The focus of my research was in memory and recall. In relation to the teaching and learning going on in my MFL classroom, I wanted in particular to research a strategy that I could implement that would ensure that pupils commit grammatical knowledge to their long term memory. At present we cover grammatical points as and when they appear in the textbook. We practise that particular point in the context of that lesson and maybe revise that grammatical point in the following lesson before we move on to a new grammatical point. Although some pupils remember a particular grammar point learnt in the past, this is often a bit of a hit and miss situation and some will remember it in the long term but many will have forgotten days, weeks or months down the line. So, the aim is to research and find a particular method that I could employ in the classroom that would commit the grammatical points covered to the pupils’ long term memory as opposed to short term memory only.
Ian Stonnell recommended a book from the staffroom shelf by Daniel T Willingham called “Why Don’t Students Like School” and in particular, Chapter 3 (Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say) However, my attention was also drawn to Chapter 5 (Is Drilling Worth It) and I ended up reading that one too. I also read 7 articles in the publication SecEd by Matt Bromley published in the first term of the academic year 2017/18.
The main finding of my research was that you cannot store everything in your short-term memory. Therefore, things will not go into your long-term memory unless they have been in your working memory. Repetition and exposure are also obvious to make learning work. Whatever you think about is what you remember. The implication for teachers is that they must therefore plan and organise ideas/material in a coherent way so that students will understand and remember it and give maximum exposure to those ideas/that material. Students must practise regularly in order to learn the facts and skills they need. It is impossible to become proficient at something without extended practice and drilling is an excellent way of using the working memory. Practice makes memory long lasting. You get longer lasting memory because you practise more and because your practice is stretched over time. Practice also improves transferring what you already know to new contexts/situations. But what should be practised? If practice makes mental processes automatic, what needs to become automatic? The answer is the building blocks of skills. Building blocks are the things that are done again and again in a subject area and they are the prerequisites for more advanced work e.g. grammar in a modern foreign language.
The aim is to focus on my year 7 groups, both A band set 1 and B band set 1. I have designed a series of grammatical powerpoint presentations to be used as starters. However, instead of focusing on one particular point for a lesson only as in the past, I am choosing a key grammatical point and producing six starters for a whole half term practising the same grammatical point in one out of the two lessons each week and building on that point every week. The time frame set is to practise over at least a half term, but if time allows to do so over two half terms practising two key grammatical points.
The intended impact is that the pupils will become more proficient at that particular grammatical points with prolonged practise, that they will have committed it to their long-term memory as the result of extended practice and also that they will then be able to apply it to new contexts in the future when that same grammatical point surfaces. It should also result in greater accuracy in their written and spoken work as well as in translation work as the grammatical points will be practised through a series of activities in the PowerPoint presentations which includes translation both ways (in and out of the target language).
I hope I will see an improvement in pupils’ scores in the starters as in the first half (weeks 1 to 3) they will be allowed to look at their notes to do the activities but in the second half (weeks 4 to 6) they will do them in test conditions. I also hope to see a marked improvement in spoken work, written work such as paragraph writing and in end of half termly assessments (where we assess listening, reading, speaking, writing and translation skills) as well as end of year exams. I will compare quantitative data i.e. previous results to new assessment results. Finally, I would like to see a distinct growth in confidence when pupils are working on grammar in lessons.
Implementation and impact
At the start of the process I identified a key grammatical point that needed further practise due to repeated misconceptions or mistakes being made by pupils. Pupils were confused about there being four words for ‘the’ in Spanish, two words for ‘a’ and two words for ‘some’. Despite these points having been introduced and practised at the start of the academic year, errors were still being made. This led to me producing six starters for a whole half term practising the same grammatical point in one out of the two lessons each week and building on that point every week. This was then delivered to two sets in different bands, 7ASp1 and 7BSp1.
Practice/Recycle/Reinforce/Revise key knowledge on a regular basis through the medium of starters. This could take many forms e.g. quick quizzes, drilling, testing (multiple choice, short or long answers, translation), etc. It should be systematic, built into the weekly routine and therefore part of your scheme of work. For example in languages pupils know that they will have a vocabulary test on one of the two lessons in the week and a grammar PowerPoint with activities in the second. Allowing this time for practice and repetition of specific knowledge (a certain topic or point) for a whole half term will consequently become a habit and part of long term memory.
I feel there is enough evidence to roll out this strategy with all year groups and all key stages. This is a huge endeavour for one person only, however, and would work better if teachers collaborated and worked together in sharing the workload, undertaking to produce the starters for a particular year group or whole key stage. It will take time to produce but once done the resources could be shared centrally so that all teachers of that subject can reap the benefits.
Daniel T Willingham. Why Don’t Students Like School (Chapter 3 – Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say)
Daniel T Willingham. Why Don’t Students Like School (Chapter 5 – Is Drilling Worth It?)
Article SecEd 14/09/17 by Matt Bromley. Improving the Learning Process.
Article SecEd 21/09/17 by Matt Bromley. Comfortable with Discomfort – Creating a Positive Learning Environment.
Article SecEd 28/09/17 by Matt Bromley. Memory – Sense and Sensibility.
Article SecEd 05/10/17 by Matt Bromley. Hard Times.
Article SecEd 02/11/17 by Matt Bromley. Practice Makes Perfect.
Article SecEd 09/11/17 by Matt Bromley. Deliberately Difficult.
Article SecEd 16/11/17 by Matt Bromley. It’s Quiz Time.
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