A guide to this blog

I’m Deputy Headteacher at Michaela, a school in London. I write about teaching, research, curriculum and assessment, teacher training, leadership and the education system. puzzle MICHAELA:

BEHAVIOUR

TEACHING

COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

  SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY

CURRICULUM

ASSESSMENT

TRAINING

LEADERSHIP

EDUCATION SYSTEM

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Three Assessment Butterflies

Winston Churchill once said ‘success is stumbling from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.’

Looking back now on assessment in our first year at Michaela, I can now see what I was blind to then: we stumbled and blundered. What mistakes did we make, and how did we stumble?

We spent hours marking. We spent ages inputting data. And we didn’t design assessments cumulatively.

  1. Marking

First mistake: we spent exorbitant amounts of time in the first year marking, in particular marking English and History essays and paragraphs. We wrote comments, we set targets, we tried individualised icons, we corrected misspellings, we corrected grammatical errors, we judged and scored written accuracy, we wrote and shared rubrics with pupils. We spent hours every week on this. Over the year, we must have spent hundreds of hours on it.

The hidden pitfall of marking is opportunity cost. Every hour that a teacher spends marking is an hour they can’t spend on renewable resourcing: resourcing that endures for years. Marking a book is useful for one pupil once only: creating a knowledge organiser is useful for every pupil (and every teacher) that ever uses it at again. Marking is a hornet. Hornets are high-effort, low-impact; butterflies are high-impact, low-effort. Knowledge organisers are a butterfly; marking is a hornet. We had been blind to just how badly the hornet’s nest of marking was stinging us. So we cut marking altogether and now no longer mark at all.

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  1. Data

Our second mistake: we spent far too much time in the first few years on data input. We typed in multiple scores for pupils that we didn’t use. Preoccupied by progress, we thought we needed as many numbers as we could get our hands on. But the simplistic equation of ‘more data, better progress’ didn’t hold up under scrutiny. Every teacher typed in multiple scores for each assessment, which were then collated so we could analyse the breakdowns. We were deluged in data, but thirsting for insight. There was far too much data to possibly act on. My muddled thinking left us mired in mediocrity, and we had invested 100s of hours for little long-term impact.

What we realised is this: data must serve teachers, rather than teachers serving data. Our axiom now is that we must only collect data that we use. There’s no point in drowning in data, or killing ourselves to input data that we don’t use.

  1. Design

Our third mistake was this: we had forgotten about forgetting. We designed end-of-unit assessments that tested what pupils had only just learned, and then congratulated ourselves when they did well whilst it was very fresh in the memory. We had pupils write essays just after they had finished the unit. We coached them to superb performances – but they were performances that they would not be able to repeat on that text in English or that period of History even a few weeks later. Certainly, months later, they wouldn’t stand a chance. Just as if you asked me to retake for Physics GCSE tomorrow, I would flunk it badly, so just one year on, our pupils would flunk the exact assessment that they had aced one year earlier.

Looking back with hindsight, these three mistakes – on marking, data and design – helped us realise our two great blind spots in assessment: workload and memory. We didn’t design our assessments with pupils’ memory and teachers’ workload in mind.

We were creating unnecessary and unhelpful workload for teachers that prevented them focusing on what matters most. Marking and data were meant to improve teaching and assessment, but assessment and teaching and had ended up being inhibited by them.

We were forgetting just how much our pupils were forgetting. Forgetting is a huge problem amongst pupils and a huge blind spot in teaching. If pupils have forgotten the Shakespeare play they were studying last year, can they really be said to have learned it properly? What if they can’t remember the causes or course of the war they studied last year in history? Learning is for nothing if it’s all forgotten.

 

The Battle of the Bridge

Assessment is the bridge between teaching and learning. There’s always a teaching-learning gap. Just because we’ve taught it, it doesn’t mean pupils have learned it. The best teachers close the teaching-learning gap so that their pupils learn – and remember rather than forget – what they are being taught. We’ve found the idea of assessment as a bridge to be a useful analogy for curriculum and exam design. Once you see assessment as a bridge, you can begin to ask new questions that generate new insights: what principles in teaching are equivalent to the laws of physics that underpin the engineering and construction of the bridge? How can we design and create a bridge that is built to endure? How can we create an assessment model that bridges the teaching-learning gap?

We’ve found 3 assessment solutions that have exciting potential. Here are the reasons I’m excited about them:

They have absolutely no cost.

They are low-effort for staff to create.

They have high impact on pupils’ learning.

They are not tech-dependent at all.

They are based on decades of scientific research.

They can be immediately implemented by any teacher on Monday morning.

They have stood the test of time at Michaela over the last three years.

I anticipate we’ll still be using them in three, six and even ten years’ time, and beyond.

In short: no cost, low effort, high impact, research-based, long-term solutions.

 

Three of the most effective assessment tools we’ve found for closing the teaching-learning gap are daily recaps, weekly quizzes and knowledge exams.

Over 100 years of scientific research evidence suggests that the testing effect has powerful impact on remembering and forgetting. If pupils are to remember and learn what we teach them in the subject curriculum, assessment must be cumulative and revisit curriculum content. The teaching-learning gap gets worse if pupils forget what they’ve learned. As cognitive science has shown, ‘if nothing has been retained in long-term memory, nothing has been learned’. Assessment, by ensuring pupils revisit what they’re learning, can help ensure they remember it.

Pupils forget very swiftly. We use daily recaps, weekly quizzes and biannual knowledge exams to boost pupils’ long-term memory retention and prevent forgetting.

 

  1. Daily recaps

Daily recaps are a butterfly: low-effort, high-impact. Departments create recap questions for every single lesson. Every single lesson starts with a recap. They are easy to resource. They consolidate pupils’ learning so they don’t forget. Every day they spend up to 20 minutes in each lesson applying what they’ve learned before. In English, for example, we spend those 20 minutes on grammar recaps, spelling recaps, vocabulary recaps, literature recaps (with questions on characters, themes, plots, devices and context). We do recaps on the unit they have been studying over the last few weeks. We do recaps on the previous unit and previous year’s units. This daily habit builds very strong retention and motivation: pupils feel motivated because they see how much they are remembering and how much more they are learning than ever before. All recaps are open questions, and weaker forms might be given clues. The recaps are always written; they are no-stakes, without any data being collected; they give instant feedback, as they are swiftly marked, corrected and improved by pupils themselves. We’ve ask pupils after: ‘hands up who got 4 out of 5? Hands up who got 5 out of 5, 100%?’ Pupils achieving 100% feel successful and motivated to work hard to revise.

 

  1. Weekly Quizzes

Weekly quizzes are a butterfly: low-effort on workload, high-impact on learning. Departments create quiz questions for every week in the school year. Every week there is a quiz in every subject. They are easy to resource. They challenge and test pupils’ understanding. They are mastery tests, where most pupils should be able to achieve a strong result.

