Why did Greening have to go?

Several theories are in circulation about why Justine Greening had to go as Education Secretary.

Firstly,she was not loyally carrying out the wishes of the Prime Minister. More than  this,  she was delaying and obstructing.  The Prime Ministers  wishes can pretty much be summed up as  the proposals in the  pre-election  education Green Paper drafted by her former adviser Nick Timothy.

And its also known that Greening, along with Jo Johnson ,were not entirely in agreement with May on her approach to tuition fees.   Given the joy expressed by Nick Timothy in the Daily Telegraph  at  Greenings departure there seems to be some mileage in this. Timothy has urged Damian Hinds, the new education secretary, to be “brave enough” to cut tuition fees.

Greening was not radical enough, the argument goes, in pursuing the  structural reforms —  that is more academies, free schools , faith schools  and of course  grammar school expansion . Instead, she wanted to see an unrelenting focus on the lot of the most disadvantaged pupils. So  not so much the other group,  favoured by May, those who are  just about managing to get  by.  So Greening realigned DFE Policy to focus on improving social mobility.  May is also keen on social mobility, of course,  but has a rather different approach to achieving it.

It was something of an open secret that Greening was uncomfortable with the structural agenda and increasing selection in the state system. This was  hardly surprising . The  response to the Green Paper was underwhelming.  Experts lined up to rubbish its proposals  with  a coalition of education professionals, across the political spectrum, saying, that the proposals did nothing at all to advance the government’s own agenda , providing more good school places. Significantly, we are still awaiting the government’s response to the public  consultation on the Green Paper.

On grammar schools, analysis is pretty clear . Though grammars, which by and large are good schools, might deliver a small exam grade benefit to those who gain entry, this is at a significant price to those,  often poorer children, who do not pass the entry test. More grammar schools are therefore likely, if anything, to worsen the country’s social mobility problem. So to invest time, scarce resources and political capital in this area really doesn’t make a lot of sense, and rides a coach and horses through the evidence base.

Its true that the initial academies scheme saw significant improvements in student outcomes. But the  most recent expansion of  the academies programme  has shown mixed results . Indeed LSE research points to  little, or no, significant attainment effects .Nor have  academies significantly narrowed the achievement gap, certainly at  secondary level. Greening understood this.

As far as tuition fees go Greening  and  Johnson blocked an attempt by the prime minister to overhaul them — cutting fees and possibly the interest rate charged to students.  They had argued that although the system was sound in principle, sharing the financial investment between the state and the student, as both accrue  benefit, the 6.1 per cent interest rate on loans should be reduced and maintenance grants for poorer students restored immediately, rather than after a lengthy review.  But, Mrs May’s advisers wanted to use the review to challenge Labour’s appeal to young people, which hurt the Conservatives in the election. Damian Hinds, the new  education secretary, and Sam Gyimah, the new universities minister, are understood to be more sympathetic to No 10’s ambitions for the level of fees to be reconsidered.

Post-16 education funding needs reform , but cuts to university fees and loan rates would in effect  direct more government subsidies to the disproportionately privileged children who attend the UK’s universities. This would use up scarce resources that could be applied to make a real difference to social mobility. Social mobility in this country has stagnated. But most agree that there is no silver bullet to addressing the challenge, nor is it just up to schools.  It is widely accepted, for example,   by those who look at the evidence, that if you want to improve social mobility some of the best returns come from early pre-school interventions. If England is to address its social mobility problems, it needs to intervene earlier and increase the supply and development of good teachers and school leaders. We are having real difficulty in recruiting and retaining both.  If you don’t have a sustainable supply of good teachers and leaders no amount of tinkering with structures and selection is going to make a jot of difference to  outcomes across the system.

Some in government had complained that Greening was a charisma free zone. But since when has charisma been a requirement for cabinet ministers.? Think,  Chris Grayling ,Jeremy Hunt  and  Philip  Hammond.  They    are still in the Cabinet ,arent they (and two of these three are probably less competent than Greening)

So, some observers see the appointment of Hinds as an attempt by May to seize  back some control of the education agenda- so more selection, more free schools a lifting of the cap on  religious school admissions and so on . In other words re-establishing and relaunching the pre-election Green paper agenda. That would be curious politics given that the architect of the Green paper Nick Timothy was sacked following the near disastrous  election and the Tories lost seats based on their platform including of course a commitment  more selection and grammars.

