrat Furst (2018) noted that “every new piece of knowledge is learnt on the basis of already existing knowledge,” which follows the work of the early constructivist’s (such as Jean Piaget and John Dewey) work on building schemas. However, there are significant differences between the two. Dewey, for example, advocated “learning through experience,” (1986, p.244), which is in direct contrast to Furst. Further works (Baddeley, Hitch, Sweller and Willingham) also support the ideas of Furst. With the growth of cognitive science and it’s reported impact on learning, it is hard to dispute this shift from experiential learning to more research and evidence-based pedagogy. As a result, my study will focus on this area of research.

Several papers (Pashler 2007, Dunlosky 2013) cite that “the students’ ability to manage their own studying is one of the most important skills that students need to learn.” (Pashler et al., 2007, p.1) However, this could be more appropriate to those students in secondary education, thus posing limitations for my classroom. Possible barriers could be that children in primary school have less developed schemas in long term memory to draw upon resulting in less independent agency and a level of dependence different to those in secondary school who could also have a higher level of independence and motivation to study. This could be an intrinsic motivation – the love of learning – or an extrinsic motivator, such as securing a “good grade” in their GCSEs, or the primary equivalent, the “Expected Standards or Greater Depth” in SATS.  Although, a research question could be how is this best implemented in the primary classroom?

From my reading, three key concepts have become apparent in consolidating pupils’ learning and thus enhancing learning – although we can only ever measure performance and make inferences about learning. These are:

  • Spaced learning
  • Retrieval practice
  • Interleaving

The EEF Cognitive Science Approaches in the Classroom: A review of the evidence (2021) recognised that “cognitive science principles of learning can have a real impact on rates of learning within the classroom. There is value in teachers having a working knowledge of cognitive science principles.” (p.7)

The EEF noted that there are a significant number of studies on spaced learning having a positive impact on learning outcomes, and that the ages ranged from 6 to 17 year olds. Only 33% of these studies were taught by teachers, one possible limitation of the findings.

However, Weinstein et al noted that “ the benefits of spaced (or distributed) practice to learning are arguably one of the strongest contributions that cognitive psychology has made to education.” (2018, p.1)

From reading their article, a question I considered was is there an optimal time delay between teaching and spacing? This question is potentially unanswerable as there are so many variables: the prior knowledge that children bring to a topic is different and the fact that pupils will forget at different rates were two key points. Ebbinghaus’ research on forgetting (1885) could provide a basis for answering this question, however the limitations of Ebbinghaus’ work are clear: he conducted his research with just himself, using meaningless three letter words.

Of particular interest to me is the idea of retrieval practice. Retrieval practice has been researched in a wide range of subjects and has spanned children from EYFS to older pupils aged 16 to 17 (Education Endowment Foundation, 2021, p.23)

“Retrieval practice describes the process of recalling information from memory with little or minimal prompting.” (Education Endowment Foundation, 2021, p.21)

There has been some confusion between retrieval practice and re-capping (Education Endowment Foundation, 2021, p.22) and other limitations include whether retrieval practice is as effective for more complex or subtle learning beyond rote factual recall (Education Endowment Foundation, 2021, p.22), however, from my own practice, retrieval practice based on a four-quadrant approach (last lesson, last week, last term and last year) has shown significant positive impact on rates of retrieval, across multiple subject disciplines and key concepts.

As Weinstein et al noted, “The act of retrieval itself is thought to strengthen memory.” (2018, p.8) but they go on to discuss different forms of retrieval – such as covert and overt – that were not known to me and therefore not evident in my practice. This is supported by Bjork and Bjork when they note a direct correlation between “an item in memory… [having] two “strengths,” a storage strength and a retrieval strength.” (Bjork & Bjork, 1992, p.42) They extend this idea by saying “the act of retrieving information from human memory modifies the system…  The information retrieved becomes more retrievable in the future,” (Bjork & Bjork, 1992, p.37)

The debate as to what actually has the biggest benefit – the retrieval attempt or the production of the correct information – was tabled by Kornell, Klein and Rawson (2015). They found that it was the retrieval attempt itself. This could stand in opposition to teachers’ perception of what effective retrieval practice should be, and indeed somewhat challenged my own perception of retrieval practice.