We have dramatically, decisively simplified how teachers score them. Instead of marking every single question laboriously, teachers simply sort them into piles. They make swift judgement calls about whether each pupil’s quiz is a pass, excellent, or fail. Each judgement is a simple scan of the pupil’s quiz paper and a decision as to which of the three piles it should be in. Accuracy isn’t perfect, but nor does it need to be: there are diminishing returns to perfecting accuracy.

The data is then inputted in 30 seconds into a beautifully simple tracker. Any pupil failing often is red-flagged, so teachers can focus in lessons on pupils who are struggling. And that is the only data point that our teachers have to keep in mind: which pupils are struggling most?

 

  1. Knowledge Exams

Knowledge exams are another butterfly – high impact, low effort. What I love about our knowledge exams is that they are cumulative, so that pupils revise and remember what they’ve learned. We have exam weeks twice yearly, in January and July (not half-termly). We set GCSE-style exams for depth, and we set knowledge exams to test a much fuller breadth of the knowledge pupils have learned. Knowledge exams are 35-question exams that take 60 minutes to complete. They are beautifully simple: they are organised onto 1 sheet of A4 paper, and they can be answered by pupils on one double-sided piece of A4. The breadth we can achieve with these exams is staggering. By Year 9, we have 3 knowledge exams in History, Religion, Science and English alone; they organise 35 questions on what pupils learned in Year 7 and 35 questions on what pupils learned in Year 8, centred on those years’ knowledge organisers. Twice a year, pupils are challenged to revise and remember what they’ve learned over all the years they spent in secondary school. This means they answer 12 knowledge exams – over 400 questions in total across 4 subjects. I am willing to bet that many of our teachers could not beat even our Year 7 pupils on these exams across all subjects! Imagine more than 24 sides of A4 packed with answers from every pupil in the school. The humble knowledge exam is a great catcher of knowledge.

As for marking them? We simply sort them into three piles: excellent, pass and fail. We don’t even record the marks. Teachers just note the names of pupils who failed multiple knowledge exams so we know who’s struggled.

Knowledge exams solve the breadth-depth tradeoff in exams. They give pupils maximum practice with minimum marking burden on teachers.

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Simplicity must cut through assessment complexity. We should practise what we preach on cognitive overload for teachers as well as pupils. Assessment resources must be renewable, replicable, sustainable, scalable, enduring, long-term.

And the impact of recaps, quizzes and knowledge exams? Well, it’s very early days yet, but we’ve had some (very weak) Y8 or Y9 pupils miss an entire term though unavoidable long-term illness, only to return fully remembering what they’ve been taught the previous term and previous year. It’s an early indicator that the assessment strategy is bridging the teaching-learning gap and overcoming the savage forgetting curve. The real test of its impact will be GCSE results in 2019, A-level results in 2021 and University access and graduation beyond.

Blind, still

The two blind spots we’ve discovered – memory and workload – provide us with ways of interrogating our teaching and assessment practice:

  • How much are pupils remembering?
  • Where are they forgetting?
  • Where are teachers overloaded?

And I still think that we at Michaela can do more and find better ways of creating assessments with memory and workload in mind. I’m sure our pupils are not yet remembering as much as we’d like them to. I had a conversation with Jonny Porter, our Head of Humanities, just this week, about ramping up the previous-unit daily recaps we do. In this sense, even at Michaela we still feel blind on the blind spot of memory – pupils are still forgetting some of what we are teaching, and we want them to remember what they are learning for the very long-term. Our ambition is that they have learned what we’ve taught for years to come: for five, ten, twenty years.

Every day, teachers and pupils at Michaela see Churchill’s words on the wall: ‘success is never final; failure never fatal; it’s the courage that counts.’ It takes courage to radically simplify assessment – and courage to continually confront our workload and memory blind spots.

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Staying stoical in school

Some two thousand years ago, a teacher, a playwright and an emperor asked:

What is the best way to live?

How can we deal with the difficult situations we face?

What does it take to improve our minds?

Their answers are the heart of Stoic philosophy. We in schools can use their insights on the mind, on adversity and on practice to help our pupils shape their thought patterns.

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Here is a rough overview of what we teach our pupils about staying stoical at Michaela:

  1. Mind

“Some things are under our control, some are not. We are responsible for what is in our power to control: our mind and its perceptions. The chief task in life is simply this: to identify which externals are not under our control, and which are the choices we actually control. We control our opinion, choice, attachment, aversion. It is learning to separate the things that lie within our power from those that don’t.

“Whoever can be irritated – that person is a slave. No one can frustrate you without your cooperation; you are only hurt the moment you believe yourself to be. So when we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, never hold anyone except ourselves responsible. We forever compound our problems because we make them out to be worse than they actually are.”

Epictetus

“Life itself is only what you deem it. Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought. Such as are your habitual thoughts, such will also be the character of your mind. Your anxieties are creatures of your own imagination, and you can rid yourself of them. Observe how disquiet is all of our own making. Troubles never come from another’s hand, but are creatures of our own creation.”

Marcus Aurelius

 

  1. Adversity

“Difficulties show a person’s character. So when trouble comes, think of it as training, strengthening, toughening. When a challenge confronts you, remember you are being matched with a stronger sparring partner, as would a physical trainerA boxer derives the greatest advantage from his sparring partner, training his patience and even temper. In adversity, be happy that what you have learned is being tested by real events. Philosophy is preparing ourselves for what may come. So, what should we say to every trial we face? This is what I’ve trained for, for this is my discipline!”

Epictetus

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“Like a boxer with a sparring partner – no protest or suspicion – act this way with all things in life. Instead of: “How unlucky I am, that this should have happened to me!” Say rather: “how lucky I am, that it has left me with no bitterness, undismayed: to endure this is not misfortune but good fortune.” The obstacle on the path becomes the way.”

Marcus Aurelius

“Seize your adversities head on. To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden. Complain little: no condition is so bitter that a stable mind cannot find some consolation in it. Think your way through difficulties: harsh conditions weigh less on those who know how to bear them.”

Seneca

 

  1. Practice

“Study, practice and train if you want to be free: for as time passes we forget what we learned. The secret of happiness of the human mind is gratitude. Discipline yourself with thinking, exercises and reading: that’s the path to human freedom. If you’re succeeding, you see any moment as an opportunity to practise.”

Epictetus

“Train your mind through regular practice. Persevere in your efforts to acquire a sound understanding. One needs constant, daily practice … the pursuit of wisdom sets us free.” Seneca

“Make a habit of studying the maxims. Practise even when success looks hopeless. Discipline brings peace of mind.”

Marcus Aurelius

 

Stoicism in school

Children at school are learning how to deal with difficult emotions: frustration, worry, fear, cravings, temper, arguments, gossip, jealousy, squabbles, hurt, bitterness and more. Stoicism offers fortifying ways to think about these difficulties.

