Tag Archives: Education

Mathematical Mindsets – Jo Boaler.⤴

from

I am working on (and shall be over the summer holidays) an online MOOC – Mathematical Mindsets, run by Jo Boaler.

If you haven’t come across Jo before, find her on the Twitter, google her or read her books. I love her methods for maths and the way she links them with growth mindsets.

I intend publishing some of my work here.

In my first piece, Jo shared three pieces of research onto brain growth with us and asked us to share our feelings about how this should impact schools.

 

Taxi Driver Evidence.

“You may have seen me show the evidence from London black cab drivers who have to undergo complex spatial training, at the end of which, they have a significantly larger hippocampus in the brain. At the end of being taxi drivers, when they retire, the hippocampus shrinks back down again.”

 

Taxi driver response:

This research shows that a brain that is being used develops and grows and that when the brain is not being used it regresses to its initial state. So in school I guess this means that we need to keep children thinking about their maths. The children who probably end up thinking about their maths are the mid-ability ones upwards who, if we are not careful are fed a diet of ‘more of the same with bigger numbers’. These are the children who are ‘high fliers’ who then plateau in their maths learning.

We need to use real-life challenging problems and investigations and games with all learners to ensure brains keep growing.

 

 

Half-Brain Case-study. “You may also have seen me show the girl who had half her brain removed. The doctors expected her to be paralyzed for many years or even for her whole life, but she shocked them by regrowing the connections she needed in a really

short space of time.”

 

Half-Brain response:

This research shows that the brain is a wonderful thing which scientists are still understanding…slowly in some cases.

In school we need to encourage our children to make connections within their brains to ensure that they keep developing. Brains don’t get full! We need to share this learning about re-wiring of brains with the children so they come to associate hard learning with something like a gym visit or fitness training – a development; and improver.

 

Stanford Case Study: “They brought 7 to 9-year-old children into the labs at Stanford, and half of them had been diagnosed as having mathematics learning disabilities, and half of them hadn’t. And they had these children work on maths under brain scans.

And lo and behold, they found actual brain differences. And the children diagnosed with learning disabilities actually

had more brain activity than the other children, more areas of their brain were lighting up when they worked on maths.”

 

Stanford response: Initially, this research seems to show that pupils who are thought have learning disabilities are working harder to keep up with (and by definition be not as good at maths as) their peers. Their brains are working harder, which means they will feel more tired during a maths lesson, be more stressed and require more breaks. We need to think in schools how we treat these children who are working harder, and it’s certainly not good enough to say X is not good at maths. It also suggests that schools need to find time to work closely with our ‘poorer maths attainers’ to get an understanding of where there learning is and to give them strategies to learn and develop their maths. – In an ideal world this can be done through group work and talk partners also.

Rummaging in the cyber past⤴

from @ blethers



I retired over 11 years ago. After all these years of teaching English I found I was missing the discipline of writing - for when I set essays, particularly to senior classes, I tended to write one myself. It was something I liked to do, to contribute to the discussion, as well as believing you shouldn't ask people to do something you weren't prepared to do yourself. At the time, blogging was pretty new - and it was really the only shared form of communication, the first step in what we learned to call Social Media. My sons were already blogging. I was seduced.

And it was in that first year of blogging that I began to meet people outwith my own circle (there - Blogger doesn't like "outwith" any more than it ever did), several of whom were (another new word at the time) edubloggers. Some of them were Scots, so that I met them physically in Glasgow ("You're Blethers, aren't you?"); some were much further away. And one of the more distant edubloggers I also met, and it's a good story.

I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but it was in November 2006 that I blogged about my input into the classroom work of Anne Davis - allowing her to use my photos as a classroom resource for creative writing, commenting on some of the pupils' work, thoroughly enjoying that little bit of teaching again. Three months later, we met - in San Francisco - thanks to Ewan's social engineering. We were on a month's tour of our American friends, one of whom had just dropped us off at our SF hotel. The cases had just appeared, when the phone rang. You don't expect anyone to phone you in a strange city - but it was Anne, also in town for a conference. Could we meet for dinner?  And we did, and you can read a short blog post about it, though it doesn't mention my recording a podcast for her pupils.

