Making it Stick

by Natalia Ribas – Assistant Principal – Teaching & Learning

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Spring term was a busy one for the staff and students at Capital City who are always striving to get better at what we do. Year 11 students in particular have been working hard putting into practice a series of revision strategies that were shared with them during a Flexiday in February. The Capital Revision Strategies were introduced in order to support students better in their preparation for the fast-approaching GCSE exams and consist of 5 steps to ensure revision is a productive business and not a pointless stare-at-my-notes exercise. After advice from Ms Ribas on how to approach the latest AP results, the strategies (Chunking, Elaboration, Quizzing, Spacing and Metacognition) were introduced to year 11 in assembly by Ms Jones, the Associate Senior Leader in charge of Literacy. She also explained to students the science behind memory, information retention and retrieval practice. Students then had the chance to use these skills in several sessions throughout the day, some of which delivered through Science, Maths and English. Year 11 Learning Advisor sessions have also been used to embed the strategies and students are reminded about how to master their use in all their subjects. The initiative has proven very successful and Year 11 students have become increasingly confident in using flashcards; creating revision timetables; listening to their teachers’ feedback and acting on it; and understanding how important it is to take care of oneself during the exam period. Seeing how well-received the initiative is, staff are now looking into embedding the use of these strategies across the school and from Year 7 so that, by the time students have to face their external examinations, they will be well-versed in the power of the approach and well-equipped for the crucial pre-GCSE revision period.
Revision strategies have always been necessary, but since the recent changes to the GCSE Examinations, being proficient in retrieving knowledge has become paramount for our students to do well. Our staff have been working hard to be able to prepare our students well to succeed in this new framework, and therefore, this term we have engaged in a series of workshops under the umbrella title ‘Making it Stick’. Ms Jones kicked off the season with the first Friday Morning session, helping us become more familiar with the research undertaken by Peter C. Brown et al. in their book Making it Stick. The Science of Successful Learning. We learnt that traditional revision routines (underlining, cramming, rereading…) were not as effective as self-testing or interleaving practice of one skill or topic with another.

According to Brown, low stakes testing is a tool for learning. Active retrieval strategies strengthen memory and interrupt the forgetting process. If we engage in massed practice (i.e. repeatedly revising knowledge or practicing a skill until we have ‘mastered it’), the results are less satisfactory than if the practice is interleaved. Concepts learned through spaced and interleaved practice will turn into durable learning, which requires time for mental rehearsal and other processes of consolidation. And surprisingly, the more effortful the retrieval, the stronger the benefit. For example, we learn better when we wrestle with new problems before being shown the solution, rather than the other way around. As Carol Dweck also tells us in her book Mindset, children who are challenged and then praised for grappling with a problem (instead of praised for their natural ability to learn) are less risk-averse and become more successful in their undertakings.
Ms Jones presented a variety of non-subject specific strategies to use in our daily practice to help us reinforce active memory retrieval, such as using ‘Do Now’ exercises to recap prior learning (and not only from our last lesson!) and RAG123 activities for meaningful consolidation at the end of the lesson.
Six more Friday Morning sessions followed on that topic from a range of departments in the Academy. in those, we learnt how to embed such principles in our classrooms on a day-to-day basis and with more specific activities, as well as experiencing the great practice that is being delivered by colleagues across the Academy.

At Capital City Academy we are determined to ensure that our students have the best learning experience in the classroom and that we support them well, by building on their successes and developing a culture where every child believes in their power to become better and succeed. However, we are aware that all students need the tools to be able to do so, and we have worked collaboratively to develop this new approach to revision. With the new Ofsted inspection framework’s focus on curriculum and our renewed focus on the Capital Classroom, we now have the very exciting opportunity to continue this push to equip all of our students for success. By embedding the strategies across all the curriculum areas and year groups, we can support the exciting learning experiences that are already taking place in our classrooms and lead students to great outcomes that will positively impact their futures.

After having completed this Professional Development cycle, we will now work on how to develop students’ independence in the classroom, and Ms Belfield will start us off on the first Friday back from the Easter holidays with INSET on how to facilitate lessons where our students lead the learning. I am personally very excited to learn about the great things colleagues are developing in this area of Teaching and Learning!

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