Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back
I have previously blogged about How I Teach and in more depth about my Weekly Quizzes. In this post I am going to go into a little more depth about the way I start my lessons, using what I call Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back.
This strategy is based on the idea of spaced retrieval practice, which incorporates both the Testing Effect and Spacing Effect, two of the most well documented ideas in the science of learning. The testing effect says that we learn better by forcing ourselves to retrieve knowledge from our long term memory, as opposed to restudying it. The spacing effect tells us that we remember material better if we space out studying out over time, rather than cramming. Both of these ideas are also considered to be desirable difficulties by Bjork in that they make initial performance lower, but long term learning better.
One of the important things with spaced retrieval is that it is most effective if done on the verge of forgetting. This is when it has the biggest impact on learning. However, the time taken to get to this point increases with each subsequent retrieval.
So I wanted to a way that I could have students recall material from recent work, as well as that which they studied further back in time. With this in mind, I came up with the idea of Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back.
I use this activity to start the majority of my lessons now, and a typical one from IGCSE is given below.
The first question is always taken from the previous lesson. This will usually be a simple recall question, perhaps performing a procedure from the last lesson. This is the idea that when we first encounter something, we need to review it quickly.
After the first retrieval, we need to retrieve it again after a slightly longer period of time. The second question is from the previous unit of work (for us, a unit lasts 2-3 weeks), and this requires students to think back a bit further. The question I use here is normally not a simple recall, but also not a full exam style question. It will usually be a little more involved than the last lesson question.
The final section forces students to retrieve knowledge from further back, earlier in the year, or even from previous years. These will usually be past exam questions. I choose the topics based on these principles: how long it has been since they reviewed it (based on previous starters and weekly quizzes); how many times they have reviewed it previously (material from previous years has been reviewed more often, so will appear less often); mistakes students have made (based on previous starters, weekly quizzes and summative exams).
When students enter the classroom, they are expected to start the questions, and I will usually give them about 15 minutes to complete the questions. When many have finished I will call time, and we will go through the answers. Students mark their own work, and in this way get immediate feedback. To give answers I use a mixture of Cold Call, Show Call (both from Doug Lemov's excellent Teach Like a Champion 2.0) and calling out the answer. For a simple recall question I am more likely to just say the answer. For questions that require working, I will usually choose a solution and show it using my visualiser. If I see any key misconceptions when circulating the room, I will also show these and discuss the misconception.
The whole process usually takes about 20 minutes. But I believe this is time well spent as they are regularly reviewing material from throughout the course.
Going into the future I want to try to be a little more organised around which topics I choose for the Further Back section. I have played around with excel to keep track of what has been done, but not systematically. I need to find a way to manage this efficiently.
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I am a maths teacher looking to share good ideas for use in the classroom, with a current interest in integrating educational research into my practice.