But I must tear myself away from this nostalgic wandering among the archives. The reason I'm doing it appears in the photo at the top: Anne sent me this book that she and a colleague, Ewa McGrail,  have written (and it costs a fortune to send a book from the USA) and it has the most lovely dedication on the front page and several references to me, all wonderfully flattering, scattered throughout the text. I'm delighted to get it, and to relive that time - which in many ways feels like another life. Even this blog post, full of links that take ages to find because I keep reading what I'm rummaging among, reminds me of that era.

Now, of course, it's all short-form communications. Social media rules, and the most unlikely people turn up on Facebook. Blogging is much less of a thing. And yet ... I find myself returning to blethers when I want to say something longer than a sentence, or something that I haven't got a proper photo for (because Blipfoto seems to have turned into my regular blog spot, in a strange way - maybe because of the interest of photographers). And when I was reading the book this morning, and reflecting on how I'd celebrate its arrival, I thought about children's writing and the joy of having it read by more than just the classroom teacher - to say nothing about having comments added by outsiders.

Children - and we've been talking primary school pupils throughout this - still love to have their best work displayed on the classroom wall. There is a place for this sort of controlled online interaction - on the much bigger wall, as it were, of the internet. This book, Student Blogs, seems to me to cover so many of the areas that might worry the cautious teacher - everything from accessing photos to Creative Commons and beyond - as to encourage any teacher to have a go.

Unless, of course, no-one can write more than 140 characters at a time these days. Just like The President ...

Rummaging in the cyber past⤴

from @ blethers



I retired over 11 years ago. After all these years of teaching English I found I was missing the discipline of writing - for when I set essays, particularly to senior classes, I tended to write one myself. It was something I liked to do, to contribute to the discussion, as well as believing you shouldn't ask people to do something you weren't prepared to do yourself. At the time, blogging was pretty new - and it was really the only shared form of communication, the first step in what we learned to call Social Media. My sons were already blogging. I was seduced.

And it was in that first year of blogging that I began to meet people outwith my own circle (there - Blogger doesn't like "outwith" any more than it ever did), several of whom were (another new word at the time) edubloggers. Some of them were Scots, so that I met them physically in Glasgow ("You're Blethers, aren't you?"); some were much further away. And one of the more distant edubloggers I also met, and it's a good story.

I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but it was in November 2006 that I blogged about my input into the classroom work of Anne Davis - allowing her to use my photos as a classroom resource for creative writing, commenting on some of the pupils' work, thoroughly enjoying that little bit of teaching again. Three months later, we met - in San Francisco - thanks to Ewan's social engineering. We were on a month's tour of our American friends, one of whom had just dropped us off at our SF hotel. The cases had just appeared, when the phone rang. You don't expect anyone to phone you in a strange city - but it was Anne, also in town for a conference. Could we meet for dinner?  And we did, and you can read a short blog post about it, though it doesn't mention my recording a podcast for her pupils.

But I must tear myself away from this nostalgic wandering among the archives. The reason I'm doing it appears in the photo at the top: Anne sent me this book that she and a colleague, Ewa McGrail,  have written (and it costs a fortune to send a book from the USA) and it has the most lovely dedication on the front page and several references to me, all wonderfully flattering, scattered throughout the text. I'm delighted to get it, and to relive that time - which in many ways feels like another life. Even this blog post, full of links that take ages to find because I keep reading what I'm rummaging among, reminds me of that era.

Now, of course, it's all short-form communications. Social media rules, and the most unlikely people turn up on Facebook. Blogging is much less of a thing. And yet ... I find myself returning to blethers when I want to say something longer than a sentence, or something that I haven't got a proper photo for (because Blipfoto seems to have turned into my regular blog spot, in a strange way - maybe because of the interest of photographers). And when I was reading the book this morning, and reflecting on how I'd celebrate its arrival, I thought about children's writing and the joy of having it read by more than just the classroom teacher - to say nothing about having comments added by outsiders.

Children - and we've been talking primary school pupils throughout this - still love to have their best work displayed on the classroom wall. There is a place for this sort of controlled online interaction - on the much bigger wall, as it were, of the internet. This book, Student Blogs, seems to me to cover so many of the areas that might worry the cautious teacher - everything from accessing photos to Creative Commons and beyond - as to encourage any teacher to have a go.

Unless, of course, no-one can write more than 140 characters at a time these days. Just like The President ...

Resources for science – Sound⤴

from

By: adzla

After teaching a unit of work on light, I taught a unit of work on sound. Here are the links and resources I used.

