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Walney School


Students remember what they think about. Plan lessons in terms of what the student is likely to think about (Willingham: Why Don’t Students Like School?).  We must ask ourselves what it is that students will think about and therefore remember as a result of our lesson. For example, if a KS2 history lesson is about baking the type of biscuits that the Romans ate, will students be thinking hard about the Romans or about measuring, weighing ingredients, oven temperature, etc.

The only path to expertise is practice. (Willingham: Why Don’t Students Like School?) At craft club, students often ask me how I can thread a needle so quickly and so well, and they can’t. I say it is because they are aged 11 but I am aged 56. I’ve just had more time to practice.

Rosenshine – guide student practice. Students need additional time to rephrase, elaborate and summarise new material in order to store it in their long-term memory.

Direct instruction means paying attention to the picky, picky detail to avoid the knowing-doing gap. (Christodolou: Making Good Progress) For example, if students are not using capital letters, it is not usually because they don’t know how to use them, it is because they are in bad habits, they’ve rushed, not checked, etc. What they need is a drill exercise on capital letters to remind them.

What can we do to increase the amount of time students spend thinking hard about the material we want them to learn?

Principles of practice

  • Practice must be deliberate
  • Practice must have a specific focus
  • Practice may look different to the final skill
  • Working memory is not overloaded by tasks being too complex
  • Students are able to achieve success

Examples of classroom practice

  • summarising
  • rephrasing
  • elaborating (explaining in own words)
  • close text book and answer questions or summarise
  • apply concepts to new examples
  • drill exercises
  • reading comprehension – discuss the answers, then close books and write answers
  • organising material in different ways
  • comparing and contrasting with a previous topic
  • analysing
  • evaluating
  • write a paragraph using the new key vocabulary
  • draw a diagram from memory

We need to avoid the illusion of learning, where there are beautiful exercise books but nothing in long-term memory.One HMI used to say ‘full books, empty heads.’

Challenge students to identify the reason why an activity is taking place in a lesson. They ought to understand exactly how an activity is helping them know and remember more.