Learning happens when pupils make sense of ideas in relation to what they already know. When we talk about knowledge in the long-term memory, we often refer to this as Sticky learning. Sticky learning is effectively the knowledge that stays with us forever. In other words:
(Kirschner, Sweller and Clarke, 2006)
So why does learning not always stick? Pupils do not always learn what we intend them to learn for a variety of reasons: Reasons include:
In this article, I will consider two important principles of sticky learning and how we can adapt how we teach the curriculum to achieve ‘knowledge that stays with us forever.’
When designing your curriculum, it is important to remember:
We cannot talk about curriculum design without turning our attention to cognitive science. Research has revealed that when learning is new, a child’s cognitive load will be high. Therefore, we need to expect children to forget newly taught content.
As educationalists, we understand the value of spaced learning and the impact that revisiting previously taught content can have on the long-term memory. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve presents a stark reminder that just minutes after being taught something, children are starting to forget that knowledge. If we analyse this curve further, it demonstrates that just one hour later, the learning which was initially clear, is now hazy and pupils will only remember some of it; the loss will be significant.
Mastery has fallen out of favour with the Inspection framework, but one of its main elements facilitates the act of ‘knowing more remembering more’. The mastery approach is to take longer to deepen leaning – to firmly embed knowledge in the long-term memory before dashing onto new content.
To echo the sentiments of Mary Myatt, are we forsaking learning for curriculum coverage? Only to find that a term down the line, the knowledge we felt they had grasped, is in fact insecure.
To avoid the tyranny of content coverage, an important job for every subject leader is to identify the concepts within subjects, and make sure that these concepts are at the forefront of planning. The teaching of concepts is important because they help pupils to develop understanding in the long-term memory, which helps them to make connections with new knowledge. When pupils understand concepts, it makes learning ‘stickier’. Concepts allow us to think deeply and to make links and connections to prior knowledge.
Traditionally, we might have taught Content 1, then assessed that content, before moving onto Content 2 and only assessing Content 2. By not revisiting the content from Content 1 that pupils didn’t understand, gaps in understanding emerge. There is a view that “I have covered Content 1”, so the learning gets parked. If we truly want children to know more and remember more, when we assess knowledge from Content 2, it needs to include previously taught knowledge from Content 1. If pupils get used to the fact that we want them to remember what they previously learnt, then better recall will be achieved.
It is also important that we view quizzing not only as an assessment tool, but primarily as a learning tool. When we use retrieval quizzing as a learning tool, we are bringing current and past knowledge to the forefront of our minds. Cumulative quizzing in consecutive lessons is also beneficial. The act of cumulative quizzing involves a few questions being asked in every lesson; for example: Lesson 1 (questions 1 – 3), Lesson 2 (questions 1-6) and Lesson 3 (questions 1 – 9).
The quote made famous by Michael Foreman and Christine Counsel is worth keeping at the forefront of our minds when we are considering the implication of the curriculum on the acquisition of sticky knowledge:
Progress means ‘knowing more and remembering more’. It centres upon building (mostly transferrable) knowledge of vocabulary, events, people, places, concepts and procedures. In summary, if a child has learnt the curriculum, they have made progress.
Let’s consider progression from the perspective of knowing more and remembering more. We need to establish the required knowledge that we want children to learn, and we need to decide how that knowledge fits into the Long-term plan for that subject. Instead of a having a sole focus on the question “Why this? Why now”, let’s also throw into the mix “Why this knowledge? Why teach it here?”
I cannot write an article about Sticky Knowledge without acknowledging the importance of prior learning. Let’s start with cognitive load; one way to reduce cognitive load is to take new material and relate it to prior learning. Our taught curriculum should be related back to the knowledge that pupils have already been taught. By doing this, pupils will engage with the curriculum more, experience success and it will enable pupils to make connections.
In a curriculum, it is important that we can demonstrate the following:
The important point is this. Do pupils understand:
In “The Hidden Lives of Learners”, Graham Nuthall concluded that single learning experiences do not manifest themselves as learning; that pupils need multiple opportunities (three being the magic number) to understand knowledge from different angles to make sense of the new information and slot it usefully into existing schemata.
What do we mean by high leverage teaching? High leverage teaching is about optimum inclusion and progress. High leverage teaching harnesses the power of memory for enjoyable lessons, where every pupil achieves.
When planning ‘high leverage’ lessons, we need to keep at the forefront of our minds, what we want the children to learn. A recent Ofsted report made the following claim: “Year 3 did not become secure in key religious ideas or practices. Pupils spent most of the lesson making a present for a baby, which did not deepen their understanding of Baptism.”
In my opinion, there are three main guiding principles for securing high leverage teaching:
What else can we do to ensure that pupils know more and remember more?
Director of Training and Research, Join the conversation with me on twitter @EmmaAdcock4
and keep up-to-date with all news from VNET CIC. You can unsubscribe at any time.