Greening deserved better treatment, frankly.

Interestingly, Mr Hinds is also passionately   committed to  social mobility. He wouldn’t do too much harm if he took on  board the  strategy that his predecessor was developing. It is worth looking at the APPG on Social Mobility report that ,as Chair, he published a couple of years ago. It reveals a sensible acknowledgement of what evidence tells us about where the priorities should lie in education to improve attainment, narrow the performance gap and to improve social mobility. Not included  in the reports  check list of actions  was  the need to  expand  grammars, increase  selection throughout the system , increase the number of  faith schools nor indeed  the need to lift  the admissions cap on faith schools.

Its hard to believe that the government would embark on a policy that is not evidence based,  but stranger things have happened in politics recently.

Just in case, the anti selection lobby  is girding its loins.


Education is about developing an  Investigative mind -Professor Scraton


 Lessons from the Hillsborough Tragedy

Professor Phil Scraton’s most important message at the recent SSAT National Conference was “ we have to see education as investigative. It is not just a curriculum that we receive and impart.  Its more about how we engage with issues of our time. “

The very act of education is questioning, he said.  Education  is not just  the top down  imparting   of knowledge. The tightening of  the curriculum means you have, in effect,  to de-school students at university. And  there is a deinstitutionalising knowledge process.  Knowledge is currently passed down ,not upwards but we need to create an alternative  view from below . Students need  to  be taught to think for themselves and create their own version of events , thinking  outside the box.  Too frequently they come to him and ask him what they  need to know  and to  ask what  they need to write.  So, we all have a part to play in developing an inquiring mind.

His experience of uncovering the false narrative ,surrounding the Hillsbrough Stadium  tragedy,   systematically spun by the police, lawyers  and authorities and  supported by the media, shows how important an investigative mind is and how important it is that students are taught what good research looks like and how to navigate through evidence.  Its in not just the authorities who should write history. Pay attention to dissenting accounts and alternative views about events   .The Police dishonestly sought to blame allegedly drunk Liverpool fans for the stadium crush, when it was, in fact, their  operational mistakes , aswell as of   those running the stadium, along with the poor reaction by emergency services ,that contributed to the disaster .  In 2016, new inquests into the disaster found the fans were unlawfully rather than accidentally  killed , which had been the initial verdict . The FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest, held at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium, was stopped after six minutes following a crush on the terraces. At the original inquests in 1991, the deaths were ruled accidental but those verdicts were quashed following the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) report, and new hearings were then  ordered.

In  Scratons  book ‘ Hillsborough: The Truth’ he  revealed that  that the South Yorkshire Police, together with their solicitors, had  systematically reviewed and doctored  individual  police  officers statements in order to give a false account of the disaster to exonerate the police and cover up their failures.  Statements were identical even including the same spelling mistakes. There was almost   total corruption of the evidence,  This was  on a biblical scale over many years.

A jury ultimately  found that all 96 had been unlawfully killed, through the 25 findings delivered against the authorities – particularly the police leading to the exoneration of the fans. Alcohol ,it transpired, played   no part in the tragedy.  Scraton reflected on what C Wright Mills said that  neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both .Our  personal situation is linked to the forces of history and the society we  live in. There are alternative accounts and not just the authorities accounts, to big events and we should pay more attention to researching these in order to get closer to  the truth. Knowledge and truth is not simply dispensed top down.

Scratons triumph is that through single minded resilience and despite numerous setbacks, over many years,   he not only helped  uncover  the truth and righted a wrong and fundamental injustice but he gave a voice to the victims and their relatives, empowering them,   rewriting the truth from the bottom up. A great sadness is that some relatives  of the victims  did not live long enough to  see the results of his efforts.

He also made a compelling argument that a vital outcome for education is to develop an inquiring mind   in pursuit of the truth. His presentation at the SSAT Annual conference received a richly deserved standing ovation.

Puett and the Path-Are We too Eurocentric?

An Antidote to Euro-Centric Philosophy?

