Tag Archives: Education

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.

Improve your focus: The ‘pomodoro’ technique.⤴

from @ Memory & Education Blog - Jonathan Firth

The classic kitchen timer. Image by alexhung

The classic kitchen timer. Image by alexhung

Coursework, data analysis, revision...  It can be hard to concentrate on a task all day, or even for an hour or two! Which, of course, can lead to procrastination, and to short breaks that become long breaks.

The pomodoro technique is a method of time management that encourages us to focus for 25 minute spells, each followed by a shorter break of 5 minutes or so.

Why 25 minutes?

The exact time can depend on the individual - each of us has a different attention span - but 25 minutes is brief enough that most people can keep up concentration even on a dull or repetitive task, especially with the prospect of an imminent break.

Why such short breaks?

A 3-5 minute break is considered ideal, because it gives your eyes and mind a rest, but avoids stopping for so long that you lose track of what you are doing. Suitable break activities could include going for a short walk outside, getting yourself a drink, doing some press-ups, or playing a tune on a musical instrument.

However don't worry - after 4 'pomodoros', you are advised to take a longer break of 20-30 mins. So you will get your lunch!

Why 'pomodoro'?

Pomodoro means 'tomato'; the technique is the creation of Francesco Cirillo who initially used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to time his 25 minute work periods. He explains that the action of twisting the timer and the mechanical 'clicks' as it slowly revolves are helpful to boost focus (Cirillo, 2012).

But really, any shape of timer will do!

Personally, I am more likely to use the timer of my phone - and you can also download apps specifically for this purpose, some of which are free. I have found the technique very useful for breaking up long and concentration-intensive work, such as marking a stack of exam papers. I think it would be ideal for revision, too.

If you have tried the technique, why not share your views in the comments?

Further reading: Time management and stress

Reference

Cirillo, F. (2007). The Pomodoro Technique (The Pomodoro). Retrieved 27 May 2014 from http://baomee.info/pdf/technique/1.pdf

A Conversation with the First Minister⤴

from @ Education Scotland's Learning Blog

Small - Conversation with FMYoung people from across Scotland are being invited to a conversation with First Minister of Scotland.

A live event will take place at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange on Monday 21st March at 11am, as part of the Scottish Government’s ongoing work to ensure that children and young people are at the heart of decisions which affect them and their education.

This event follows initial work undertaken last year that saw over 100 children and young people from across Scotland sharing their experiences of education and ideas for the future at a scoping event in Edinburgh and Summits held in Inverness and Oban.

Young people aged 16 and 17 attending this summit will hear a brief opening from the First Minister, before having the opportunity to put questions to Ms Sturgeon in an open question and answer session. You can join us live in Glow and ask your questions via Twitter on #askTheFM.

Sign up now join us live in Glow TV – A Conversation with the First Minister.

If you unable to join us for the live event you can always catch up with the recording at another time – Glow TV’s Watch Again.

The “Yes, And” rule can help you fulfill your leadership potential!⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

When setbacks send you plummeting back to Earth from the stratosphere of your dreams, leaving you staggering through the debris of your once hopeful rise to leadership, you may be thinking that your opportunities are over.  But if a glimmer of hope still burns inside of you, how do you re-gain control and get yourself back on […]

4 Steps to fast-track into leadership⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

You probably already know if you want to fast-track your career and aspire to school leadership! But how do you do it quickly and smartly? Get connected! I’m probably preaching to the converted about Twitter and following hashtags such as SLTChat (20:00 every Sunday), but getting yourself into or setting up a mastermind group of […]

Applying for a new job?⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

How many jobs have you applied for and been unsuccessful? At what stage were you unsuccessful, on application or at interview? When faced with rejection it is inevitable that you will feel frustration and that can quickly turn into feeling like a failure!  I know, I have felt it!  But that is where we need […]

What science knows vs what education does⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

What is the longest period of time you can focus your attention without your mind beginning to wander and your concentration plummeting off a cliff? Wikipedia states that the maximum attention span for the average human is 5 minutes.  The longest time for healthy teenagers and adults is 20 minutes. However, according to the National […]

The Education debate – a builder’s take⤴

from @ blethers

I was chatting to our builder yesterday about schools. It seemed to me that this successful tradesman, running the building firm that he inherited from his father, had the secret of attainment in school well sussed. He attended the same school as my children, at the same time, and he told us a story.

He was in a science class - about S3/4 level - who were being taught by a supply teacher. She was pleasant, but deadly boring. He and his pals began to amuse themselves; the lesson was doomed. So, it seemed, was the supply teacher - for all knew well that she'd never regain the control necessary for learning to take place. Ah well.

A week later his father called him over for a quiet word. The essence of it was this: You were in a class being taught by Mrs. Bloggs? And you misbehaved and upset her? Right. Mrs Bloggs is a good customer of ours - in fact, I'm working on her house right now. If I ever hear that you've stepped out of line in her class again, I'll f******g well do you. Right?

Crude but effective. But it contains the seeds of success in many a small town school, where no-one is unknown and where the strangest connections emerge with remarkable rapidity. Pupils, teachers, Head Teacher and parents are linked in a symbiotic relationship in which all have to play their part or be found out. It makes for a relatively enjoyable existence for all - and that is where I taught for over 20 years without any of the negative fall-out which newcomers to a small town tend to fear.

But what else can we learn from this story? Nothing new, actually. The seeds of underachievement are to be found on both sides of the garden: boring teachers who wouldn't inspire the most docile of students, and uninterested or incapable parents. And then there's the growing sub-group of hostile and resentful parents as well, the ones who encourage their children not to let the teacher "get away" with any attempt to prevent their precious weans from walking all over everyone. Any one of these on its own will spoil the business of learning; more than one and we might as well all go home.