 

Idea for creating a educational programme about sound – quite a nice idea. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B7O6aW7yE47bdkZnVENUOFF2T0U

 

Covers a lot of sound stuff Teachers TV: Primary Science: Sound and Hearing

 

 

 

 

How Your Ears Work

 

 

http://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/a-speeding-toy-train-plays-the-william-tell-overture-on-bottles

 

http://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/opera-singers-sing-during-real-time-mri-scans

 

http://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/the-wintergatan-marble-machine-music-made-from-2000-marbles

 

http://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/the-inverted-glass-harp

 

http://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/43232464676

 

Bill Nye https://vimeo.com/111148958

 

BBC Sound Clips http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/topics/zgffr82/videos/1

Educational reforms.⤴

from

As soon as the PISA results came out, the questions, accusations and incriminations began. Blame it on the CfE, blame it on the SNP, blame it on the boogie. I’m not going to blame anyone, there’s plenty of stuff written by plenty of people on the internet already, indeed I’m not sure the PISA results are something to aim for or worry about – Finland seems not to be too concerned – but I am going to write about working through major education reforms in my career to date.

The two major reforms which took place whilst I’ve been a teacher occurred in England and Scotland. In England, I taught through the time of the National Literacy Strategy, the National Numeracy Strategy, the QCA units, the QCA unit plans, SATS tests and OfSTED inspections every four years in a range of schools in England.  In Scotland I’ve taught throughout the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, and seen at first hand via The Girl, the national assessment procedures.

The reforms in England were massive and to a large degree micro-managed. The Government wanted improvements in literacy and numeracy and wrote strategies to make sure this happened. If there was debate around what ‘good’ literacy and numeracy should look like, I wasn’t part of (I was in my 20s though, so I knew everything anyway). The strategies were written by a group of literacy experts and then rolled out to schools in the autumn and winter to be put into place for the start of the next school year.

I recall the literacy strategy being rolled out in 2 hour staff meetings after school – I hate after school meetings, I’ve done a day of teaching, there is assessment to do and I’m tired: You’re not going to get the best out of me. These meetings were scripted by the government, the trainers read out what we needed to know and we worked through units of work which explained how the strategy worked, how we should plan, how we should teach reading,writing and spelling. We soon spotted that the answers to the trainers’ questions were usually on the next page of the document! For this training we were given a complete strategy, various unit breakdowns of our own, resources (which we needed to make up in school) and some examples of expected work. It was a slog but by September we had stuff in place and away we went with it. The lessons I taught from the strategy weren’t perfect, but there was a structure in place to help me.

Of course, your school didn’t HAVE to follow the literacy strategy, but if you didn’t and the OfSTED or local authority came a calling, your school literacy strategy had better be an improvement on the national strategy. If your SATS results weren’t up to standard then OfSTED might make an extra visit and again, you’d better be getting the national strategy in place or else (or else usually meant your HT retiring or resigning).

Once we had successfully implemented that – well actually by October of that same year – the National Numeracy Strategy was launched. If you’ve had the misfortune to chat to me about this, you’ll know I love the NNS! The Government spotted some of the problems with the literacy strategy and made some key improvements.

The NNS contained examples of questions and ideas you could use, straight out of the folder. The document, like the NLS had learning objectives for each term of each year group (meaning for differentiation there was a progression mapped out). However, the NNS was supplemented with two things I thought were brilliant.

Firstly, there was a 5 day maths course for every teacher in the UK. 5 days out of class (in a hotel at times) to discover the document, talk about it with colleagues from other schools, plan how you would implement it with your class, look at all the resources. Like the NLS it too was scripted, so the Government really were leading this change in EXACTLY the way they wanted it to go. The 5 days were back to back. A full week thinking about nothing more than numeracy. It changed my teaching approach to maths from ‘here’s the book kids’ to something I love to this day. And really it bloody well should have done, bearing in mind the cost of this to the UK taxpayer.

The other wonderful thing was the resources the NNS team made and shared. They created some wonderful teaching programs which I use to this day and they wrote the unit plans. These were highly detailed documents for each unit of work. Unit one was place value it contained 5 plans, one for each day of the week. Each plan was A4 and was pretty much a script for the lesson. There in the same folder (and latterly on CD-ROMS) were the resources (including worksheets) you needed for the lesson. Differentiated. The idea was that these plans were a start point, you changed them to suit the needs of your class. Lots of teachers did and that was great, but even if you didn’t (because you were, like so many teachers lazy ? what you delivered was good quality, written by numeracy experts, lessons. If you were new to the job it allowed you to know where to pitch an average lesson and how to piece your maths teaching together over a term. I loved them and still did out the ideas for a concept which my class find tricky to see if I’ve missed anything.