Professor Michael Puett of Harvard University says  that we are collection of emotions and conditioned responses, with no guiding inner core. We think we are self-determined, and make rational choices for ourselves, but in reality we are so set in our patterns of behaviour that Google exploits our predictability to sell us stuff without us noticing much. In short. we have a tendency to fall into  routine patterns and ruts in our lives .(modern day cognitive scientists exploring cognitive biases,  and how we  actually make choices, which has little to do with reason, might agree)

Puett teaches Eastern Philosophy at Harvard .His  book,   co -written with Christine Gross-Loh. ‘ The Path,’  is suggesting  that we have much to learn from eastern philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, Zhuangzi, and Buddha. Western Philosophers tend to focus on the big overarching themes-the meaning of life, what is objective truth, what is a morality  etc . So , whereas  Aristotle,  Plato,  Thomas Aquinas  et al  were reflecting on these big issues,  the eastern philosophers on the other hand,  had a  rather different approach,  at pretty much the same time. How do we ,as individuals, change our daily lives for the better, they asked. It’s a bottom up approach.

By small adjustments and greater self-awareness we can change our lives ,for the better. The smallest actions have the most profound ramifications.  Puett urges his students to become more self-aware, to notice how even the most quotidian acts—holding open the door for someone, smiling at the cashier —change the course of the day, by affecting how we feel. It amounts to a message of hope for those struggling with Platos ‘Theory of Forms’. The message, Think small rather than big. What strikes one about the Path is how little your average student here  knows about Eastern philosophers and few are given in HE curricula the opportunity to study them . This rather reinforces the perception that the courses on offer in our top  universities, whether in History or Philosophy, are. well,  far too euro-centric.

The Confucian strategy for disrupting the patterns of behaviour and interaction was the judicious observance of ritual – coded behaviours that force people to operate outside their normal roles. This has often been misunderstood though,  as a call for conformity and a slavish adherence to tradition, but, according to Puett, Confucius meant no such thing. “For Confucius,” he writes, “the ritual was essential because of what it did for the people performing it.”  It should be remembered that Confucius developed his ideas against a backdrop of political upheaval – the last great bronze-age dynasty, the Zhou, was in decline, and old certainties had dissolved. The world was falling apart and the outlook grim. People had lost faith in the ruling dynasties (sounds familiar?) which  were  amoral  and self interested with no conception of the common good  Confucius decided to concentrate on teaching the next generation, in the hope that they could make a better world.  So Puetts lectures use Chinese thought in the context of contemporary American life to help 18- and 19-year-olds who are struggling to find their place in the world figure out how to be good human beings; how to create a good society; how to have a flourishing life.

We ,in the contemporary west ,tend to believe that, as rational beings, we know what is best for ourselves, and that that “self” is coherent and stable.  Dream on! The ancient Chinese, however, understood that we are instead fragmented and malleable, our actions driven more by emotion, dispositions,  custom and ‘messy stuff’ as Puett describes it .  Our emotional selves are extremely important. We therefore do not become the best we can be by seeking some illusory “true self”, but instead by “honing our instincts, training our emotions, and “engaging in a constant process of self-cultivation”.  So, we should concentrate more, day in day out , on our many interactions with other people and our emotional responses. This, Confucius believed, we achieve through daily rituals ranging from saying thank you, to focusing on how we eat , how we communicate with others and  to ancestor worship.

It does seem that some of  the teachings of eastern philosophers  might have more relevance to our daily living and the way we interact with others and within our communities ,  (excepting, perhaps, the ancestor worship bit) than some of the more esoteric western philosophers.  Puett makes a compelling case that we have much to learn from thinkers of 2,000 years ago on how to live the good life.

The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh

You Tube

What is Pedagogical Knowledge and Does it Matter?

Its the specialised knowledge of teachers in creating and facilitating effective teaching and learning environments for all students, independent of subject matter

Improving student outcomes depends on improving the quality of the teaching workforce and the quality of teaching.

Empirical research tells us that teacher quality is an important factor in determining gains in student achievement, even after accounting for prior student learning and family background characteristics.

So, it follows ,its important that energy, resources and incentives are directed   to improving the quality of teacher education and training. Although teachers’ education starts in ITT,  the reality is its  a lifelong process.  After all, if you are a member of any Profession, you are expected to have had a lengthy period of specialised training, as well as continuous professional development. And Teaching is a Profession.

