Dixons Academies Trust hosts Bradford Research School, part of the Research Schools Network. This is a collaboration between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) to create a network of schools that will support the use of evidence to improve teaching practice.
We want what we do at Dixons Kings Academy to be informed by the evidence about what works. In this post, head of MFL Emma Hickey describes how she is using the best available evidence to ensure effective learning.
Like many departments, we realised that the increased demands of the new linear GCSE would pose some challenges. In particular, we knew that the we had to prepare students for learning a greater volume of vocabulary. Therefore, we set about trying to ensure that our structures were designed to support this.
We were particularly keen on understanding how we could use retrieval practice in our work. Taking a memory test not only assesses what one knows, but also enhances later retention, a phenomenon known as the testing effect. (Roediger and Karpicke, 2005) The process of retrieving information makes it easier for you to retrieve it subsequently.
Using the topics from the GCSE specification, we sorted vocabulary into ‘Knowledge Navigators’, which are our equivalent to Knowledge Organisers. For the full benefits of retrieval practice, we know that students must already have learnt the information, so we practice vocabulary in lessons via listening, speaking, reading and writing activities. At this point, we also teach memorisation strategies e.g. carne = meat (carnivores eat meat), counting the letters to aid with spelling, look say cover write check, self-testing. We place the vocabulary on Memrise to help students self-test. Memrise is a website and app which is designed with some of the principles of retrieval practice in mind – they call it ‘choreographed testing’. We then test this vocabulary once a week. Initially, we wait a week and test the assigned vocabulary from the previous week. Following this, we distribute the previous words learnt, to ensure that the students are continually being asked to retrieve the vocabulary from their memory.
The organised and systematic approach to vocabulary is having clear benefits, most of which we can see in the results of our regular vocabulary tests. We can also monitor learning stats on Memrise, and they show us that students are spending an increasing amount of time on self-quizzing and are answering a higher percentage correctly.
We intend to roll out this approach to Key Stage 3 and this should help ensure that vocabulary is learnt earlier, retrieved more often and finds itself embedded in long term memory. We hope that students will understand that these regular low stakes quiz are a learning strategy rather than an assessment tool.
At present, our quizzes focus on one type of question- those that require recall. We are exploring how to adapt these strategies for learning sentence structures and verb forms. We are also exploring how best to use other strategies to aid retrieval e.g. flashcards.
Roediger H and Karpicke J (2005) ‘Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention’ Psychological Science 17(3): 249-255.
Hartwig M and Dunlosky J (2012) ‘Study strategies of college students: Are self-testing and scheduling related to achievement?’ Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 19(1):126-34
Agarwel et al (2013) ‘How to Use Retrieval Practice to Improve Learning’ Institution of Education Sciences
Pashler et al (2007) ‘Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning’ Institution of Education Sciences