Retrieval practice can be developed further through the use of practice tests or quizzes. Tests can benefit pupils in two ways:

  1. Taking a test can directly boost students’ learning of the tested information, which in turn may enhance performance on higher stakes exams.
  2. Tests provide a metacognitive tool that improves students’ ability to accurately identify what they have not yet learned.

(Dunlosky & Rawson, 2015, p.74)

This is corroborated by Smith et al when she notes: …retrieval practice has consistently yielded long-term memory retention that is equal to or better than restudying and a plethora of other learning strategies…” (2016, p.1046)

Yet it is commonly accepted amongst educators that “testing is viewed by many students as an undesirable necessity of education, and that we suspect most students would prefer to take as few as possible.” (Dunlosky et al., 2013, p.29)

Further to this, I agree with Dunlosky et al in their comprehensive review,  completed in 2013, when they state that “this view of testing is unfortunate, because it overshadows the fact that testing improves learning.” (Dunlosky & Rawson, 2015, p.29) There is no reference to which age group, if any, it best improves learning for, which could be a potential limitation or a point which would be interesting to explore further, but their findings are unequivocal.

Building on the work of Ebbinghaus in the early 19th Century, who described “the decrease in ability of the brain to retain memory over time” (Shrestha, 2017) Bjork and Bjork developed this idea further, with more robust methodology: it was based on a solid foundation of prior research such as Estes’ Fluctuation Model (1955) and the research was conducted with a larger sample size.

Bjork and Bjork surmised that information had both a storage strength and a retrieval strength. When arriving at the conclusion, they took into account the work of many others, including Ebbinghause, Estes and Bower. In her 2016 post on Retrieval Strength vs Storage Strength, Veronica Yan noted that Bjork and Bjork said “forgetting focuses remembering and fosters learning; remembering generates learning and causes forgetting; learning causes forgetting, begets remembering, and supports new learning.” This summary of the research is apt and provides an insight into the science of learning which, until recently, I had not considered within my practice. There is often a judgement attached to teachers when children forget, or seemingly, don’t learn content. This poses significant questions around curriculum design and implementation for school leaders as well as teachers.

As a classroom teacher, this is something I can identify strongly with: children perform well during a lesson which Yan describes as  “when we study information, both retrieval strength and storage strength increase.” (2016) She goes on to note that “after studying that information, the higher the storage strength, the slower the loss of retrieval strength (i.e., slower forgetting).” (2016)

Following the initial input, children seemingly forget the content when it comes to the next lesson – the retrieval strength is lower. This is very much apparent within my classroom setting as I have noted that with several cues – questions from last lesson, last week, last month and last year, for example – the process of forgetting is interrupted and retrieval strength increases.

One must be cautious with the amount of cues given to prompt retrieval, however. If there are too many cues, this could indicate that students have not stored the information effectively enough and may require reteaching. Based on my own experience, however, Yan is correct when she states “forgetting is a critical part of how we learn.” (2016)

I feel that the benefits of the research conducted by Bjork and Bjork in this field could have a significant positive impact on learning with the classroom and the limitations of Ebbinghaus’ research are overcome. Further to this, Weinstein et al agree that “the act of retrieval itself is thought to strengthen memory.” (Weinstein et al., 2018, p.8), but go on to discuss retrieval in much more detail, introducing the idea of covert and overt retrieval.  If the positive impact on learning was not enough, Smith et al (2016) present the idea that “acute stress impairs memory retrieval,” (p.1046) going on to say that “those who learned by retrieval practice were immune from the deleterious effects of stress.” (p.1046) which provides yet another reason for implementing and embedding these recommended strategies into everyday classroom practice.

Throughout, I am aware that the research has been conducted predominantly with older children, and identify this as a potential limitation when thinking about my own classroom setting.

Given that the strategies discussed thus far have a growing evidence base of positive impact on students’ learning, are cost effective and easy to implement on a class level, I feel that they should be implemented into ones classroom practice. However, retrieval practice is no substitute for effective teaching, which should of course be the first entitlement of all children, afterall, children don’t know what they don’t know and no level of retrieval practice, no matter how research informed or evidence base can compensate for ineffective teaching.