An increase in the quality of teacher education and professional development, throughout the career (CPD) can contribute to an increase in student achievement through more effective teaching.  So giving access and support for teachers to regular,  high quality professional development is important.  Teachers are expected to process and evaluate (and be supported in this) new knowledge relevant for their core professional practice, and to regularly update their profession’s knowledge base.  Hence the concept (now a mantra) of ‘ research informed practice’. This means using high quality research about effective classroom interventions,  and combining it  with teachers’ professional judgment, to improve teaching practice and student learning. In short,  relying on research alone  is not seen as sufficient , as it underplays the potential importance of teachers’ professional experience. As teachers observe and reflect on student learning in the classroom, their decisions are influenced not only by a well -established knowledge base but also by their real-time experience.

Research is important. It can  tell us what works. For example, the work of John Hattie (2009), who conducted a synthesis of educational research studies, looked at which teaching practices had the most influence on student learning, and which didn’t.    Research is also telling us much more about how students learn, the difference between knowledge and information, how knowledge sticks, and how our memories work. There are learning strategies that have been identified, that clearly  aid the process of memorisation and knowledge retention, which is at the heart of learning.   The corollary of this is that this  also means dumping some traditional  practice that evidence shows has little ,or no effect on students learning.

We frequently hear the term ‘ Pedagogy’  or ‘Pedagogical Knowledge’ when referring to the nitty gritty or ‘ skills ‘ of teaching. Its accepted that a high level of pedagogical knowledge is essential for  competent teaching. So it really does matter. But what does this  mean?

The OECD has defined general pedagogical knowledge as ‘the specialised knowledge of teachers in creating and facilitating effective teaching and learning environments for all students, independent of subject matter ‘.  So we are talking about Teachers’ specialised professional knowledge that enables them to teach, and their students to learn.This knowledge is not simply acquired in teacher training.

Shulman (1986, 1987) proposed a typology of teachers’ knowledge base comprised of seven categories, of which ,the OECD suggests,  three have been particularly influential to further research:

First, general pedagogical knowledge (principles and strategies of classroom management and organisation that are cross-curricular)

Second, content knowledge (knowledge of subject matter and its organising structures)

Third, pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of content and pedagogy).

So what about the specific content of Pedagogical Knowledge?

A review of empirical evidence on teachers’ general pedagogical knowledge concluded three main overlapping components:

 instructional process (teaching methods, didactics, structuring a lesson and classroom management)

 student learning (cognitive, motivational, emotional dispositions of individual students; their  learning processes and development; student heterogeneity and adaptive teaching strategies)

 assessment (diagnosis principles and evaluation procedures)

For a detailed discussion and definition of general pedagogical knowledge, see Guerriero, S. (Ed.) (2017). Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession. Paris: OECD Publishing. Link to Research

Also see OECD Report

OECD- Understanding teachers’ pedagogical knowledge report on an international pilot study

Kristina Sonmark, Nóra Révai, Francesca Gottschalk, Karolina Deligiannidi, Tracey Burns 11 Oct 2017



Looking Ahead- HE and 2018

Vice Chancellors remuneration has shed light on the quality of leadership, governance, and lax regulation in HE .The sector hasn’t reacted intelligently to the changing dynamic between producer and consumer. Too little transparency and accountability have been in evidence. The Office for Students, which is now  in place,  will be firing on all cylinders from April and Professor Barber has made it clear that he wants to see changes over pay, accountability and Freedom of Speech, with more to come  . OfS  aims  to  ensure that the sector is more consumer focused. How the sector is funded, and student debt, will very much remain on the agenda,  Lord Adonis will see to that. The combination of increased concerns over the value of degrees, with more information available for students on  employment destinations, will pressure universities to  improve their offers and focus more  on the  quality both of  their teaching and pastoral support.

Research has always trumped teaching in the sector .The TEF, with its clunky metrics, is work in progress, but expect some significant   rebalancing in favour of teaching.   Universities can learn more from schools about teaching and pastoral support.  So expect more co-operation between HE and secondary sectors and not just in outreach.

Technological breakthroughs in AI , robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing,  will   offer immense scope for new courses, research  and  innovative  partnerships between institutions and business. So watch this space. Though some claims about AI may be overblown, it really will change the way we do things, not least in education, and, longer term, impact significantly on the employment market.

Three year degrees haven’t  had there day, but expect increased disruption in the market,  and more  students choosing non-traditional routes into employment.  More accelerated degrees will be developed  , and  possibly even four year degrees in niche areas. The Higher and Degree Apprenticeships offers will gradually improve in quality and scope , with more student choice, and better matches with employers demands but  expect incremental change here, rather than  a stampede. Delivery lags behind the up beat narrative.