Teachers can …

  • show pupils what is always within their control: their thoughts, responses and reactions.
  • preemptively teach pupils how to anticipate and cope with adversity.
  • guide pupils to change their perceptions so that they complain, blame and resent less, and instead keep perspective, stay grateful, and are happy.

Pupils can learn how to…

  • let go of frustration: by realising that it is in the mind, so within our control, and by remembering that irritation is counter-productive and should be released and not dwelt on.
  • let go of worry: by remembering that the more we worry about things we can’t control, the worse we feel; the less we worry, the calmer and happier we feel.
  • cope with arguments: by avoiding criticising, complaining, blaming or resenting others, and instead feeling cheerful and grateful for what we have.

School leaders can convey the lives of the thinkers, and their thinking …

Epictetus was a Greco-Roman slave who earned his freedom and became a teacher.

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor taught by philosophers who wrote personal diaries.

Lucius Seneca was a tutor and advisor to the emperor of Rome, who wrote letters and plays.

All three thinkers used analogies, mantras and writing: notebooks, diaries, letters or plays.

Three Analogies

Slavery: irritation enslaves us; wisdom frees us.

Illusions: anxieties are creatures of our own creation; we can get rid of them.

Boxing: we must train hard so we don’t get beaten!

Boxing2.png 

Interactions

At Michaela, we continually return to stoicism in our interactions with pupils. From their first week at Michaela, we teach them about its approach to life: that everyone experiences difficulties, but that we can overcome them. We have assemblies on it, we spend an hour lesson on it, we discuss it over family lunch, and we revisit it in form time. We teach them to anticipate the frustrations of life, and the mantra: ‘stay stoical!’

Here are six ways we see it come in handy: in detentions, in exams, in arguments, in pain, in sport and with their families.

  1. In detention … stay stoical!

Sometimes, pupils feel upset or resentful about being given a detention. In conversations with them, we remind them to stay calm, stay stoical, keep perspective, let go of anger, work out what they control, think about how they can build trust in future, and decide what they can do differently next time.

  1. Before, in and after exams … stay stoical!

Tests can be seen as stressful by children. We help them see that preparation, revision and overcoming procrastination is within their control. If they fail an exam, or get a poor result, staying stoical and not agitating about it, but instead focusing on what they can do differently, helps them for the next assessment ahead.

  1. In arguments … stay stoical!

When children get into arguments with their friends or fellow pupils, stoicism can help remind them to practise keeping a calm mind, ignoring gossip, vicious rumours, or insults, and staying positive rather than exacerbating mistrust and anger.

  1. When ill or struggling… stay stoical!

It is sometimes a struggle to come in to school if children have a cold or feel a little ill; persisting rather than giving up makes them feel proud and strong. One Year 7 pupil we teach lost a tooth in assembly, put it in his pocket and carried on listening. One was stung by a wasp at sport, and overcame the pain by keeping stoicism in mind. Another gets regular nosebleeds but proudly endures. After she broke her wrist just before exams, another taught herself to write with her left hand, and is now ambidextrous. The stoic mindset reduces our fragility: the volatility of the world can’t destabilise us. With stoicism, problems become opportunities to train our resilience.

     5. At sport … stay stoical!

Sport, by its competitive nature, is a time when tempers can run high. Stoicism reminds pupils not to overcelebrate and jeer at others when scoring a goal or winning a match; and not to despair or blame team-mates (or the ref!) having conceded a goal or losing a match. It prevents yellow cards turning into red cards and prevents fights breaking out. At Michaela, we call our football team The Stoics as a symbol of this mindset. If it’s cold and raining, we say: ‘great! character-building stuff: a chance to train our willpower!’

   6. With your families … stay stoical!

Children experience difficult times growing up with parents, siblings and cousins. If they are taught how to stay stoical at school, it helps them to overcome arguments, illness and adversity in their family. It can help them keep perspective, stay grateful and not take their brothers, sisters, mums and dads for granted, but appreciate them.

Teaching children to stay stoical when times are tough gives them a powerful perspective that helps them improve their resilience, their relationships, and ultimately, their lives. It even improves teachers’ lives, too!

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Netflix

Imagine working for an organisation where there are no annual performance meetings, no bureaucracy, where you do not need permission to take time off, and where the expense policy is just five words long: ‘act in our best interest’.

Imagine working for an organisation where every person you work with is someone you admire and learn loads from.

Or rather, here it is.

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Netflix is the world’s leading video on demand streaming company and a studio library in the cloud. Since its startup in 1997, it has gained over 90 million users in over 190 countries, and its revenues in 2016 were well over $8,800,000,000. It now produces more series and films than any other network or channel, spending $6 billion on content in 2017. It has unlimited viewing, no adverts, no cancellation fees. They are a harbinger of the era of internet TV. And one part of its success is due to its remarkable staff culture.

It’s been called the most important document to come out of Silicon Valley. Netflix’s slidedeck on their culture has been viewed 13 million times.

What lessons can we learn for creating a great staff culture in education? There are three that might be worth thinking about.

 

  1. Align your team around your values.

The Netflix culture focuses on achieving excellence through living their values, hiring and promoting for their values: priorities over bureaucracy; alignment, simplicity, candour, challenge, teamwork and self-improvement.

  • All of us are responsible for ensuring we live our values.
  • Building a great team is the most important task for managers, making sure everyone understands the top values, priorities and high performance
  • Managers are responsible for creating a great place to work. Employees stay because they are passionate about their work, and well paid, not because of bonuses.
  • Eliminate distracting complexity

 

  1. Give people excellent colleagues.
  • The best thing you can do for employees is have only the best people work alongside them. Hiring and retaining excellent colleagues outmatch everything else.
  • One outstanding employee gets more done and costs less than two adequate employees.
  • We develop people by giving them the opportunity to develop themselves by surrounding them with stunning colleagues and giving them big challenges to work on.
  • Promotions are for extraordinary role models for the culture and values.

 

  1. Teamwork is key to great culture. 

“Years ago we eliminated formal performance management reviews. They didn’t make sense—they were too ritualistic and too infrequent. So we asked managers and employees to have conversations about performance as an organic part of their work. People can’t believe that a company the size of Netflix doesn’t hold annual reviews. If you talk simply and honestly about performance on a regular basis, you can get good results—probably better ones than a company that grades everyone on a five-point scale.”

“We continually tell managers that building a great team is their most important task. We didn’t measure them on whether they were excellent coaches or mentors or got their paperwork done on time. Great teams accomplish great work, and recruiting the right team was the top priority.”