 

Translating consolidation research to my classroom

As a result of exploring this field of research, the aspect of my professional practice that I am aiming to develop relates specifically to retrieval practice which “refers to the act of recalling learned information from memory (with no or little support)” (Jones, 2019, p.15), concentrating specifically the primary curriculum’s foundation subjects which receive less dedicated direct instruction time than the core subjects of English and maths. As discussed, the rudimental research of Ebbinghaus (1885) built upon by Bjork and Bjork (1992) and corroborated by Yan (2016) all steers me in the direction that, “forgetting is a critical part of how we learn,” meaning that this must be considered carefully when designing the curriculum to ensure maximum impact on pupil outcomes.

In the most recent systematic review of the research, the EEF (2021) note that “retrieval also strengthens memory of key concepts.” In my classroom, the concepts of chronology and knowledge and understanding of historic events is something that requires continual retrieval. Through “testing this concept” children will “become aware of gaps in their understanding” – as will I – meaning additional scaffolding can be implemented as necessary. These can then be gradually removed as “children’s self-monitoring improves.”

Further, there is now a reasonable body of evidence suggesting that these techniques appear to consolidate learning better than techniques like re-reading, highlighting or summarising (Dunlosky et al., 2013). In addition, Smith et al., (2016) offer a further ethical reason for supporting children’s learning with retrieval practice: “acute stress impairs memory retrieval,” yet “the ability for retrieval practice to strengthen memory against stress has implications for real-world scenarios,” (Smith et al.,  2016, p.1047). Finally, the EEF noted that “teachers have identified numerous ways that retrieval  practice can be implemented and very few barriers to implementation were identified.” (Perry et al., 2021, p.22) Furthermore, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children attainment and mental health and wellbeing provides reason enough to implement these strategies in order to “catch up” from lost learning time.

Given this compelling body of evidence, it would be remiss of me not to act on the positive academic impact and potential neurological impact of these strategies.

Although seemingly straightforward and clear cut, consideration must be given to the way in which retrieval practice is implemented in order to gain maximum impact on pupil outcomes. One common approach is through the use of short, low-stakes quizzes, which “can be a cheap, easy-to-implement way of recapping material that might strengthen pupils’ long-term ability to remember key concepts or information.” (Perry et al., 2021, p.21)

Next, as I am presently doing, implementation can take place through “Do Now” activities which recap knowledge from various points in the learners’ academic career such as relatively recent learning (last lesson and last week) through to less recent learning (last month and last year). Based on the research of Bjork and Bjork, both have their advantages, particularly in terms of developing retrieval strength and storage strength.

Third, the use of multiple choice questions could be used to develop and improve the use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies. The specific design of each multiple choice quiz can determine the outcome and the impact on future learning. Dr. Andrew Butler noted that “tests do more than just assess learning – they also cause learning. That is, every time students retrieve information from memory and use it to answer a test question, they are potentially strengthening (i.e. better retention) and/or changing the representation of that information in memory (i.e. deeper understanding).” (2017)

However, Agarwal, Nunes and Blunt recognise that “when students engage in retrieval practice, a common concern is that they are simply learning the test questions and answers.” (2021, p.39). This must be considered when implementing my Move to ensure that the potential gains of retrieval practice are broad enough in their coverage of the curriculum content and do not simply focus on test preparedness.

One aspect of retrieval practice that is often overlooked, but Sumeracki and Weinstein (2018) suggest is critical to their success, is that of difficulty. It is suggested that the ‘sweet spot’ of around 80% success rate is optimal to ensure that the retrieval is cognitively demanding and therefore aids consolidation, but not “so difficult that students fail to retrieve anything at all” (Ibid.). Since pupils’ prior knowledge will vary – within my own class I have pupils who have very low current understanding of World War 2, with others who have already developed a strong knowledge of the subject – crafting questions at this sweet spot for everyone will present a particularly complex challenge. How can I get the success rate at 80% for everyone? One possible way to achieve this is to ensure the first 3 of my questions are relatively ‘easy’, perhaps through the use of clearer cues (therefore still demanding effortful retrieval). The last two questions could then become more challenging, making it unlikely that any pupils achieve 100% and perceive the task as so “easy that they do not really have to think back”.