As demand for education outstrips supply, globally, internationalisation of education and transnational education will grow. Structures and means of delivery are changing. Abroad, look at what Michael Crow is doing at the University of Arizona- re-engineering courses , technological delivery  platforms and pedagogy, greater use of AI,  matching excellence and improved  access in the same institution , something of a holy grail in the sector. As for Brexit,   it will have limited impact both on staff and research this  year. And , on a positive note,  there is a big incentive for universities to be more  outward looking,  to form partnerships and to co-operate with institutions  abroad  whether its in research, teaching or innovation or,  indeed, in investigating the setting up of satellite campuses.     And  lets try to be nicer to international students. We need them. In this respect it will be worth watching the passage of the Immigration Bill. Although the sector remains highly competitive internationally it is perhaps significant that students in both China and India are increasingly making Australia their second choice after the USA, and not the UK. We have few areas where we have a comparative advantage in international markets but education is one.  But we have to work harder just to maintain our competitive position,  a message that has not got through to some in government and the sector

Critical Thinking-Can it be taught?

Not without subject knowledge 

An OECD report (see link below) says that one good example of a compound skill that relies heavily on both cognitive and personality components is critical thinking. It represents an ability to reflect on information interpret it in a new context and find solutions to novel problems based on existing knowledge. It encompasses cognitive capacities to use the rules of logic and cost benefit analysis, think strategically, and apply rules to new situations to solve problems. However, critical thinking also incorporates aspects of what it labels the Big Five dimension of openness to experience, such as independence  (autonomy) and unconventionality, which represent the driving factors behind the use of cognitive skills for purposes of critical inquiry.’

It continues ‘There is a consensus that critical thinking is an increasingly important skill that should be cultivated in formal education. The ability to act independently and reflect critically upon a given reality is especially important in the fast-changing environment we live in. The role of educational systems is thus increasingly seen as one helping children become lifelong learners, individuals who are autonomous and adaptable, able to critically reflect and understand the evolving reality. A critical stance is also seen as an increasingly relevant skill in a world with more and more misinformation, the unexamined acceptance of which can lead to dangerous consequences for both society and individuals.’

Critical thinking is reckoned by some to include the component skills of analysing arguments, making inferences using inductive or deductive reasoning, judging or evaluating, and making decisions or solving problems.

So critical thinking is good. But,  to think critically you need a sound knowledge base. The more we know,  the more we can think, and think critically. And the more we know, the more we can reflect on what we know and therefore make the connections and linkages that are a prerequisite for critical thinking.

Uncritical thinking, on the other hand , looks a bit  like rote learning , and  simple regurgitation of facts. This is the start of an on -going debate about whether critical thinking can be taught as a standalone subject or not. Is critical thinking a generic skill to be taught? The short answer is that you need sufficient knowledge of a particular domain before you can think critically about it, so it is important that you build your knowledge across the curriculum and in specific domains before you can think critically. You should be encouraged to think critically in every subject you are studying. Your critical thinking is only as good as the mastery of your subject.

The  American education historian Diane Ravitch argued that “we have ignored what matters most. We have neglected to teach them (ie students)  that one cannot think critically without quite a lot of knowledge to think about. Thinking critically involves comparing and contrasting and synthesizing what one has learned. And a great deal of knowledge is necessary before one can begin to reflect on its meaning and look for alternative explanations.”

According to Daniel Willingham, decades of cognitive research suggest that  critical thinking  can’t really be taught. The problem is that people who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that is a skill, like riding a bike. Similar to other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it to any situation. Unfortunately, thinking is not that sort of skill he says . The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought ( in other words,  domain knowledge). This helps to explain why students are able to think critically in one subject area, but not in another. The more domain knowledge they have, the more critically they will be able to think about that particular topic or idea. Critical thinking is dependent and contextual. It is not as transferable as we have been led to believe, he claims.

As Willingham says, ‘Critical thinking is not a set of skills that can be deployed at any time, in any context. It is a type of thought that even 3-year-olds can engage in – and even trained scientists can fail in.’