After a year or two, the Government did it again. They released the QCA topic documents. These detailed the teaching for all of the non-core subjects on a lesson by lesson basis. Again, all the information you needed to teach the lesson was contained in the folder. You adapted it, changed the order, added bits in, took bits out but the basic lessons for all your Art, DT, History, Geography, Music, Science, RME and PSE were there. Concurrent to that, the Government noticed that problem solving and investigations was not progressing as well as they wanted, so they created more problem-solving resource and ran another 5 day maths course for two teachers in each school to upskill them in teaching this. Again, resources and knowledge I still use to this day.

Looking back, it seems a great time, with resources aplenty, cash aplenty, but it was hard, hard work at times, with the pressure of OfSTED ready to pounce and the pressure of SATS scores needing to meet targets for school and local authority. For me, giving me start points close to a finished article of a lesson plan or termly plan allowed me to focus on the delivery of the lesson, moving children to their next target (of which they had many) and how I might make these at time dry lessons interesting and meaningful for the children. For teachers, new to the profession it certainly offered a proven scaffold to begin their careers. I loved the support the strategies and unit plans gave me and the time it freed up to think about the needs of the children in my care.

I will discuss the education reforms since I’ve moved to Scotland in my next post. I think it’s possible I moved out of England before things took a turn for the worse, but I’m happy to hear comments from people who disagree with that thought or with things as I recall them from the late 90s and early 2000s

My Reflections on a Wonderful #PedagooHampshire16⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

What happens when Teachers and School Leaders learn to put themselves first? On Saturday 17th September, I was delighted to attend Pedagoo Hampshire 16 in Alton. This event, which featured a day of interactive seminars hosted by individuals across the educational landscape, aimed to discuss and tackle key issues in education and create a forum for speakers to […]

My Reflections on a Wonderful #PedagooHampshire16⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

What happens when Teachers and School Leaders learn to put themselves first? On Saturday 17th September, I was delighted to attend Pedagoo Hampshire 16 in Alton. This event, which featured a day of interactive seminars hosted by individuals across the educational landscape, aimed to discuss and tackle key issues in education and create a forum for speakers to […]

Going up: Improving Scotland’s Attainment Levels⤴

from @ curriculum for equity

by Jackie Brock

Confession time. I believe fervently in the importance of attainment and achievement. I detest the way our education system marches our young people through an increasingly narrow range of options to the extent that on results day their learning journey – and its success – is judged by their grades at national and higher levels.

As a mum, my rhetorical views, have been challenged by this year’s Results Day and my child’s “disappointing” grades.

My rose-tinted assumption of a smooth journey to university was overturned. My annoyance that his school could have been more challenging and supportive clouded all the great achievements of the previous years.

Then, of course, we got moving. We explored all the options, identified a college course and life again feels full of possibilities.

But I don’t want to lose sight of how quickly my fundamental beliefs were challenged and, if I am not alone, how much we have to do to get behind the Scottish Government’s ambition to improve excellence and equity in our schools, early years settings, colleges and universities.

I have no doubt, now more than ever, that we need changes to be made in Scotland’s education system and changes in how we value and reward success among children and young people.

For me the question is who is our education system for? If it is for every child then how are we valuing the achievements and attainment of every child? Saying things like “university isn’t for everyone” or “there are some very good colleges”, is incredibly patronising and in no way demonstrates value. Beware: every young person and parent has antennae that can pick up tokenism instantly.

A critical starting point is the engagement of parents.

Recently I had the pleasure of chatting to volunteers who had been working in schools over the last year. One of those present was also the Chair of his child’s school’s parent council who said how pleased he was with his own child’s learning and the way in which teachers were monitoring and supporting progress.

I later outed myself as once being a civil servant who had been involved in the implementation of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). I told him that I had rarely heard a parent talk so positively and knowledgably and it was a great sign that progress is being made.

We always knew that once we reached a tipping point with parents buying-in to the benefits of CfE, we would have succeeded. While it’s great to have international recognition that our system is innovative – for me, nothing beats a child, young person or parent speaking passionately about the benefits of CfE for their learning.