Given the relative positive impact of the aforementioned “Do Now” retrieval strategy I utilise in my everyday practice, the approach I intent to adopt for my Move relates directly to low-stakes quizzes combining both free text and multiple choice questions, specifically framed around a Knowledge Organiser (something which we have implemented in KS2 this academic year, but without clarity of expected use or intended impact).

Based on Sumeracki and Weinstein’s research, using a Knowledge Organiser – or sections thereof – will provide me with the means to monitor difficulty and success and alter the retrieval activities accordingly. I feel that by using the best practice seen with the “Do Now’ activities and by avoiding implementing the thinking around retrieving the test material, Knowledge Organiser based retrieval will provide a broad scope for impact analysis. I propose using the already defined sections of the Knowledge Organiser as a starting point for retrieval i.e. children learn the knowledge for one particular section and retrieve this information over a period of time before moving on to the next section, cumulatively building up the retrieval opportunities and consequently their schema. Not only does this move have the potential to enhance classroom based learning, but could provide a much needed focus for home learning with a defined purpose and outcome.

As retrieval practice currently forms a constituent part of each lesson – including foundation subjects – this Move to enhance the instruction is likely to provide a higher success rate in learners. The relatively easy Move should not burden teacher workload or detract from the time dedicated to direct instruction.

It is important to always consider my ethical approach to this study: because the methods being implemented form part of our day to day practice, I do not consider explicit parental consent to be necessary. Further, all data gathered as a result of my move will be stored and managed in line with already established school policies and will conform to data protection regulations.

There are several ways in which the impact of this Move could be evaluated. In Upper Key Stage 2 classrooms, norm-referenced achievement tests are a usual measure of progress and attainment. However, children do not sit SATs tests in history. As part of our usual assessment cycle, at the end of each Enterprise, children sit a criterion referenced test. I will utilise this established method to measure impact. Within this test, I will include questions linked directly to the retrieval practice undertaken using the Knowledge Organiser to see whether or not this has a positive impact on children “remembering more”. Further to this, I will be utilising the expertise of my History Subject Lead and partner teacher to conduct semi-structured interviews with a range of children to ascertain their feelings towards the impact of the Knowledge Organisers and associated quizzing.

I have considered the use of attitude scales, completed before and after the move had been implemented. It is my view that these would lack reliability as children would potentially respond more positively given that I am both their classroom teacher and Deputy Headteacher. They are more likely to respond with an answer they perceive I would want. However, the same measure implemented by my partner teacher may give a different result.

There is a tension between keeping the associated quizzing “low stakes” and data collection for analysis. Given that within my classroom I have built a culture of quizzing and continual feedback, once children know what the quizzing is for and how it will lead to improved learning opportunities, the tension will be somewhat mitigated. Children will not be required to “call out a score” nor “stay behind if they got below a certain score”. The rationale behind the use of the quizzing and indeed the Knowledge Organisers themselves will be clearly defined to children and is fully grounded in developing learning.

 

Implementing “pop quizzes”

The ‘sweet spot’ of around 80% success rate suggested by Sumeraki and Weinstein is optimal to ensure that the retrieval is cognitively demanding and therefore aids consolidation, but not “so difficult that students fail to retrieve anything at all”. This has been the target success rate over the past few weeks of implementing my Move, but seems considerably high in a class of 34 children, each with varying needs, including one child with an EHCP. 80% success would equate to 28 children being successful. Whereas I would never put a glass ceiling on potential and will always challenge children to be as successful as possible, Sumeraki and Weinstein’s laboratory hypothesis is much more challenging in a live classroom. Furthermore, the question could be asked around how you write a quiz which will achieve an 80% success rate when prior attainment levels of my class are so varied. As such, 80% has not yet been achieved but it is evident that progress is being made towards this goal, indicating that my Move plan is at least effective in part.

So far I have implemented one round of my Move plan, meaning my class have received their Knowledge Organiser, revised parts of it and have completed a low-stakes quiz on the sections taught in class and revised at home. Prior to this, a clear rationale was shared with all stakeholders (children and parents) to ensure they understood why this change to their learning was necessary and how it could positively impact it. Ethical considerations are always at the forefront of my mind when conducting research and as such, informed consent to maximise the benefits is important.

