Regardless of your school’s improvement plan or your position in school, there are two items that are high on everyone’s agenda - improving grades and reducing workloads. Side by side, the two appear to be opposite - in order to improve grades, more work must be done in order to achieve this, right? Wrong! Denefield School found a way to reduce their workload whilst improving students’ grades through use of Knowledge Organisers, supported by the Quiz feature on Show My Homework.
“How can I teach students all the skills they need to pass exams and make sure I get through all the content I need to cover?”
“My students just keep forgetting everything - even though I’ve taught it to them over and over again!”
How often have you heard these cries of despair from teachers as they pour over PPE and test results, only to find their students have failed to recall the facts that they need in order for them to be a success?
Plenty of times I'm sure.
At Denefield School, we are no different to every other hard-working school in this respect and increasing our students’ memory capacity in light of more difficult linear exams is a real challenge. So, how can we achieve the goal of ensuring that students increase their ability to retain fact based information, and recall this information quickly for use in exam situations?
Part of the answer for us at Denefield lies in the combination of 2 very important tools: the first is the concept of the Knowledge Organiser; and the second is the Quizzing facility on Show My Homework.
Part 1: Knowledge Organisers
Knowledge Organisers are an increasingly popular teaching method in schools and simply involve distilling the key information for a term’s teaching, or a topic, onto 1 side of A4 – similar to a graphic organiser.
This Knowledge Organiser is given to students as homework on Show My Homework with instructions for students and parents on how the students can test themselves, and how the parents can test their children, to memorise as much of the key information as possible.
Part 2: Quizzes
After a period of time has elapsed, say 1 week, the teacher then writes quizzes on Show My Homework to test the students on their retention of the fact based knowledge. Using Show My Homework allows the teacher to both share their quizzes with colleagues, but also to see the percentage of questions that their students are getting right – and more importantly those questions that students are not answering correctly.
In addition to this, the classroom teacher can create short quizzes at the beginning and end of lessons. These can act as starters (Do Now Activities as students enter the classroom) and plenaries (learning checks before students leave the classroom). And, those subject areas who like to reduce workload while improving students’ performance (how good does that sound?) can create a Homework Curriculum almost entirely based on quizzing.
Questions are created by teachers on year group Knowledge Organisers and shared with colleagues so that the questions build up across the year for the students and regular testing improves students’ memory retention – with no increase in workload.
The evidence base for these methods of learning is very persuasive. In his excellent book “The Slightly Awesome Teacher” Dominic Salles, Director of Learning at Chipping Campden School in Gloucestershire and a Show My Homework advocate, points out that “research into how memory works …has been fascinating because much of it is counterintuitive.”
He goes on to say that “testing leads to greater learning than simply re-teaching a topic” which would be most teachers’ response to the poor performance of students. And, brace yourselves, it is “multiple choice testing” which has the most significant impact – how good is that?
In fact, Salles, referring to John Hattie’s “Visible Learning”’ among other substantial evidence bases cites the impact size of “Spaced Practice”, a method testing students in the ways outlined above, as having an impact size of +0.71, effectively improving the progress of students by a whole 7 months when compared with not using this method.
So, what does this look like in practice? Adam Crossley, Deputy Curriculum Leader in Science who has driven these ideas forward at Denefield explains what he, and his Science team, have done.
How we use SMHW and Knowledge Organisers in the Denefield Science Department
It has been estimated that up to 60% of Science examinations are now linked to fact-based knowledge. So what is the solution to big smiles on results day? Quizzing. It’s simple, fun and engaging for pupils. And a powerful diagnostic tool for teachers too.
In order to improve our pupils’ retention of fact based information in the Science Department at Denefield, we have been focusing on two strategies: the use of knowledge organisers as revision tools, and the quizzing facility on Show My Homework to demonstrate what information our students are retaining.
Within Science, knowledge organisers are usually one A4 sheet of paper per topic, containing all the important fact based knowledge students must memorise such as: diagrams, keywords, units and definitions.We ask students, with the support of parents and carers, to memorise the key knowledge and we test the students on this key knowledge using Show My Homework’s quizzing facility and classroom tests.
Sounds simple? Well, while memorising is seen as a low-level skill, it does take a commitment to repetition and a high level of resilience and determination, qualities that some students find difficult to engage with.
Here’s what we do at Denefield to make sure that the methods work.
First, we craft a Knowledge Organiser using the expertise of our teachers. This is uploaded onto Show My Homework. Next, we instruct our students specifically to box all keywords and circle all descriptions on the knowledge organiser – a strategy that is much more effective for retention than merely highlighting large portions of the text in colour pen as students so often do.
Once this has been completed, we ask our students to fill in a version of the knowledge organiser with some key information missing to test their recall. Following this, we instruct them to practise independently by filling in a blank version of the knowledge organiser in as much detail as possible. And then we repeat.
In the ideal world, every student would obviously follow these instructions to the letter and have endless fun with their parents/carers learning at home. In reality, we know it doesn’t work like that. So, in order to ensure students complete the tasks we set and assess whether their memorising has been successful via the Quiz facility on Show My Homework.
This regular quizzing provides powerful data on students’ progress for teachers, giving detailed analysis of the strengths of the students individually and as a class, which a teacher can use to adjust their teaching. An added benefit for teachers is that students can complete the quizzes three times, which will usually show progress in their factual learning, and therefore in our lessons. The quiz results can then be shown in a league table to the class as another motivational tool to increase students’ desire to achieve, and accountability for their learning.
The most effective method for league tabling is to simply show the top 10 performers in the group for % score and the top 10 performers who have made the most progress from the previous quiz to the one you have just completed. Make a huge fuss of these students who have demonstrated both high scores, and effort, and you can be guaranteed smiles of pride and increased effort next time. After all, success breeds success.
In fact, some top performing schools with progress 8 scores of above +0.7 attribute quizzing and league tabling students’ performance as key strategies in achieving success – so we felt that it was worth our time and effort too.
In summary, while showing your students’ quiz results in a league table publicly to the whole class may appear controversial, even divisive, there is clear educational evidence to show the benefits of competitive strategies in learning – if conducted in the right way.
Ultimately, whether you choose this element of the methods outlined above or not, following the Knowledge Organiser plus quizzing via Show My Homework strategy in your department will lead to smarter teaching, decreased workload, more effective factual recall for students – and ultimately, better results for everyone.
By Lee Simpson (Director of Teaching and Learning at Denefield School) and Adam Crossley (Deputy Curriculum Leader for Science at Denefield School).