So what do you do to ensure that none of these weeds enter the Eden of education? No amount of pupil testing is going to help Mr Tedious to become a glowing enthusiast; no closing of the attainment gap is going to happen without somehow involving the parents in the enterprise. And no political manifesto is going to make a scrap of difference unless a whole generation of teachers and parents are somehow unified in one glowing, aspirational whole where the excitement of maths and the joy of literature and the joy of finding out become more important than a tidy record of work or where the next meal is coming from, or the next boyfriend, or the next fix.

I wouldn't have Nicola Sturgeon's job for anything. But those who advise her, who tell her that National Testing is the way to ensure that every child can have the same chances that she did, these advisors should perhaps begin by pointing at the Sturgeon family. They were the bedrock of the First Minister's success.

And she maybe managed to avoid the boring teachers ...

The Education debate – a builder’s take⤴

from @ blethers

I was chatting to our builder yesterday about schools. It seemed to me that this successful tradesman, running the building firm that he inherited from his father, had the secret of attainment in school well sussed. He attended the same school as my children, at the same time, and he told us a story.

He was in a science class - about S3/4 level - who were being taught by a supply teacher. She was pleasant, but deadly boring. He and his pals began to amuse themselves; the lesson was doomed. So, it seemed, was the supply teacher - for all knew well that she'd never regain the control necessary for learning to take place. Ah well.

A week later his father called him over for a quiet word. The essence of it was this: You were in a class being taught by Mrs. Bloggs? And you misbehaved and upset her? Right. Mrs Bloggs is a good customer of ours - in fact, I'm working on her house right now. If I ever hear that you've stepped out of line in her class again, I'll f******g well do you. Right?

Crude but effective. But it contains the seeds of success in many a small town school, where no-one is unknown and where the strangest connections emerge with remarkable rapidity. Pupils, teachers, Head Teacher and parents are linked in a symbiotic relationship in which all have to play their part or be found out. It makes for a relatively enjoyable existence for all - and that is where I taught for over 20 years without any of the negative fall-out which newcomers to a small town tend to fear.

But what else can we learn from this story? Nothing new, actually. The seeds of underachievement are to be found on both sides of the garden: boring teachers who wouldn't inspire the most docile of students, and uninterested or incapable parents. And then there's the growing sub-group of hostile and resentful parents as well, the ones who encourage their children not to let the teacher "get away" with any attempt to prevent their precious weans from walking all over everyone. Any one of these on its own will spoil the business of learning; more than one and we might as well all go home.

So what do you do to ensure that none of these weeds enter the Eden of education? No amount of pupil testing is going to help Mr Tedious to become a glowing enthusiast; no closing of the attainment gap is going to happen without somehow involving the parents in the enterprise. And no political manifesto is going to make a scrap of difference unless a whole generation of teachers and parents are somehow unified in one glowing, aspirational whole where the excitement of maths and the joy of literature and the joy of finding out become more important than a tidy record of work or where the next meal is coming from, or the next boyfriend, or the next fix.

I wouldn't have Nicola Sturgeon's job for anything. But those who advise her, who tell her that National Testing is the way to ensure that every child can have the same chances that she did, these advisors should perhaps begin by pointing at the Sturgeon family. They were the bedrock of the First Minister's success.

And she maybe managed to avoid the boring teachers ...

The Education debate – a builder’s take⤴

from @ blethers

I was chatting to our builder yesterday about schools. It seemed to me that this successful tradesman, running the building firm that he inherited from his father, had the secret of attainment in school well sussed. He attended the same school as my children, at the same time, and he told us a story.

He was in a science class - about S3/4 level - who were being taught by a supply teacher. She was pleasant, but deadly boring. He and his pals began to amuse themselves; the lesson was doomed. So, it seemed, was the supply teacher - for all knew well that she'd never regain the control necessary for learning to take place. Ah well.

A week later his father called him over for a quiet word. The essence of it was this: You were in a class being taught by Mrs. Bloggs? And you misbehaved and upset her? Right. Mrs Bloggs is a good customer of ours - in fact, I'm working on her house right now. If I ever hear that you've stepped out of line in her class again, I'll f******g well do you. Right?

Crude but effective. But it contains the seeds of success in many a small town school, where no-one is unknown and where the strangest connections emerge with remarkable rapidity. Pupils, teachers, Head Teacher and parents are linked in a symbiotic relationship in which all have to play their part or be found out. It makes for a relatively enjoyable existence for all - and that is where I taught for over 20 years without any of the negative fall-out which newcomers to a small town tend to fear.

But what else can we learn from this story? Nothing new, actually. The seeds of underachievement are to be found on both sides of the garden: boring teachers who wouldn't inspire the most docile of students, and uninterested or incapable parents. And then there's the growing sub-group of hostile and resentful parents as well, the ones who encourage their children not to let the teacher "get away" with any attempt to prevent their precious weans from walking all over everyone. Any one of these on its own will spoil the business of learning; more than one and we might as well all go home.

So what do you do to ensure that none of these weeds enter the Eden of education? No amount of pupil testing is going to help Mr Tedious to become a glowing enthusiast; no closing of the attainment gap is going to happen without somehow involving the parents in the enterprise. And no political manifesto is going to make a scrap of difference unless a whole generation of teachers and parents are somehow unified in one glowing, aspirational whole where the excitement of maths and the joy of literature and the joy of finding out become more important than a tidy record of work or where the next meal is coming from, or the next boyfriend, or the next fix.

I wouldn't have Nicola Sturgeon's job for anything. But those who advise her, who tell her that National Testing is the way to ensure that every child can have the same chances that she did, these advisors should perhaps begin by pointing at the Sturgeon family. They were the bedrock of the First Minister's success.

And she maybe managed to avoid the boring teachers ...