I am now able to complete Steps 5 and 6 (monitor success rate and collect and analyse results) before making adjustments to the next round. I am drawn back to the fact that Agarwal, Nunes and Blunt recognise that “when students engage in retrieval practice, a common concern is that they are simply learning the test questions and answers.” (Agarwal et al., 2021, p.39) and as such I engaged my partner teacher to question some children about their revision methods. Some of the comments below are taken directly from children:

“I enjoyed revising the knowledge on WW2. Because we had studied it in class, I found that I remembered more things, easier.” (Pupil A, Male, EXS, PPG)

“Knowing that we were going to be quizzed on just a few sections of the knowledge organiser made my homework time easier…. I knew what I needed to revise.” (Pupil B, Female, GDS)

“Because there were different types of information in small chunks, it was less overwhelming.” (Pupil C, Male, EXS, PPG)

From these comments, it is clear to me that my class is not simply learning the test questions and answers; they are building connections between what they have learned in the classroom setting and what they are revising at home. Further to this, I argued previously that revision methods were more appropriate for secondary school students, but found myself revising my own thinking as Pupil B indicated that by the teacher deliberately selecting the information to be revised in small chunks, this had an effect on the way in which she revised. However, I appreciate this may not be the case for all children and must keep an open mind so as not to draw too general a conclusion. Further extrapolation of a wider sample of children’s comments could provide a different picture.

Further to this, a comment from my partner teacher about the inclusivity of the quiz made me consider its further uses: “Pupil D, who joined our school this week and has limited English, found the quiz to be really interactive and retrieved the timeline really well.”

This took my thinking back to the EEF review of Cognitive Science Approaches (2021) but this time, to a new section of the research: Working with Schemas. The research states “when learning, the mind connects new information with pre-existing knowledge, skills, and concepts thereby developing existing schemas.” (Perry et al., 2021, p.31) It was evident that my class – or at least members thereof – had been developing their schema as a result of this Move. This poses the question whether more explicit reference needs to be made to working with schemas throughout the remaining Move?

The challenges with implementing my move so far have been negligible because of the staged approach to implementing the Move. However, one thing has arisen: if a child is absent, how and when do they catch up with the quiz? If it is left for the next quiz session, they will have potentially double the amount of content to retrieve, putting a strain on their working memory or even heightening the stress placed on the child, and as we know “acute stress impairs memory retrieval.” (Smith et al., 2016, p1046) However, completing the quiz one-on-one with the class teacher is not always practical. Moreover, is this necessarily needed? Could the child/ren simply complete the quiz themselves, afterall it is a retrieval activity that does not require adult input. This has made me consider introducing this as a method in the next round – should the occasion arise – or introducing the Socrative self-quizzes. Would this indeed be a better indicator of whether a child’s study skills and revision techniques support effective retrieval?

I consider my Move to be working: children are engaging more actively in their learning and the learning outside of the classroom and, if we take into consideration the OFSTED definition of progress, “Progress [for pupils] means knowing more and remembering more” (NEU, 2018) – this is certainly being achieved, albeit not consistently for all, yet.

Observations of children are supporting my assertion and emerging formative data is showing that children are making connections between learning episodes. By that I mean information previously learned and then subsequently retrieved during the quiz is being utilised in later lessons. This is pleasing as there was a worry that children would simply learn a series of disconnected facts and not be able to do anything useful with them and further supports the notion that they are actively building a working schema.

However, one change I will be making is regarding the amount of cues given to the children to support both their effective revision and retrieval.

In the first round of implementing the Move, I provided children with what I thought was an appropriate amount of visual cues to support their retrieval. However, on reflection and when looking at the outcomes and data for the sections concerned, it is evident that more cues were needed to support the effective retrieval of the relevant knowledge, particularly at this early stage of implementing the Move.

Artefacts 2 (Appendix 2) shows the original Knowledge Organiser, the expectation implemented during Round One and the modified expectation moving forward.

