The Learning Linguist experiments with retrieval practice.

What I’ve tried, what I’ve learned and what comes next.

Over the last half term or so I have been experimenting with retrieval practice and my KS3 and year 10 classes. The writing assessments that many of them completed before Christmas were disappointing because it seemed like they had learned very little. The sentence construction was poor, verbs were badly conjugated and they just weren’t remembering the vocabulary they needed. Reading and listening assessments were going well, so it wasn’t that they couldn’t recognise the language, they just weren’t able to produce it well.

Having done a certain amount of reading about Knowledge Organisers, (mostly on the MFL Knowledge Organisers Facebook group), and a lot of reading on desirable difficulties and applying cognitive psychology in the classroom I started to plan how I would change things. From January my classes received around six sentences a week, packed full of the grammatical features I wanted them to learn. They were set homework to self-quiz on these, a process I had them refine as time passed, ensuring they were all checking and correcting in another colour and making it clear to them that just copying without the testing element would really not be beneficial to their learning. They had a week to do this and then they would be tested. Most classes were given half of the sentences in English and the other half in Spanish and would need to translate them back into the opposite language. On some occasions I only removed key words and verbs from the sentences and students needed to fill in these gaps. I collected scores for every test. For year 10 I’ve been doing something slightly different, they have been getting an entire model text, typed up in a table so that they have the Spanish and English in parallel. They also have a week to self quiz and are tested in the same way. Students scores on these tests have generally been quite good, with relatively few exceptions. It’s ben a great opportunity to praise students and make a really big deal of students that have done well. I’ve found this motivating students who wouldn’t usually be bothered and I consider that a win.

To an extent I can see that this has had an impact on their writing. There are more correctly used verbs and better word order in KS3 and in year 10 students are using a wider range of vocabulary and interesting structures thanks to the model texts that they are seeing. But these improvements are only showing up in relatively few students’ work. I’m not seeing the improvements as much as I would’ve liked to when I first set out these changes. There are multiple possible reasons for this, not only the methods that I have chosen to use and the way they have been implemented in class but also the students attitudes towards them outside of the classroom. I can’t help but think that in the schools where these methods are most successful it is because they are being used school wide. If students are only expected to do these things for me then it is bound to take longer.

Thinking now about what happens next, there are a few things that I plan to do differently but also some things that I intend to continue doing. I will still be setting self-quizzing homework, I will still be testing students weekly and collecting in scores. Now, on non-test lessons students will be completing Do Now tasks that require them to recall language from the current Knowledge Organiser but also from previous ones. On occasion I will probably include previously learned material in the weekly tests, to make sure students are still recalling all of the learned language, not just what they have been learning this week.

I also hope to base more of my lessons around the Knowledge Organiser. This is partly as I wish to step away from the textbooks around which our schemes of work are based, and also to show students how much importance I am placing on the language used in these KOs. Recently I have been taking a look at resources shared by other teachers, @MissNewnham and @KatieLockett in particular, who use Knowledge Organisers a lot and blend their resources with ideas from @gianfrancocont9 amongst others. My plan at some point this half term, or after, is to look at what they have shared and see what I can make for myself. Initially this is for me to try out, before sharing with other members of my department as we start to streamline our KS3 curriculum and prepare students better for the demands of GCSE. This is the start of a long road, I’ll let you know what happens next.

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