How can we make our teaching memorable?
This title is devoted to high impact teaching and draws together the best available evidence around memory and learning, to deliver an intelligible set of actionable principles to manage student thinking and develop impact in the classroom.
Peps makes the point that teaching demands a mindset devoted to patience and a where we take the long-term view,
Memorable teaching is unfancy, unshowy approach to building learning. It relies on simple routines executed with frequency, and is predicated on the idea that learning, and teaching, takes time.
He notes that it is our job as teachers to help students build deep and durable long-term memory by leveraging their working-memory.
He proposes a set of 9 teaching principles that provide a framework for thinking differently and more deeply about what we do to catalyse the Matthew Effect.
The 9 Principles
1. Manage Information
Schools are data-rich and data-drenched and we have to work hard to filter it and work out where best to invest our attention. We therefore need to eliminate distractions, ditch superfluous information and focus on the desirable aspects.
Teaching is a zero-sum game. If it’s not adding to the learning its subtracting from it.
Culling could involve displays that distract, minimising teacher narration and other distracting behaviour when students are on task, keeping work simple and free from unnecessary images and considering whether technology is more of a hindrance than a help.
2. Streamline Communication
We need to think more about which parts of our lessons are best served by speech, text, diagrams, video and gesture. Talking over visuals is a very powerful way to communicate but reading aloud notes on a presentation is counterproductive.
We need to appreciate these affordances, and draw on them to select the best mode (or combination) for a given situation.
Streamlining also involves building an awareness of our clarity of communication and its leanness and lucidity including getting into the habit of looking at our teaching through the eyes of our students.
3. Orient attention
To get the best out of students we have to set students filters by explicitly showing or telling them what to look out for in advance and we need to stress the information by highlighting the particular things we’ve asked them to look for.
Left to their own devices, our students may not always focus on the things that will help them make the most progress.
The key to success is being intentional and specific about what students should be attending to and doing it with precision.
4. Regulate load
Giving students too much to think about overloads them and not giving them enough means they’ll search elsewhere.
Our working memory is a high maintenance mechanism. Give it too little to play with and it begins to look for more interesting fodder. Give it too much to juggle and it’ll drop all the balls.
We can adjust the load by considering carefully the complexity of tasks, to what degree a task draws on prior knowledge, how much we ask students to do in their heads and how easily students can recognise and navigate an activity.
5. Expedite elaboration
Knowing what our students already know is one of the best investments we can make. We need to know where they are at before we can plan next steps which is why previewing, reactivating relevant knowledge and priming is important. Giving learning the best possible start involves establishing the preconditions then tethering new ideas through inference, analogy and concrete bridging.
6. Refine structures
To refine long-term memory we can give students a contrasting range of example and experiences.
This is called variation, and not only helps separate concepts from their contexts, but gives them greater transferrable punch. Variation builds both abstraction and generalisation.
Variation can be conceptual, relational, situational and contextual. Used alongside variation we also need to consider definition by providing opportunities for students to describe a concept or process precisely and to draw on activities that help students discriminate a concept from similar concepts.
7. Stabilise changes
As teachers, we must start with the assumption that our students will forget what they have learned unless we take deliberate steps to help them remember.
The sorts of steps we take can involve optimising spaced retrieval by posing questions that are answerable, unhelpful (minimal clues), low stakes and self-serving.
8. Align pedagogies
Part of effective teaching is selecting the right tool for the job. A misaligned pedagogical approach will falter no matter how well it ss executed. We can’t use a hammer to tighten a bolt.
Presentation and practice are powerful tools for particular learning stages but these need to be offered as a faded transition experience. Peps suggests using the time honoured classic of Me-we-you approach as well as completion examples where students are presented with a suite of incomplete examples to guide them towards independence incrementally.
9. Embed metacognition
How students approach their own learning is everything.
In general, the more we expose and demystify the learning process, the more agency our students will come to have over it.
We can help students learn how to learn and support them in developing an understanding of memorable learning principles and strategies. We can also help students invest in self-regulation and self-awareness and to accurately assess their own level of understanding.
This is a snapshot of what Memorable Teaching has to offer and
It’s about building deep, powerful and enduring learning, by making you a more informed and effective practitioner.