From my subsequent research around the idea of backwards fading, it is evident that this approach would fit with what I initially wanted to achieve: “The ‘backwards fading’ continuum is a sequence of tasks that slowly increases learner application and effort whilst simultaneously reducing the need for worked steps. As students grow in proficiency, they are required to solve more of the problem themselves, a shift that represents the transition from novice to expert.” (Needham, 2018). This corroborates the work of academics such as Sweller (2019)  and Renkl et al (2002) who note “that a backward rationale is more effective than a forward rationale. From the point of view of the cognitive load theory, the backward rationale reduces the probability of a presented solution step being redundant, and thus increases the probability of supporting learning effectively”. (Renkl et al., 2002, p.366)

Both the frequency and style of retrieval practice will remain the same as this is becoming an embedded and consistent feature of our timetable meaning children and parents know when to expect the quiz. It is my intention to complete some semi-structured interviews with children to measure the impact of this Move at the end of the Autumn Term and, in the build up to this, collect more data in the form of the End of Enterprise Quiz which children will sit before Christmas. This will include questions on areas covered in the Knowledge Organisers and some that are not. Furthermore, it will give children the opportunity to expand on their learning with some open-ended questions. The End of Enterprise Quiz will be measured against a set mark scheme and as such will provide a qualitative data set to support whether the Move has been successful.

My understanding of the research has developed from a theoretical understanding of the concepts to a more concrete understanding of what these look like in the classroom. Spending time devising the Knowledge Organiser in consultation with colleagues to ‘identify key facts, knowledge and concepts’ (Pashler et al., 2007) to include within quizzes has had more of a positive impact than by using an “off-the-shelf” Knowledge Organiser. In addition, my understanding of balancing retrieval difficulty and success has significantly improved, as detailed above. (Perry et al., 2021) What I deem appropriate levels of difficulty were not aligned with the children’s lived reality of the challenge. This dichotomy forced me to re-evaluate my approach to the appropriate levels of challenge if I am to hit the 80% success rate before Christmas.  Of all the research used thus far, I went back again to Pashler et al. who argued that “it is our belief, however, that students’ ability to manage their own studying is one of the most important skills that students need to learn, with consequences that will be felt throughout their lives.” (Pashler et al., 2007, p1) I argued previously that this was more suited to the secondary classroom, but find myself now re-evaluating that assertion and thinking about how I can now explore and apply this research further with the children in my class who, evidently, are beginning to make use of study skills at their own level already. Potential questions such as “how shall I use my study time?” or “what should I include in my homework assignment?” (adapted from Pashler et al., 2007, p.3) seems like a less threatening approach to take and is a precursor to “teaching students how to use delayed judgement of learning techniques to identify concepts that need further study.” (Pashler et al., 2007, p.23)

 

Investigating “pop quizzes”

My Move has been implemented effectively, but following a topic based model of teaching the foundation subjects in a primary school can present limitations on the variations of applying the Move in different scenarios; however it has been possible to vary its implementation across several different concepts and strands of history. For example, by beginning with the historical context of World War 2 then moving to the Allies and Axis before looking at key vocabulary and a timeline of key dates, my Move tested the key historical concepts of “time, change and chronology, historical evidence and significance.” (Lomas, 2019, p.9) All variations showed differing degrees of success, from quizzing the concepts discreetly to quizzing a combination of all of these concepts in one Quiz.

At each stage of the Move, my children seemed motivated and engaged by the quiz, which surprised me as I considered the initial quiz to be the most well received and for motivation and engagement to decline in subsequent quizzes. This has been described as The Hawthorne Effect (1958), which I have seen in other areas of the curriculum in several year groups, including my own.

One significant finding of my observations when children were completing the quiz was that they would always begin with the perceived easier questions – ones that had been taught most recently. From my reading of Bjork and Bjork’s New Theory of Disuse, this confirmed their notion that there  is a correlation between “an item in memory… [having] two “strengths,” a storage strength and a retrieval strength,” (Bjork & Bjork, 1992, p.42) and that the sooner after the initial learning the quiz takes place, the more likely the child will get the correct answer. This, however, served more than one purpose within my classroom as it boosted children’s perception of their own ability by getting the majority of these questions correct, potentially being a key factor in The Hawthorne Effect (1958)  not applying.

Results showed that the number of items correctly recalled appears to have increased over time, with a particularly significant increase between Quiz 2 and 3.