  • Managers own the job of creating great teams.
  • Leaders own the job of creating great culture.
  • Tell the truth about performance.
  • Identify things that colleagues should start, stop and continue
  • “Let’s just tell the truth. People can handle the truth.”
  • Is there a mismatch between values and behaviours? 
  • Have the courage to question actions inconsistent with the values. 
  • Does everyone know what they should be doing right now to improve the organisation?

 

An organisation’s culture is shaped by its people and its teams, and their values and priorities. It is well worth us as school leaders taking a look at our own staff culture with this in mind.

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Shakespeare’s Schooling: King’s New School

“Education made Shakespeare what he was”

Soul of the Age: Life, Mind and World: Jonathan Bate

‘with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide … Shakes-scene’

Robert Greene, Shakespeare’s contemporary

“Shakespeare’s schooling provided an excellent resource for the future playwright. Everything Shakespeare learned at school he used in some way in his plays. Having mastered the rules of language, he was able to break and transform them. Shakespeare’s education is an argument for the value of memorising and of constant practice.”

Teaching Shakespeare: Rex Gibson

 

William Shakespeare, whose father was probably illiterate (signing his name with a cross) and broke, became one of the most creative, prolific and successful playwrights of all time, writing over 40 plays and 150 sonnets, with some of the most gripping plots, memorable characters (from protagonists Caesar, Lear, Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Juliet, Viola and Rosalind to villains: murderous Richard III, usurer Shylock, the bastard Edmund, attempted rapist Caliban, the Puritan Angelo and the Machiavellian master-manipulator, Iago), a dizzying variety of settings (England, Rome, Egypt, Athens, Troy, Verona, Vienna, Venice, Cyprus, Scotland, Denmark, Naples, Sicily), and the most moving and mellifluous language that audiences had ever heard, perhaps ever since. Four centuries after his death, his words and plays sustain a multi-million pound global industry spanning from California professors and Hollywood films to Indian textbook authors and the Japanese Globe Theatre in Tokyo.

 

What can we teachers learn from Shakespeare’s schooling in England some five hundred years ago?

stratford kingsnewschool

Shakespeare went to King’s New School in Stratford. It was a free school established by royal charter of King Edward VI in 1553, just 11 years before Shakespeare was born. It established free lodging and a salary of £20 a year for a schoolmaster, a substantial sum that signaled how much education was valued. The aim of Tudor schooling was that ‘good literature and discipline might be diffused and propagated throughout all parts of our Kingdom’: literacy and moral education were seen as the foundation of the commonwealth. Children would learn about wisdom, virtue and civic action from books, classic texts and studies.

Seven-year olds started school at six in the morning in summer and seven in winter, and studied from dawn til dusk all year round, six days a week, twelve months a year. They spent 2,000 hours in school, more than double current school hours. William spent 7 years at this school from 1571 to age 14 1578, equivalent of 14 years’ worth of school hours today, and had been to primary school from age 5 to 7 to learn lessons in behaviour, literacy, scripture and manners, ‘until they can read perfectly, pronounce and sound their words plainly and distinctly’. In his teachers young William first met professionals educated at University: all seven masters who taught there between 1554 and 1582 were Oxford or Cambridge graduates. One, Thomas Jenkins, was so dedicated to teaching that he asked Oxford for two years’ sabbatical so ‘that he may give himself to teach children’.

 

Syllabus

Pupils at the school studied few subjects in great depth to high rigour, with total immersion in classical language and literature. The Renaissance was the driving force behind the syllabus: Religious Education, Latin, Literature, Arithmetic, English Grammar, Philosophy and Theatre, learning entire textbooks by heart, including one called ‘An Introduction of the Eight Parts of Speech.’ Set texts were the Geneva Bible, Aesop’s fables, Virgil’s epic Aeneid, Cicero’s philosophy On Duties, (a handbook of civic humanism), Plutarch’s Lives (paired biographies from antiquity), Livy and Pliny’s Histories, Ovid’s poetic Metamorphoses, Palingenius’ Zodiacus Vitae (the Zodiac of Life, philosophy where the world’s a stage and humans are actors), Caesar’s War Commentaries, Erasmus’ Adagia (3,000 proverbs) and De Copia, (On Rhetoric), Juvenal’s Satires, Terence’s comedies and Seneca’s tragedies. The young Will read prodigiously. His originality stemmed from his deep knowledge of the origins of deep thinking: the best that had been thought and said.

 

Discipline

Children were trained by strict discipline into respect and obedience, but not fear or subservience. The school day was strictly controlled and supervised. The school statutes expect: ‘strict order and quiet to apply their learning’. A good teacher was by definition a strict teacher. The humanist educationalist Erasmus, whose handbooks Elizabethan teachers used, wrote: ‘Fear is of no avail in education. Love must be the first influence, followed and completed by a trustful and affectionate respect, which compels obedience far more surely than dread can ever do. Masters conscious of their own incompetence are generally the worst floggers. They cannot teach, so they beat.’ In Measure for Measure, the Duke mentions the birch rod is ‘more mock’d than feared’. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare stages a school lesson with a Welsh schoolmaster Hugh Evans (he was taught by Welsh schoolmaster Thomas Jenkins), who says the words, ‘Remember, William’ at least three times in the scene, uses praise – ‘that’s a good William’ – and where flogging is threatened but not carried out: ‘Go your ways and play, go.’

 

Instruction

Shakespeare learned through a rigorous regime of sermons, rote memorisation, relentless drills, endless repetition, copying and imitation, textbooks, daily analysis of texts, extended practice exercises, dictation, composition, declamation and twice-weekly examinations. Forty hours a week were spent reading, memorising and writing. Children sat in rows facing the schoolmaster at the front of the room. There was continual instruction in the art of remembrance, in systems of memory or ‘mnemonics’. Catechism – combining written summaries with oral chants – was used as a mode of instruction and memorisation. The culture prized eloquence: many hours were spent by pupils compiling long lists of synonyms. Debate, dialogue and drama were foundations of Elizabethan teaching and staples of learning. At school, pupils read and performed ancient plays: the young Will acted in his first play while still at school.

 

Translation

The central educational principle was immersion. The essence of the system of foreign language learning was translation, translation, translation: double translation, backwards and forwards between English and Latin, day in, day out. The result was a command of Latin in leaving school at 15 that was better than a University graduate in classics today: fluency, even in conversation.

 

Writing

Collections, memorisation, imitation exercises and composition drills are four of the ways that Elizabethan grammar schools taught writing. Amplification was so drilled into the young master William that it became second nature in his writing. Commonplace books were copied into in order to have a ready record of examples of general truths about life and behaviour. Sententiae, collections of memorable aphorisms, provided a series of building blocks for composition. ‘Assiduous practice makes everything possible.’ ‘A liar needs a good memory.’ Pupils would be required to play around with such phrases: change the tense and mood to interrogative: ‘What will your practice make possible?’ Make it plural, William: ‘Liars need good memories.’ If you are making a story, writing a play, or plotting a rival’s downfall, like Iago, you need a good memory so your plot withstands scrutiny. They were invited to write anecdotes, confirmations and refutations of maxims and adages.

