Making Learning Stick

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Make Learning Stick


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can all teachers get our young people to remember stuff?

The most successful learners are those who take charge of their own learning and follow a simple but disciplined strategy. (Make It Stick, 2014)

There is no statement truer than the one above, yet during a time of lockdown and without the required technology at home, ensuring that all young people take charge of their learning is a tough challenge if our schools are not open.

Adapting to a new way of teaching

StickabilityThere are 19.2 million families across the U.K. and it is estimated that 9 per cent do not have a broadband connection at home (ONS, 2019). If anything, not being able to work with our young people will widen the disadvantaged gap in our families.

When we consider what we know about memory, given that I believe it is the number one thing all teachers must learn, how can teachers adapt their teaching delivery online, their curriculum content (if setting work traditionally by worksheet, text or email), or when we finally return to schools? We must move towards promoting a mindset in ‘how we learn’ with our families and our young people, not just teachers focussing in on the methods teachers now use. This is, of course, a social justice issue, and one we have had for many years.

Using neuroscience to teach young people

I suspect this issue about equipping our families to support learning at home will be, sadly, a ‘forever-issue’. Widening of the knowledge-gap will go on for decades unless we do something soon. Sir Barry Carpenter in a recent podcast suggested that we provide all schools with an MRI scan to help schools adopt neuroscientific methods to inform how we teach individual children. Sadly, we are many years away from this, but it is a sterling idea!


The importance of repeating curriculum content

If we do not inform our families about the value of repeating work (retrieving, spaced and interleaving), we have a problem. Today, if this is what our teachers should be doing, then we have a great deal of work to do particularly if thousands of our teachers are still not up to speed with these research-based methods.

Today working online, off-line and face-to-face in classrooms, how can teachers ensure that learning sticks?

I’ve been writing about ‘stickability for many years now. Since I discovered ‘stickability’, this word has transformed my classroom practice because my focus is now much more on learning and memory, rather than on students doing and forgetting. What learning should stick in the long-term memory of students and how can this be tested in their working memory? What key points does a teacher want students to bring back to the next lesson? Whether physically or remotely? And how is this achieved with our young people without a laptop at home?!

What needs to stick?

When the shift in curriculum planning moves away from doing in favour of learning and hones in on the key points students must take away with them, lesson planning becomes sharper. A greater commitment is made in the teaching to ensure our young people leave any lesson with what has been learnt, not what has been done. This is the key mindset shift we need to impart to all of our families, now and when we return to the classroom.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. What is the fundamental aspect of the lesson that you need students to learn?
  2. What key skill, knowledge or understanding should students grasp?
  3. What should students leave your classroom knowing or understanding?
  4. What should students return to class knowing or understanding?
  5. Why should this skill, knowledge or understanding stick with students?
  6. And how will you make it stick?
  7. How will you know that it has stuck?
  8. And if students become stuck, then what?

Providing teachers with autonomy is also a social justice issue

I was reading up on teacher-autonomy for my doctoral research today: Alarmingly, teacher agency in the U.K. is one of the lowest in all OECD countries when look closely at the latest TALIS survey, curriculum choice also features low on teacher-autonomy. Recent research by the Teacher Development Trust suggests that our teachers find autonomy the most in the following aspects of school life: Seating plans, teaching methods and lesson plans compared to collecting data and setting personal CPD goals the worst.

Teacher Autonomy

The schools which use collaborative approaches to support teaching and learning challenges, allow teachers to engage in collegial problem-solving approaches that are focussed on improving student outcomes.

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