Figure 1: WW2 Pop Quiz scores (scores out of 10)

The number of items recalled increased from a mean of 3.2 to 8.1 (out of 10) since I introduced the quiz. Whilst the average score has increased, there are still a small number of children scoring less than half marks, however, 2 of these children have SEND with one with an EHCP. The number of children scoring full marks on the quiz increased significantly. Some children scored 10 in Quiz 2, 3 and 4. It could be argued that children would have made this progress throughout the course of the term anyway, but given my professional experience, the knowledge recall of children has not progressed at this rate before with the absence of quizzing. Furthermore, Butler’s research on repeated testing suggests that “when a fact or concept was retrieval at least once on the initial test, there was a high probability it would be successfully retrieved again or transfered on the [final] test” (2010, p1124) which is reflective of what was seen within my Move.

I come back to Sumeracki and Weinstein who note that an “80% success rate is optimal to ensure that the retrieval is cognitively demanding and therefore aids consolidation” (Sumeracki & Weinstein, 2018, p.42) which on average, was achieved by Quiz 4.

Further to the quantitative data gathered throughout the duration of the Move, qualitative data also indicated a positive benefit.There have been measurable changes in the attitudes and learning behaviours of some of the children in my class. These have been made through observation of engagement which noted a high engagement in the first quiz (which I considered to be novel) but consistently high engagement in all subsequent quizzes. This has extended to strong parental engagement through regular messages on Class Dojo.

Further to the more subjective observations, basic pupil voice survey have shown a marked difference between what the children’s initial perception of the impact the quiz would have was compared to their current reality of its impact:

Figure 2: Student perception analysis

N= 30 On a scale of 1 to 10, how useful do you think the weekly Quiz will be in supporting your learning. 5.7
N = 34 On a scale of 1 to 10, how useful do you think the weekly Quiz actually is in supporting your learning. 8.9

 

Soderstrom & Bjork (2015) argue that a major goal for educators is to equip learners with knowledge or skills that are both durable and flexible. Therefore, a caveat to my findings is that improvement on the quizzes and perceived impact on learning does not necessarily imply that children would flexibly transfer this knowledge to application questions.

Upon reflecting on my own teaching practice, there have been observable changes in the way that I plan, teach and assess children’s learning: I am more explicit about the content of my input which links to Active Ingredient A: identify key facts, knowledge and concepts to (Pashler et al, 2007), as well as more explicit about what knowledge will be tested in the weekly quizzes. Further to this, I have developed the efficiency of my feedback to children: rather than distance marking the quizzes and returning them then next day or next week, children mark their own quiz and check their answers against the correct ones on the SMART Board, providing them with instant feedback on performance. From here, I analyse the data to find common errors or misconceptions and build this into our morning activities for the next day, thus reducing the length of time children spend before receiving corrections or re-teaching, followed by a further Quiz within a week. This supports the claims made by Butler (2010) when he noted that “repeated testing produced better transfer than repeated studying” (p.1118)  This links directly to Active Ingredient C which is to ensure feedback is given on retrieval practice (Perry et al., 2021) which again supports the claims made by Hattie and Timperley (2007) when they found that “immediate error correction during task acquisition can result in faster rates of acquisition” (p.98), which is what was seen throughout the implementation of my Move.

One of the important components for my Move was the recommendation by Pashler et al (2007) to identify the key facts, knowledge and concepts. Through co-creating the Knowledge Organiser with my partner teacher, we have seen first hand the impact this can have on children’s learning – particularly their ability to connect learning together in schemas. I suspect in the absence of this work, it would be significantly harder to implement quizzes in the form that I have – and in some subjects the identification of key facts and concepts may be much harder than it is in history. Whilst the collection of data has been time consuming (particularly recording the number of blank responses), it has provided me with valuable data to ensure an effective intervention is put in place to support future learning.

There are still several issues that I need to monitor and consider in order for my Quizzes to become an effective habit of my day-to-day teaching, however the process of implementing them has challenged me to attend to the extent that my pupils are consolidating their knowledge of key terms and concepts when learning the foundation subjects – history in this case. The relatively simple idea – that pupils will forget, but can relearn quicker and retain for longer each time they come back to key ideas – is one that has subtly, but I feel irrecoverably changed the way I think about my teaching.

 

 

References

Agarwal, P. K., Nunes, L. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2021). Retrieval Practice Consistently Benefits Student Learning: A Systematic Review of Applied Research in Schools and Classrooms. Educational Psychology Review.

Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. (1992). A new theory of disuse and an old theory of stimulus fluctuation.

Butler, A. (2017). Multiple-choice Testing: Are the Best Practices for Assessment Also Good for Learning? https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/10/10-1

Butler, A. W. (2010). Repeated Testing Produces Superior Transfer of Learning Relative to Repeated Studying. American Psychological Association, 36(5), 1118 – 1133.

Dewey, J. (1986). Experience and Education. The Education Forum, 50(3).

Dudley, S., & Shawver, D. L. (1991). The effect of homework on students’ perceptions of teaching effectiveness. Journal of Education for Business, 67(1).

Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2015). Practice Tests, Spaced Practice, and Successive Relearning: Tips for Classroom Use and for Guiding Students’ Learning. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 72 – 78.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Association for Psychological Science.

Furst, E. (2018, December 18). Building Pyramids: A model of knowledge representation. Bridging (Neuro)Science and Education. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://sites.google.com/view/efratfurst/pyramids

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

Jones, K. (2019). Retrieval Practice: Research & Resources for every classroom. John Catt Educational Ltd.

Lomas, T. (2019). Getting to grips with concepts in primary history. Historical Association.

Sonderstrom, N. C., & Bjork, R. A. (2015). Learning versus performance: An integrative review. Perspectives on Psychological Science,.

Needham, T. (2018). Applying Cognitive Load Theory to English part 3: The Problem Completion Effect: An Overview. Tom Needham Teach. https://tomneedhamteach.wordpress.com/2018/10/15/applying-cognitive-load-theory-to-english-part-3-the-problem-completion-effect-an-overview/

NEU. (2018). Why is Ofsted venturing so far into the detail of cognitive science? neu.org.uk. https://neu.org.uk/blog/why-ofsted-venturing-so-far-detail-cognitive-science

OFSTED. (2019). School Inspection Update. OFSTED.

Pashler, H., Bain, P. M., Bottge, B. A., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organising Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning. IES Practice Guide.

Perry, T., Lea, R., Jorgensen, C. R., Cordingley, P., Shapiro, K., & Youdell, D. (2021). Cognitive science approaches in the classroom: a review of the evidence.

Renkl, A., Atkinson, R. K., Maier, U. H., & Stanley, R. (2002). From example study to problem solving: Smooth transitions help learning. Journal of Experimental Education, 70.

Shrestha, P. (2017). Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. Psychestudy. https://www.psychestudy.com/cognitive/memory/ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve

Smith, A. M., Floerke, V. A., & Thomas, A. K. (2016, November 24). Retrieval practice protects memory against acute stress. Science, 354(6315), 1046 – 1048.

Sumeracki, M. A., & Weinstein, Y. (2018). Optimising Learning Using Retrieval Practice. Impact.

Weinstein, Y., Madan, C. R., & Sumeracki, M. A. (2018). Teaching the science of learning. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.

Yan, V. (2016). Retrieval Strength vs Storage Strength. Learning Scientists. https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/5/10-1

 

 

Appendices

Appendix 1: Active Ingredients & Move Plan

A Identify key facts, knowledge & concepts (Pashler et al., 2007) to include within quizzes All declarative knowledge is predetermined within our whole school curriculum document. This is then used to carefully construct an effective knowledge organiser.
B Balance retrieval difficulty and success (Perry et al., 2021; Sumeracki & Weinstein, 2018) Ongoing assessment and monitoring as indicated above will ensure that success and challenge are carefully balanced.
C Ensure feedback given on retrieval practice (Perry et al., 2021)

 

Individual and collective feedback will be given each session for children to monitor their own progress and identify gaps in their knowledge for further study.
D Provide homework assignments which use a variety of pedagogical techniques to increase involvement in the learning process. (Dudley & Shawver, 1991) By developing learning behaviours, independent learning strategies will become more apparent.
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Move Plan

  1. Provide all children with an accurately completed Knowledge Organiser for their study of World War.
  2. Identify a section for independent study. Dedicate learning time and home learning time to this.
  3. At the start of every lesson, provide children with a partially completed Knowledge Organiser, either in paper form or through Socrative.
  4. Children complete the section they have been studying.
  5. Monitor success rate.
  6. Collect and analyse results.
  7. Repeat from Step 2.