But research from Pearson, says that while background knowledge is absolutely necessary  it is not a sufficient condition for enabling critical thought within a given subject.  It found in its literature review that  ‘Critical thinking involves both cognitive skills and dispositions. These dispositions, which can be seen as attitudes or habits of mind, include open and fair-mindedness, inquisitiveness, flexibility, a propensity to seek reason, a desire to be well informed, and a respect for and willingness to entertain diverse viewpoints.’ So, there are both general- and domain-specific aspects of critical thinking. Critical thinking is more than recalling learned information.  Based on this, Pearson says that  critical thinking assessments should ‘use ill-structured problems that require students to go beyond recalling or restating learned information and also require students to manipulate the information in new or novel contexts.’  It concludes that in theory all people can be taught to think critically. Instructors are urged to provide explicit instruction in critical thinking, to teach how to transfer to new contexts.’ So this seems to reinforce the OECD view that critical thinking requires ‘both cognitive and personality components’  and yes teachers can help (see above)

Critical Thinking: A Literature Review- Research Report, Pearson 2011

Link to Report

OECD Report

Memorisation and Learning- Paul A Kirschner at SSATs conference

Memory and Learning

Don’t confuse access to information with knowledge

William Faulkner said in ‘Light in August’ that “ memory believes before knowing remembers”. In recent years cognitive psychologists have established that the mechanics of memory have a big impact on learning.   Professor Paul Kirschner, in a key note presentation  at  last weeks well attended   SSAT Annual conference,  described the difference between short term,  or working memory, and long term memory(LTM) and its impact on learning .

Short Term and Long Term Memory

The long-term memory can be defined as a huge,   virtually limitless repository of vocabulary, concepts and procedures.  Human intellect comes from this stored knowledge and not from long, complex chains of reasoning in working memory.  Everything we see, hear or think about, it seems,   is dependent upon our long term memory.

The human working  short term memory, on the other hand, is much more limited. It is the ‘space’ in which we think and process information immediately. The relationship between short term and long term memory and the cognitive processes that support learning are all  vital to learning. Indeed, long term memory is seen as the single dominant structure of human cognition.  Learning is defined as a change in long-term memory. And the human cognitive architecture is formed of both long-term and short-term memory “where the long-term incorporates a massive knowledge base that is central to all of our cognitively based activities”

Working memory can only hold, for a short time, a few items so   7+/- 2 items for less than a minute. When working memory fills its processing capacities,  it slows down. Kirschner demonstrated this with an exercise in memorisation in which the audience participated, memorising basic sequences of related numbers and letters. The exercise starkly demonstrated the constraints of short term memory.

When students are working on a task – be it reading, writing, solving a maths problem or throwing a ball – they are mainly relying on the representations of these experiences in their long-term memories. When we solve a new problem, we are not really working it out. We are remembering it. This is because the space in the working-memory is so small. And, It is easy to overload this short term memory. Its constrained ,unlike long term memory, which is virtually limitless.

The encouraging thing though is that  long-term memories  can be brought back to mind when they are needed/  The  point about this is  that if nothing has been changed in long-term memory, then nothing has been learned. If you know your times-tables, for instance, this knowledge can be employed to help in the solving of more complex problems without placing any extra stress on working memory. Therefore, the more developed our mental schemas – the vast repositories of concepts and procedures in our long-term memory – the easier it is to learn new information.

So what? How does this impact on what teachers do ? Well, teachers want their students to retain what they are being taught and apply it later on. They get frustrated that their students forget vital information so quickly.   So, teachers should ease the load on their students’ short term, working memories. Too much information leads to cognitive over-load.  So how do you get information to embed in your long term memory? In short,   the more students practice something, the more likely it will be that this stays in the  long term memory.  Broadly its called the Test Effect. Teachers   need to free  up short term memory  to ensure that more information gets s stored in long term memory.


So, teacher instruction must consider how this information is stored and organised in LTM so that it is  then accessible when and where it is needed. This is where schema theory comes in.  Knowledge is stored in LTM in schemata. Schemata is about categorising  information elements according to how they will be used , A schema can hold a huge amount of information, yet is processed as a single unit in working memory. Schemata can integrate information elements and production rules and become automated, thus requiring less storage and controlled processing. Skilled performance consists of building increasing numbers of increasingly complex schemas by combining elements consisting of lower level schemas into higher level schemas. . In summary, schema construction aids the storage and organisation of information in long-term memory and reduces working memory load so avoiding cognitive over-load. (If you’ve missed it , this is the new big idea in cognitive psychology.)

