GUEST POST: Putting the Learning Scientists’ Work into Practice (Part 2)
By Naomi Hennah
Naomi Hennah is a Teacher of Science/Chemistry at Northampton School for Boys. You can find her on Twitter @MrsHennah.
Last week, Naomi talked about how she implements spaced practice, interleaving, and retrieval practice in her science classroom. Here, she talks about the other three strategies – elaboration, concrete examples, and dual coding.
Elaboration (Specifically, elaborative interrogation)
Retrieval practice can be developed as you become more familiar with a topic and all of its subtopics. You can begin asking yourself deeper questions, such as those that start with “how?” and “why?”.
To start off, you can take two ideas from a topic, and explain how they are similar and how they are different. For example, take alkanes and alkenes, or fossil fuels and hydrogen fuel. It is very important that you construct your answer as fully as possible; try to speak out loud or write your answer so that you can check your notes and see what you missed. Initially, you may find it easier to work with someone else until you become proficient in both asking and answering your own how and why questions. Although you can use your notes to help answer the questions fully, eventually the goal is to think of questions and answer them independently. This independent questioning and answering is a combination of elaboration and retrieval practice.
Here’s a technique to help you vary the questions you ask: use a question cube. For each face of the cube, allocate a question such as; 1= Why? 2 = How? 3 = This links with? 4 = Similarities? 5 = Differences? 6= Can I explain this in my own words? I have included an example of a question cube template below.
Abstract ideas are hard to remember, in part because they are harder to visualize. You need to link your abstract concepts to examples that are memorable to you, so try and take ideas and apply them to something concrete that you can more easily visualize. For example, I visualize hydrogen bonds as Mr Strong as they are the strongest of the intermolecular forces. This acts as a memory hook for me, and helps me to recall when and how these forces arise as well as knowing they are strong.
Your concrete examples could be an example discussed in class, or given in a text book. Check through your notes for examples, or ask your teacher to be sure the example works and you are aware of its limitations. Intermolecular forces are not really Mr Men, but it helps me visualise and remember their properties.
Let’s look at an abstract concept from A-level Chemistry: “instantaneous dipole – induced dipole”.
Here is the abstract explanation as given in the textbook:
“An instantaneous dipole comes from the chance event where electrons occupy a particular region of an atom or molecule at one moment and so leave another region electron deficient. This has the knock on effect of disrupting the electron cloud of a nearby atom or molecule and so induces a dipole in it.”
And here is an analogy that uses a more concrete example: “yawning is a spontaneous event, but if I yawn, a person nearby will be induced to yawn too”. So one spontaneous event has induced someone near me to yawn too – a Mexican wave of yawns.
When I read a book, I focus on the words and largely ignore the pictures. But to make my learning more effective, I should really use both.
What information is clear from the pictures but not the text? Conversely, what is in the text but not apparent from the image? Indeed, it is highly likely that additional information is present in one but absent in the other. By ignoring the image, you are missing important information.
A general approach to dual coding requires looking at the pictures and trying to explain them in your own words – you generate the text. Then, read a passage in the book and try to draw a picture or diagram to explain it. Cartoons can help by creating a dialogue for the information.
Finally, try to both write and draw from memory the information you’ve been studying during your spaced practice so you combine dual coding and retrieval practice.
For example, look at the atomic models taken from GCSE Chemistry. Try looking at the picture; what does it tell you?
What does the following text tell you in addition to the picture?
Bohr’s atomic model
Bohr’s model idea of atomic structure: the nucleus lies in the centre of the model and is made up of a certain number of protons and neutrons.
Each of the outer layers is made up of a certain number of electrons; the first shell holds a maximum of 2 electrons, the second shell holds up to 8 electrons etc. This model helps not only with the theoretical appearance of an atom, but also how different elements combine.
Now, read the table where I have compared the image and the text. Did you draw the same conclusions?
Can you produce a memorable image the captures the ideas from both the text and image?
The final point is that as with anything, the more you practice these strategies, the more they will benefit you. The key to success is practicing little and often over a long period of time. Plan your time so you use it efficiently rather than having to give up activities you enjoy. If you haven’t started to study for your exams - start now.
I would like to hear how other teachers have applied the Learning Scientists strategies to their teaching or adapted them to meet the needs of their learners!