The Scottish Government is right to focus on priority curriculum areas, such as those highlighted last year by the OECD – literacy, numeracy and the uptake of mathematics. The equity gap between most and least disadvantaged, as well as between girls and boys is also critical to address, which is why we need to retain our efforts to improve wellbeing. As well as all the other benefits, these are real, tangible improvements which parents can buy into and feel increasingly that Scotland’s education is doing right by their child.

Before the summer, the Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney published the government’s plan to deliver excellence and equity in Scottish education. Many of these ideas are reinforced in his formal Education Delivery plan. The extension of the Scottish Attainment Challenge is also underway.

Announcing the Programme for Government to Scottish Parliament yesterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also reminded of her promises around nursery provision, and school reforms. These include the provision of a qualified teacher or childcare graduate in nurseries in deprived communities as well as plans to consult on a new funding formula for schools in 2017.

These are all welcome developments but it is crucial that we take the action needed that will take forward the practical support required to support families and schools in areas of deprivation.

In early years we need to focus on reinforcing the opportunities for our toddlers to learn through play. We need to extinguish the notion that time spent playing is time wasted. It has very real and evidenced social and developmental benefits. We need to recognise this and enhance the opportunities available for some of our youngest learners. 

We need to support parents to support their children. Helping develop parents’ confidence will enable them to better support their children’s learning. Equally, secondary schools need to work closely with parents to make sure they know about their achievements as well as their attainment and make sure that parents can feel confident in how they can support their children around their choices and, particularly on results day, play their part in responding constructively and supporting options, if the results are unexpected.

School leaders must have the very best access to evidence for improving literacy, numeracy and health and well-being. We need to emphasise whole-school approaches and share more widely what’s working on a practical level, and what’s getting the best results.

We need to build on the best of the support currently provided, such as the brilliant work and support on offer from the Scottish Book Trust and the Paired Reading programmes provided through Scottish Business in the Community.

Finally, we need to reduce the bureaucracy which can inhibit school leaders working with the third sector. There are a number of wonderful resources available through the third sector but increased bureaucracy often means partnerships can be too difficult, cumbersome or simply too time-consuming for school leaders to negotiate.

By bringing together the coalition of partners who want to support schools, communities and families, and reducing bureaucracy in education, we can start to plan practical action that will help deliver in areas of deprivation and where the attainment gap is most evident.

These should in turn improve overall attainment levels for pupils in Scotland and increase the opportunities available to them.

If we are all better at navigating the education system, valuing every stage of the learning journey and engaged meaningfully with parents, it might even bring stress levels on Results Day down a notch.

About the author

Jackie Brock is Chief Executive of Edinburgh based charity, Children in Scotland. She took up post with the charity after 12 years in the civil service, during which she led on the development of Curriculum for Excellence in her position as Deputy Director of Learning and Support. Jackie’s key priorities are improving educational attainment, tackling child poverty and improving the early years.

Follow Children in Scotland on Twitter @cisweb, and Jackie @jackiejbrock


What did memory evolve to do?⤴

from @ Memory & Education Blog - Jonathan Firth

It is thought that most of human evolution took place on a grasslands environment, but how does that affect learning and memory today? Image by Diana Robinson. 

It is thought that most of human evolution took place on a grasslands environment, but how does that affect learning and memory today? Image by Diana Robinson

Humans have evolved over the course of millions of years. Since we last shared a common ancestors with chimpanzees more than 6 million years ago (White et al, 2009), a number of hominin species have evolved - most, of course, have died out (as recently as 100,000 years ago, 4-5 homo species existed concurrently).

For most of this time, our ancestors and near relatives probably lived in grasslands environments, hunting and gathering. This environment has shaped our physical bodies as well as our behaviour - from our appetite for fatty and sweet foods, to our large brains which facilitate cooperation and interactions in large tribes.

Role of evolution in memory

Beyond a general acknowledgement that our brains and cognitive abilities are the product of evolution, human memory research has largely ignored our evolutionary history, focusing on short-term processing (see Bahrick, 2005) and using tasks which take little account of the context in which things are encountered in the real world.