Multi- Tasking and Distractions

Well, at least we can  all multi-task  (especially women!). Well actually we can’t.  Or at least not  at all well.  Because our short term memory is so constrained, we are not good at multi- tasking, although we may think we are.  What we actually do is shift from one task to another. And we are particularly bad  at functioning in basic tasks if  we are in any way distracted while carrying out that task. Those who claim to  to multitask at scale    show an enormous range of  cognitive deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.

If ,for example, a car driver is  distracted by using his/her  mobile phone ,even hands free, Kirschner revealed an experiment that showed  drivers reaction times  and the distance it takes to stop a  car,   is  badly affected by mobile phone use.  (the data was pretty  shocking) Using a mobile phone was considerably worse, as it happens, than if  someone is impaired by alcohol.

Kirschner made it clear that the use of computers and mobiles during his presentation were distractions and should be switched off.  Much better to use pencil and notepad. Some teachers in the audience were inevitably caught out .The broader lesson for teachers though  is to reduce distractions,  and that includes technology,  for learners to a minimum because we cannot multi-task and our short term memory has significant constraints and is prone to overload.


The Testing Effect

The testing effect was referenced as means of embedding information and knowledge in long term memory (LTM). It is the finding that long-term memory is increased when some of the learning period is devoted to retrieving the to-be-remembered information through testing with proper feedback. The effect is also sometimes referred to as retrieval practice, practice testing, or test-enhanced learning. Testing has a powerful positive effect on future retention. If students are tested on material and successfully recall or recognize it, they will remember it better in future than if they had not been tested. . Frequent testing leads students to space their study efforts, permits them and their instructors to assess their knowledge on an ongoing basis, and—most important —serves as a powerful mnemonic aid for future retention.

Actually, the limitations of working memory mean that we have to have a store of facts in long-term memory, in order to be able to think. Not only that, but in order to use reference tools like Google and Wikipedia effectively, you need a great deal of knowledge to begin with stored in your long term memory .Those who think that you simply need access to the internet now and don’t need to learn and store facts are simply wrong. They clearly confuse information with knowledge, not uncommon among Edutechies.  Who can disagree with that?   Making knowledge stick, so you can apply it later on  matters to us all .Because that is what learning is really about. Memorisation and applying knowledge over time , is learning. And the more we know, the more we can think.

Memorisation and Rote Learning

Rote memorization actually encourages surface learning, rather than anything deeper   “Cognitively passive” study methods, are based on repetition and rehearsal, i.e., rote memorization.  While these techniques can make it easier (and faster) to recall information within a narrow window of time, when it comes to application, analysis, and other higher-order types of knowledge, they may be worse than useless because they consume valuable time that could/should be spent on deep learning approaches

There are a list of techniques that can help LTM which Paul Kirschner   briefly referenced in his presentation .There are quite a few .But here are just some:

Retrieval practice

Self-quiz frequently by recalling information from your memory. Every time you access a memory, you strengthen it. So, not only does self-quizzing help you identify your areas of weakness, it also helps you retain the information for later recall by strengthening the neural connections.

Elaborative rehearsal

Link new information to things you already know. Access to memories is greatly improved when the information being learned is meaningful. To aid in recall, study methods should involve deliberate creation of logical, intuitive, and even fanciful associations with existing knowledge. Make sense of new information and develop an organizational scheme/framework; information you understand rarely needs to be “memorized.”

 Generation effect

Retention and recall are improved when you actively participate in the creation of your own knowledge.  So, Create your own summaries, study guides, tables, flow charts, diagrams, etc.

Dual coding

Create both a visual and a verbal memory for the same information.

 Associate words with pictures

o Use your own words to describe a picture/figure/diagram

o Translate a written passage into a drawing or diagram

Distributed effort

Spread studying out over several days, rather than cramming. Say you’re going to spend 10 hours studying a particular topic, rather than spending one marathon 10-hour session, it is far more effective to spend that time as 10 one-hour sessions, or 5 2-hour sessions, or even 2 5-hour sessions, spread out over two or more days. This is why it is so very important to review everyday. Obviously, you cannot review everything everyday, but make sure you frequently review the things that are most challenging to you.

For more information on Paul A. Kirschners thinking and research

Urban Myths