Out of imitation came invention. Pupils were required to imagine they were a character from classical mythology, literature or history: persuade Caesar to cross the Rubicon; convince Cleopatra to choose suicide over slavery; sway the senate to ostracise Antony for monarchical-dictatorial intent. Write that, Master William, and you are well on the way to inventing dramatic characters of Caesar and Cicero some 20 years on in 1599 in the opening of the Globe Theatre.

 

There is much to be learned from the education in England some 500 years ago that enabled our greatest ever writer to create the greatest plays ever written.

 

***

 

Based on research from these texts:

Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt

Soul of the Age: Shakespeare’s Life, Mind and World by Jonathan Bate

Shakespeare’s England by R.E. Pritchard

Shakespeare’s Language by Frank Kermode

Shakespeare’s Genius by Jonathan Bate

Shakespeare: A Biography by Peter Ackroyd

Revealing Shakespeare by Rene Weiss

Elizabethan Rhetoric: Theory and Practice by Peter Mack

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Scaling Mount Improbable: King’s Wimbledon

What can we learn from a top private school?

kcs

King’s College School Wimbledon is one of the most academically successful schools in the world. 96% of pupils achieve A*-A at GCSE, and 41 pupils gained A*s in every one of their exams. 25% of their pupils achieved 45 in the International Baccalaureate, which put them in the top 1% globally. 56 pupils won places at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. In October, I went to visit.

On a bus on the way just before 8am, I overheard a conversation between two King’s boys. They were practising speaking in Russian for a test. They were learning this as an extra-curricular language and preparing for a trip to Moscow at Easter.

Mount Improbable

It would be easy to dismiss Kings’ results as impossible for us in the state sector to replicate: their expensive fees, high funding, lucrative facilities, academic selection, high-achieving-only intake, highly invested parents. They own a cricket pavilion, expansive playing fields, a swimming pool and even a boathouse on the Thames that they share with Cambridge University. State schools will never have the money, intake or facilities that they have.

Eiger.png

Nevertheless, there is so much that can be learned from Kings, and other private schools, if we approach them in the spirit of an abundance mentality. Their success need not detract from our own in the state sector, but can contribute if we seek out ideas that could help us improve. Here are some of the ideas that I learned from my visit.

  1. Rigorous academic and cultural curriculum

At Kings, pupils study complex Maths and Science from a young age, challenging literature, sweeping narrative history, theology through scripture, Latin, philosophy, fine art, classical music and theatre written by the greatest dramatists the world has ever seen. The rigour is sky-high. Offering the International Baccalaureate at sixth form forces pupils to study a broad academic curriculum: you cannot give up Maths, English, Science, Humanities or a Language until 18. Michael Merrick puts it beautifully in his post about a year growing up in a private school:

‘We were not only exposed to high culture, but completely immersed in it, day after day, as the backdrop and foreground within which our development took place. Here, aesthetics was not a cerebral pursuit for ageing dons – it permeated everything, and infused us with a sense of awe and humility that forced the eyes, even the soul, to look upwards in its educational pursuits. We were encouraged to reach for the stars, not future salary scales. This exposure to high culture [showed] an instinctive commitment to and formation within a higher aesthetic.This is uneasy and unfamiliar territory for many (but by no means all) of us in the state sector.

  1. Simple traditional instruction

Teachers teach didactically and unashamedly from the front, and lessons are heavily teacher-led; pupils sit in rows facing the front; textbooks, exercise books and pens are the default technology, even up to sixth form; simplicity is the watchword: in English, the main resource is simply class texts. The tasks tackle extended subject practice with limited variety: reading, writing, comparing examples, noting, discussing and summarising. For many veteran teachers at King’s, this seemed to be straightforward, no-nonsense common sense.

  1. Culture of hard graft

The message that hard work is the only way to succeed is everywhere: in every assembly, pupils give a musical performance, and then explain how hard they had to work to practice, persevere and resist the temptation to give up; in every lesson, the focus is on thinking hard about the subject and maximising pupil cognitive work on tasks; every evening, pupils and parents are clear that they are expected to produce two hours of homework. Hard graft is celebrated and admired.

  1. Writing guidance

Teaching writing is heavily guided, even up to sixth form. In History, for instance, starting point sentences are shared for each paragraph of complex essays on new material. Extensive written guidance is shared with pupils. Sub-questions within each paragraph and numerous facts are also shared.

  1. Examples as feedback

Excellent examples are continually shared as feedback. In English, the best essay is photocopied, handed out and meticulously annotated so that others begin to internalise the mental models of success. Exemplars, combined with redrafting, are the simplest way for teachers to give guidance on how to improve.

  1. Thesis statements

Introductions are the vehicle of choice for improving essay writing. One-sentence thesis statements are set out to frontload and signpost the essay, and this is taught from Year 9. They are very easy to share and compare. A bank of exemplar thesis statements can therefore be built up, with teachers collecting lots of excellent pupil examples.

  1. Homework

Extensive homework is set at two hours a night in Year 9. In History and English, extensive written homework is set, collected, marked and returned. Over the holidays, two 2-page essays were expected of Year 10 over the week-long half-term. It was simply scored out of the same denominator (i.e. always out of 25) for comparability. Massive amounts of rigorous, independent subject practice are being done by King’s pupils, which sets them up to achieve A*s.

  1. Competitions

Pupils frequently enter national subject competitions such as Oxbridge essay prizes. There are sports fixtures, choir and orchestra performances, music concerts, drama performances and debating contests organised throughout the year. 

  1. Kindness

Form tutors go over King’s kindness commitment every term, and it is in every pupil planner. A culture of kindness is seen as a collective responsibility.

 KingsKindness.png 

  1. Pupil Leadership

Sixth formers mentor and teach youngsters in Key Stage 3. Sixth former had set up their own drama club, for instance, and produced and performed their own plays. Captains are appointed for sports, debating and general knowledge teams. Prefects are also appointed to take on leadership roles in the school.

When I was there, I asked several pupils what they most liked about the school. All said similar things: ‘the atmosphere: everyone gets on here’, and variations on that theme.

None of these things is irreplicable for a state school; they do not rely on extensive funding or a selective intake. Any school in the state sector can learn from these ambitious, common-sense practices that could help us improve the education we give to our pupils. The challenge for us is to show that scaling Mount Improbable is not impossible.

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The Blogosphere in 2016: Roaring Tigers, Hidden Dragons

The Signal Sharpens

If felt like in 2016 the signal sharpened. The education blogosphere improved its curation of quality posts. This is mainly thanks to Andrew Old’s work on the Echo Chamber. In 2015, 6,000 blogposts were published (over 100 a week), far too many to possibly keep up with. In 2016, this was slimmed down to 2,000, a much more manageable 40 or so a week. What I most like about reading education blogs is how they push our thinking forward.