An important advance was made when James Nairne and colleagues conducted an experiment demonstrating that people remember information better when they process it in a grasslands scenario. In an ingenious study, participants were shown a list of words such as truck, juice, chair and sword and were then asked to rate how relevant these objects were to the following scenario:

Remarkably, in a later surprise test, participants remembered the words significantly better having thought about them in this context compared to the other conditions used in the experiment - one of which involved a moving house scenario, and the other required participants simply to think about the pleasantness of the word (a standard memory intervention which promotes deep processing).

If this sounds like a fluke, the effect has been replicated several times and by many different researchers; other comparison scenarios have been tried - for example a bank robbery (Kang et al, 2008), zombies in the city (Soderstrom & McCabe, 2011), and even an 'in the afterlife' scenario (Röer et al, 2013) - but none have proved superior or even equal in promoting recall of a set of items.

Is this truly 'survival processing'?

A simple but very general question arises from this work - assuming that our evolution has prepared us to do certain things better than others, how specific are these abilities? Have we really been hard-wired to process grasslands survival situations better than other situations in a way that affects all of human memory today?

Alternatively, is the grasslands research scenario somehow drawing on a more general aspect of memory that the other scenarios fail to tap into?

My reading of the research literature so far gives the impression that many researchers are trying their best to demonstrate the latter. Three particularly interesting possibilities include:

- It causes us to plan more more than other scenarios, and planning leads to better encoding to memory (Klein, 2014).

- It causes us to encode items more richly (Bell et al, 2015). Elaborative encoding is well known to benefit long-memory - which, after all, is based on making meaningful connections.

- It allows for more creative thinking in terms of how the objects are used. In keeping with this possibility, Wilson (2016) found that a grasslands scenario was also better at promoting creative thinking about object uses than any of the other widely used comparison conditions. If we think creatively about something, we may well remember it better due to the generation effect.

The exact variables at play are still under investigation, and it could be a combination of these factors - the grasslands scenario may promote more creative, future-focused and meaningful thought processes. It is curious, however, how no other scenario has so far proved to be comparably successful in boosting memory - at least with the original tasks and materials.

What does this mean for education?

As a relatively new area of research, survival processing has not yet had a significant impact on education, but it does have potential. With further testing, a set of principles could be established, allowing classroom activities to be designed to incorporate elements of risk/danger, future planning, creativity, etc.

Survival processing is not the only possible effect of evolution on memory that could impact on education. For example, we also remember animals better than inanimate objects - an effect which has been trialled for use in the learning of language vocabulary (Nairne, 2016).

More broadly, many of the most robust findings from the study of memory make perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. The spacing effect, for example, fits with the idea that any animal needs to deal with a one-off problem, but needn't waste mental resources storing the responses long-term. In contrast, if something happens periodically with time gaps in between - a type of food that grows seasonally, migrating predators or occasional floods, for example - the adaptive response is to create a more lasting mental record of any any relevant details as well as successful responses that we have previously used.

Similarly, the perspective that students learn better if tasks connect to their interests and social context makes a lot of sense from a survival point of view (at least for social species such as our own), as does the idea that interleaving our learning - something that would happen a lot in the natural world - is advantageous in the 'inductive learning' of patterns and rules.

The classic Zeigarnik effect - incomplete tasks being better remembered than complete ones - also fits well with a scenario where an unfinished task could be a matter of life or death.

Clearly, we can't deliver entire school courses via a grasslands scenario like the one described above. We could, however, pay more attention to the ways in which memory has evolved to work, and establish ways of building these principles into classroom tasks.

References

Bahrick, H. P. (2005). The long-term neglect of long-term memory: Reasons and remedies. In A.F. Healy (Ed.), Experimental Cognitive Psychology and its Applications. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Bell, R., Röer, J.P. & Buchner, A. (2015) Adaptive Memory: Thinking about function. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 41, 1038 – 1048 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000066

Kang, S. H., McDermott, K. B., & Cohen, S. M. (2008). The mnemonic advantage of processing fitness-relevant information. Memory & Cognition, 36(6), 1151-1156.

Klein, S.B. (2014). Evolution, memory and the role of self-referrant recall in planning for the future. In B.L. Schwarz, M.L. Howe, M.P. Toglia and H. Otgaar (Eds.) What is Adaptive about Adaptive Memory? pp. 11-34. Oxford: OUP.

Nairne, J. S. (2016). Adaptive Memory: Fitness-Relevant “Tunings” Help Drive Learning and Remembering. In D.C. Geary & D.B. Berch (Eds), Evolutionary Perspectives on Child Development and Education (pp. 251-269). New York: Springer.