 

Thought-provoking blogposts of 2016

Visuals from Oliver Caviglioli

Oliver’s work pushes our thinking forward on how we can best organise knowledge, especially using visuals, hierarchical categorization and graphic organisers. His work with Learning Scientists simplifies, clarifies and amplifies over 100 years of research evidence from cognitive science. Oliver’s media on twitter is a treasure trove.

 

Comparative Judgment from Daisy Christodoulou

Daisy’s work pushes our thinking forward on how we can improve assessment by tapping into teachers’ tacit knowledge, saving time while improving accuracy.

 

Struggle & Success from David Didau

David’s work pushes our thinking forward on how we think about learning, especially on the thorny questions of transfer and in his three-step model of success, internalisation and challenge.

 

Note-Taking from Toby French

Toby’s work pushes our thinking forward on how we can improve our pupils’ ability to take useful notes, and how straightforward excellent teaching can be.

 

Handwriting automaticity from Sarah Barker

Sarah’s work pushes our thinking forward on an often-neglected component of learning: handwriting, and how to automate it for weaker writers.

 

Here are other blogposts that had me thinking hard in 2016:

Brutal honesty & the right questions by Steve O’Callaghan

Disciplined enquiry by Phil Stock

Language learning; why doesn’t teacher training stick? By Harry Fletcher Wood

Instruction, immersion, habit; teaching interpretations explicitly by Andy Tharby

Three fixes for edtech by Greg Ashman

Genericism by Michael Fordham

Neomania by Steve Adcock

Instruction by Kris Boulton

Assessment by Ben Newmark

The Luke Effect on workload by Antony Radice

Overcomplicating teaching by Jo Facer

Simplifying assessment by Stuart Lock

GCSE results by Tom Boulton

 

Roaring Tigers: Michaela teachers’ blogs

Jo Facer: Starting at Michaela, Term 1 & In Review

Katie Ashford: Show sentence & Beyond

Jonny Porter: Sample & domain

Katharine Birbalsingh: Teachers

Cassie Cheng: No powerpoint

Olivia Dyer: Drill

Mike Taylor: A Michaela lesson

HinTai Ting: Starting at Michaela in Maths

Lia Martin: The art of narration

Dani Quinn: Textbooks; Memorising; What matters most in maths; Examples

 

Roaring on the Tigers: Blogs About Michaela

(thanks to Naureen for her brilliant collation!)

Doug Lemov Rethinking Workload and Marking; The Power of Gratitude

David Didau Route One Schooling and My Return to Michaela

Kelly Leonard: The importance of Debating Michaela

Stephen Tierney: Michaela is Marmite

Toby French: An Afternoon At Michaela

Tom Bennett: Sympathy for the Devil: My Day at Michaela

Tarjinder Gill: Love, Actually

Naureen Khalid: Come work at this School

Steve Adcock: Three things I learned from Michaela

Chris Guerin: So I Went to Michaela…

Freya Odell: I bloomin’ love Michaela!

 

Top blogposts posted in 2016 on this blog

Moral Psychology

Battle Hymn

Bootcamp

Discipline

No Excuses

Drill

Mnemonics

 

Most viewed blogposts of 2016 on this blog

Why don’t students remember what they’ve learned?

Knowledge Organisers

Hornets and Butterflies: how to reduce workload

A 5 year revision plan

Marking is a hornet

 

16 Top books of 2016

  1. The Path (reviewed by Jo Facer)
  2. Cleverlands (reviewed by Jo Facer)
  3. Hillbilly Elegy (reviewed by Jo Facer)
  4. The Happiness Hypothesis
  5. Mnemonology
  6. Bury The Chains
  7. Silk Roads
  8. Prisoners of Geography
  9. Fools, Frauds & Firebrands
  10. Metaphors We Live By
  11. The Bible for Grown Ups
  12. Why Evolution is True
  13. The Great Degeneration
  14. The Third Reich Trilogy
  15. Dictator
  16. Dynasty

 

Highlights of 2016

 

Highlight #1. Debating Michaela (April 2016)

Schools should not do whatever it takes

No excuses discipline works

Performance Related Pay is damaging

Personalised learning harms children

Project-based learning doesn’t work best

Here is an excellent review of the debates by the brilliant Kelly Leonard.

Here are two brilliant 1-page visuals of the talks by Oliver Caviglioli:

NotWhateveritTakes OC.jpg  PRPisdamaging.jpg

 

Highlight #2: ResearchEd (September 2016)

Daisy Christodoulou on Comparative Judgment

Rob Coe on Assessment

Tim Oates on Curriculum

Katie Ashford on Mental Health

Jon Brunskill: A remarkable demo of discovery vs didacticism in primary

Jo Facer: We’ve Overcomplicated Teaching

 

Highlight #3: Publishing Battle Hymn of The Tiger Teachers: over 4,000 copies sold in 1 month

Bootcamp & Homework as Revision Chapters as visuals, by the awe-inspiring Oliver Caviglioli:

 BootcampOC.png     HWRevisionOC.png

 

Highlight #3: The Battle Hymn Book Launch (November)

Ripping up the Rulebook: a 1 page visual by Oliver Caviglioli

Michaela as a new teacher: a 1 page visual by Oliver Caviglioli

CPD: Question Everything: a 1 page visual by Oliver Caviglioli

Didactic Teaching: a 1 page visual by Oliver Caviglioli

No Nonsense, No Burnout: a 1 page visual by Oliver Caviglioli

No Excuses: a 1-page visual by Oliver Caviglioli

Bootcamp: a 1-page visual by Oliver Cavilglioli

Reluctant Readers: a 1-page visual by Oliver Caviglioli

Sex, Lies & Learning Styles: a 1-page visual by Oliver Caviglioli

 

Highlight #4: ResearchEd Christmas Debate: what is the question on assessment? (December)

 

Doug Lemov visiting and filming at Michaela was a great highlight of 2016. Visiting my old school was another highlight!

 

3 Trends in Education Blogosphere in 2016

Trend #1: Education debate intensifies: Dragon Slayers

All year, the traditional-progressive debate raged on. The dragon reared its head: high-profile educational leaders announced that the debate was ‘boring’ or pointless. Dragon slayers Toby French, Horatio Speaks, Andrew Old, James Theobald, Antony Radice, Rory Gribell and Phil Stock struck back with some superb blogposts, comprehensively routing those who are desperately, unsuccessfully, trying to silence the debate.