Nairne, J. S., Thompson, S. R., & Pandeirada, J. N. (2007). Adaptive memory: survival processing enhances retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(2), 263.

Röer, J. P., Bell, R., & Buchner, A. (2013). Is the survival-processing memory advantage due to richness of encoding?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39(4), 1294.

Soderstrom, N. C., & McCabe, D. P. (2011). Are survival processing memory advantages based on ancestral priorities?. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18(3), 564-569.

White, T. D., Asfaw, B., Beyene, Y., Haile-Selassie, Y., Lovejoy, C. O., Suwa, G., & WoldeGabriel, G. (2009). Ardipithecus ramidus and the paleobiology of early hominids. Science, 326(5949), 64-86.

Wilson, S. (2016). Divergent thinking in the grasslands: thinking about object function in the context of a grassland survival scenario elicits more alternate uses than control scenarios. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 1-13.

Memory in education – a mission statement⤴

from @ Memory & Education Blog - Jonathan Firth

Most students take notes during lessons, but are they adding information to memory? Image by Nick Olejniczak

Most students take notes during lessons, but are they adding information to memory? Image by Nick Olejniczak

I believe that memory is very important in education. This might seem obvious - of course children and students need to remember things. Perhaps it also seems threatening - reducing education to mere passive memorisation?

I don’t think so.

In my view, improving how we use memory is not threatening because remembering is essential regardless of your view of how teaching should be done, or what the syllabus should consist of. Whether you are talking about lectures or discovery learning, a minimum requirement is that the pupils retain some of the information that you have been teaching, and develop skills and understanding over the long-term.

Indeed, educational approaches tend to be judged, at least in part, according to whether people remember anything in terms of their performance on tasks (real or artificial) or tests at a later date. As a learner, a class might be a lot of fun, but I would ask myself whether it was a worthwhile use of my time if I later couldn’t remember anything about it.

From a psychology or neuroscience perspective, we are talking about encoding facts, skills and schema knowledge that is retained over the long-term. This learning is represented in the physical brain by changes to neural structure. There is no learning without these things happening!

Perhaps memory can seem to be a threat because it appears reductive - breaking education down to a list of testable facts. But actually, this may just be a matter of definition; cognitive psychology takes a broader view of memory than that used in everyday speech, and includes any change in behaviour or thinking. This could include developing our creative skills, for example, or our ability to write an essay. There are, of course, various different types of memory - memory for a fact, an experience, a task, and so on. But all of them require, on some level, that the learner takes something in, and that it persists for long enough to affect their future actions and/or thoughts.

I would agree that too much of what currently passes for education is founded on shallow memorisation - much of what is crammed for exams is swiftly forgotten, particularly if not well understood to begin with. But this is exactly where research can come in - by telling us how to make learning last.

As for the role of memory being obvious, well… Perhaps something so fundamental should be seen as obvious, but as such it is easily ignored and neglected. I’d argue that the role of memory is not prominent in current educational debates, and plays too small a role (if any) in teacher training and CPD.

When we talk about improving education, we are essentially saying that we want pupils to do better at maths, science, languages, social science etc, in a way that will allow them to:

  1. pass exams
  2. retain skills that they can use in future

This means that they need to retain key facts (such as what hydrogen is) and skills (such as how to multiply two fractions) for long enough not just to pass an assessment, but also to use it an unspecified period of time in the future - i.e. it must be retained in long-term memory, and be amenable to transfer.

The newly re-elected Scottish Government has made it very clear that education is a top political priority, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has highlighted that we must try to ‘close the attainment gap’ in terms of the academic under-peformance of the least well-off young people in our society. I would certainly commend that sentiment. I would also suggest that interventions that have been shown to improve attainment exist in the psychology research literature, and has increasingly been applied to real settings and with authentic learning material.

What’s more, any such interventions - although they can help everybody - are likely to benefit to the lowest achievers most. This is simply because the less you have learned up to now, the greater the potential for improvement; the worse your study habits, the more you can improve them. In contrast, some other possible interventions tend to preferentially help higher achievers, for example more homework or smaller classes.

A major challenge, then, is to engage with the wealth of scientific research on memory that is out there, digest it, and communicate it in a way that teachers, learners and parents can actually use. There needs to be an increased psychological literacy when it comes to human memory - we need to understand how our own learning processes work, and how to use them better.

That is the aim of this blog.