Why Progressives Can’t Make Progress by Antony Radice

Progressive education patronises the poor by Tarjinder Gill

Dangerous Conjectures by Horatio Speaks

Boredom & The Divide by Toby French

Varieties of Boredom by David Didau

Denying the Debate between Progressive and Traditional Education (1) by Andrew Old

Denying the Debate between Progressive and Traditional Education (2) by Andrew Old

Denying the Debate between Progressive and Traditional Education (3) by Andrew Old

Denying the Debate between Progressive and Traditional Education (4) by Andrew Old

Trendiest Arguments for Progressive Education by Andrew Old

10 Years On: how the education debate has changed by Andrew Old

The unexamined life by Phil Stock

Shutting Down Debate by Rory Gribell

Tradition and Progress: A Real Dichotomy by Martin Robinson

Why we shouldn’t close down the debate

A Defence of The Debate by James Theobald

 

Trend #2: Teachers start to replace marking with whole-class feedback… and OFSTED cut marking!

Jo Facer

Toby French

Ben Newmark: this is changing everything for us

Louis Everett

All over twitter new shoots are springing up: teachers using whole-class feedback.

Ofsted even started to close the yawning chasm between rhetoric and reality:

Ofsted’s National Director of Education urged inspectors not to report on marking from the TES.

It’s official: your school’s marking policy is probably wrong in The Guardian

 

Trend #3: Great minds like a think: teachers with the courage to change their minds

The trend is unmistakable: there are an increasing number of teachers with the courage to state publically that they changed their minds on progressive thinking.

I was a teenage progressive: James Theobald

I changed my mind @heymisssmith

From a similar defector: I changed my mind by Mike Stuchberry

Others who have tweeted on this include Eric Kalenze, Optimist Prime, Greg Ashman, Whatonomy, Summer Turner, Chris Hildew, Phil Stock, DebsF, Emma Davies, David Didau, Sarah Ledger, Shaun Allison, Tom Boulter, Mr Chadwick, Aaron Kerrigan and others too numerous to mention.

 

3 Hopes for 2017

Subject-Specific Echo Chambers

With a new Chief Inspector, OFSTED stop grading teaching

Dragon-slayers: teachers increasingly challenge the hydra-like orthodoxies in schools in England

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Mnemonics: making the forgettable memorable

ElephantWater.png

Remember like an elephant

I’ve always loved mnemonics. One of the first ones I learned was for the points of the compass, clockwise: Naughty Elephants Squirt Water. Why does it work so well to help young children remember? I think it’s because it’s simple, not overloading, but rather chunking four pieces of information into one unit of meaning, a meaningful sentence, which is also a vivid, memorable mental image; it is also sequential, with the order of letters and words reflecting the order of compass points, helping us remember the difference between East and West, which are often and easily confused by children.

 

A demo

I saw my colleague Jess Lund teaching a lesson on psychology recently. She shared a demonstration on memory. Try this simplified version of it. There are three buckets of words to remember. Take 60 seconds to try to revise each one, ready to reproduce them within 60 seconds:

Bucket 1: tree market happiness box window apple love road book hat

Bucket 2: fox hen burger steak love conflict bed pillow computer phone

Bucket 3: arrow ball crow dice effort fall gate hero injustice jumper

Which buckets were easier to remember? Once we see the pattern of bucket 2, pairs, or the pattern of bucket 3, alphabetical order, these give us ways to recall remembered information: cues. The reasons that bucket 2 is easier than bucket 1 is because of organisation, and that bucket 3 tends to be easiest is because of unique cues (first letters sequenced in alphabetical order).

What we can learn from this demo is that if we want our pupils to remember what they’re learning, it might be advantageous if we can organise subject material and give them distinctive cues for recall.

 

Acrostic Mnemonics

Some of my favourite type of mnemonics are acrostic mnemonics. Naughty Elephants Squirt Water is just one example. Here are 20 or more others that are useful for learning subjects, some of which I still remember being taught in school to this day, for remembering tricky subject knowledge:

1. Living Organisms

Mrs Gren: move, respire, sense, grow, reproduce, excrete and require nutrition.

2. Trigonometry

SohCahToa: sine opposite hypotenuse; cosine adjacent hypotenuse; tan opposite adjacent

3. Mathematical order of operations

BIDMAS: brackets indices division multiplication addition subtraction

4. Long Division in Mathematics

Does Macdonalds sell burgers? Divide, multiply, subtract, bring down (via Philip Roddy)

5. Seven continents

Always Eat An Apple, Says Aunt Nora: Asia Europe Africa Australasia South America Antarctica North America

6. Order of Planets

My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets: Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto

7. Colours of a Rainbow

Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain: Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet

8. Scientific Classification

King Phillip Can Order Five Good Soups: Kingdom Phylla Class Order Family Genus Species

9. Five Kinds of Vertebrates

FARM B: Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Mammals, Birds

10. Scientific Conversion

Oil Rig: oxidation is losing electrons, reduction is gaining electrons

11. Natural Selection in Biology

VC Baspog: variation, competition, best adapted survive, pass on genes (via Damian Benney)

12. Coordinating Conjunctions in Grammar

Fanboys: for and nor but or yet so

13. Order of Greek Philosophers

Spa: Socrates Plato Aristotle

14. Five Pillars of Islam

French People Can’t Forget Paris: Fasting Prayer Charity Faith Pilgrimage

15. Five Prophets

I just love every day: Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Ezekiel Daniel

16. First Five Old Testament Books

God’s Eternal Love Never Dies: Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy

17. Musical Notation

Every Girl Born Deserves Freedom: EGBDF keys

18. French past tense verbs conjugated with etre not avoir

Dr Mrs Vandertramp:

devenir, revenir

monter, rester, sortir,

venir, aller, naitre, descendre, entrer, rentrer, tomber, retourner, arriver, mourir, partir

19. Tricky Spellings

Beautiful: big elephants are under trees in forests until light

Rhythm: rhythm helps your two hips move

Mnemonics: Mnemonics Now Erase Mankind’s Oldest Nemesis, Insufficient Cerebral Storage!

20. Psychology: Four Lobes of the Brain

Freud Tells Parents Off: Frontal, Temporal, Parietal, Occipital. (via Kate Barry)

21. Medicine: Twelve Cranial Nerves

On Old Olympus’ Towering Tops, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops: optic, olfactory, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, auditory, glossopharyngeal, vagus, spinal accessory, and hypoglossal nerves.

22. Historical Dates: Rhyme Mnemonics

There are also rhyme mnemonics for historical dates, such as:

In 1492, Columbus sailed the oceans blue.

 

What can we learn from these 20+ mnemonics? How exactly do they help us remember? They are simple; they chunk down complex, overloading or forgettable knowledge and they make it memorable, cheating the limitations of our working memories; they give us a way of self-checking that we have remembered all the content, and in the right order.

In almost every area of human knowledge, mnemonics are useful – from mathematics, science, geography, music, religion, history, literature, philosophy and languages, including complex processes like trigonometry, to spelling, grammar, and medicine, as the examples above show – because they work with the human cognitive architecture that we all have in common.

 

So, if we want to make our own mnemonics, useful our own subjects, here are some ways we could start.

4PrinciplesAcrosticMnemonic.png

Example of Making a New Mnemonic: Seven Deadly Sins

Here is an example of a mnemonic we have created in our English department. We were trying to come up with ways for our pupils to remember what all the 7 deadly sins from Medieval England were. The number is just beyond the limits of working memory, so both children and teachers were finding it hard to remember all seven reliably. I came up with the faintly ludicrous mnemonic GP WEASL (Gluttony Pride Wrath Envy Avarice Sloth Lust): imagine an eccentric Austrian doctor, perhaps! My colleague Sarah went one better and came up with a more easily memorable image:

Wasp Leg: Wrath Avarice Sloth Pride; Lust Envy Gluttony.

We really liked it because it’s a vivid image, chunked into one meaningful phrase. It has helped both teachers and pupils to recall what the 7 deadly sins are, which is useful when reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the morality plays like Everyman and much subsequent English literature.

 

Another simple one we came up with in Science was a way to remember the answer to the question: why wasn’t Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection accepted after the 1859 publication of ‘On The Origin Of Species’?

GEM: God (19th century Victorians believed in divine, biblical creation); Evidence (there was insufficient evidence through fossils); Mechanism (genetics as a science didn’t yet exist).

 

I’m an English teacher, and so from here on I’m going to stick to English examples. But you could apply this process for making mnemonics to any subject.

 

Spelling Mnemonics

In English, two of the areas that mnemonics hold most potential in are spellings and quotations. Spellings in English are often irregular and tricky to remember.

How to remember that responsible (unlike accountable) ends with –ible not –able? Words like appear, necessary, tomorrow, repetition and successful have tricky, forgettable combinations. I still have to write rhyme slowly in case I misspell it and confuse it with rhythm! Here are 10 mnemonics that help kids remember how to spell 10 frequently misspelled words:

 

  1. fascinating: science is fascinating
  2. repetition: repeated letters are ETI in r-Ep-ETITI-on.
  3. suspense: suspense has 3 ‘s’ letters, like the dot dot dot of a cliffhanger . . .
  4. responsible: I am responsIble for my fate.
  5. rhyme: rhyme helps your mate educate.
  6. appear: Peter Pan appears, then disappears.
  7. necessary: it’s necessary for a shirt to have 1 collar, 2 sleeves: 1 c, then 2 s’s
  8. tomorrow: will we go with Tom or Row tomorrow?
  9. successful: Cheryl Cole and Steven Spielberg are both successful.
  10. embarrassing: It’s embarrassing when we blush ruby red and feel like an ass.

 

What these mnemonics have in common is encoding a memorable way to remember the trickiest part of difficult spellings. Building up a bank of spelling mnemonics and teaching them explicitly is something we are embarking on at Michaela.

 

Quotation Mnemonics

We also want to prepare our pupils for GCSE literature exams and English essays where the questions are unseen before the assessment. They need to know many quotations off by heart in order to succeed. Mnemonics are a great way of remembering trigger words for quotations. For instance, we want pupils (and teachers!) to remember these quotations from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, starting with the main character.

  1. “Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires.”
  2. “He’s here in double trust; first, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed.”
  3. “Vaulting ambition only overleaps itself.”
  4. “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?”
  5. “Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell that summons you to heaven or to hell.”
  6. “A voice cried ‘sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!’”
  7. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”
  8. “I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go over.”
  9. “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow
  10. “I bear a charmed life, which will not yield to one of woman born.”

An approach we’ve found successful is to choose a striking ‘trigger word’ that can be remembered in order of the plot of the play. For instance:

  1. Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires.”
  2. “He’s here in double trust; first, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed.”
  3. “Vaulting ambition only overleaps itself.”
  4. “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?”
  5. Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell that summons you to heaven or to hell.”
  6. “A voice cried ‘sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!’”
  7. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”
  8. “I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go over.”
  9. “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow
  10. “I bear a charmed life, which will not yield to one of woman born.”

10 Trigger Cues for Macbeth Quotations

Stars, trust, ambition, dagger, hear, sleep, neptune, blood, candle, charmed.

Ten words are easier to remember than ten quotations! It is then easy to set practice tasks such as: write out the 10 trigger words for your Macbeth quotations from memory, and pupils write: stars, trust, ambition, dagger, hear, sleep, neptune, blood, candle, charmed. We could go one step further and link them into a vivid phrase: “Stars trust ambitious daggers, hearing sleepy nightmares of bloody candle charms.” Ten quotations into one chunk in long-term memory. Practice exercises to recall the quotations using the mnemonic is then what is required for pupils to remember them during the essay. Some wrote ‘s t a d h s n b c c’ in the margin of their essays to aid recall under time pressure, mid-flow!

We plan to use these mnemonics for GCSE English Literature across the 3 texts (a Shakespeare play, a 19th century novel and a modern text), so that our pupils have the strongest foundation for answering any essay question that could come up.

In our curriculum, our pupils now have this shared memory bank across subjects that they can draw on, which helps them to remember the mnemonics we are collectively learning.

Mnemonics are fantastically useful and versatile in teaching. Given what we know about how memory works, through encoding, storage and retrieval, and the interaction between limited working memory and almost unlimited long-term memory, the main limit to making mnemonics useful is our own imagination as teachers.

 

***

For those who are interested, there is a sound foundation of over 60 years of scientific research into mnemonics:

Miller, 1956: Limits on our capacity for processing information

“Recoding is an extremely powerful weapon for increasing the amount of information that we can deal with. In one form or another we use recoding constantly in our daily behaviour.”

Bellezza, 1996: Mnemonic Methods to Enhance Storage and Retrieval

“The study of mnemonic devices can make important contributions to the study of human memory and learning. Teachers must learn how to activate appropriate information in the memories of their students by using specially designed mnemonics to develop useful knowledge structures. Current research provides reasons to be optimistic.” 

Levin, 2004: Mnemonics boost recall

“In all experiments, mnemonic keyword students (whether individual, paired, or small group) outperformed their counterparts.”

Worthen, 2010: Mnemonology: Mnemonics for the 21st century

Encoding Processes are Fundamental to Mnemonic Success

“Research has established that the joint operation of organisation and elaboration, herein referred to as distinctive processing, enhances memory retention beyond the operation of either alone.”

Ornstein at al, 2010: Teachers’ Mnemonic Instruction and Children’s Memory Skills

In longitudinal classroom research, researchers found that although memory demands in school are high, explicit instruction in specific strategies for remembering is low. Students taught by high mnemonic teachers outperformed those taught by low mnemonic teachers over one year and two year periods.

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