GUEST POST: Using Knowledge Organizers as Effective Study Tools
By Helen Sharpe
I read with interest this blog post on six strategies for effective learning and immediately began to think about how knowledge organizers could be best utilized to encourage and explicitly model habitual use of these strategies in students’ revision.
According to the book Make it Stick, "one of the best habits to instill in a learner is regular self-quizzing" (1). I give my students self-quizzing revision homework from Year 7 (6th Grade). This activity is knowledge-based and informed by the contents of a knowledge organizer provided for them. For example (see below), on a Shakespeare scheme studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they are given a summary of the plot, key characters, important contextual information and key vocabulary (this is what Joe Kirby refers to as ‘core knowledge’).
Then self-quizzing activity involves students reading the one section of the knowledge organizer, covering it up, and then writing it out from memory [a note from the editor: this activity might be even more effective if there is a gap between reading and retrieving!]. They then uncover the information and check it against what they have written, using a different colored pen to fill in any gaps and make visible the current gaps in their retention. This method involves students applying retrieval practice: number two on the list of six research-based strategies for effective learning. and heralded as one of the most effective study methods of the list according to research.
The next strategy on their list is elaboration, and they define ‘elaborative interrogation’ as "ask[ing] yourself questions about how and why things work and then produc[ing] the answers to these questions". For this study method, I added an extra page to the knowledge organizer with key quotes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream such as "she is mine, I may dispose of her, which shall be either to this gentleman or to her death" spoken by Egeus in Act 1 Scene 1. The idea is that students will ‘interrogate’ the quotes as part of their revision, asking questions such as:
- Why does Shakespeare use the verb ‘dispose’?
- How is Egeus presented here?
- What is Shakespeare suggesting about the patriarchal system in Renaissance England?
- When else does the theme of power and paternal relationships appear in the play?
- Where else in the play is Egeus presented similarly or differently?
Ideally, this helps students make connections across and between different parts of their knowledge.
The next strategy is the use of Concrete Examples. To train students up in this study method, I provided a concrete example of an analytical paragraph based on the idea of power in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Underneath the paragraph is a broken-down list of content and stylistic criteria that has been used in the example to make it both successful and sophisticated.
Part of their revision then is to ‘build’ their own paragraph using the ingredients and concrete example provided. By labelling where they have used both stylistic and content features, they are engaging metacognitively with their work through thinking carefully about the process of developing a successful paragraph.
The last strategy mentioned in the blog post is dual coding, defined very simply as "combining visuals with words" with the rationale that "[w]hen you have the same information in two formats - words and visuals - it gives you two ways of remembering the information later on." In terms of the knowledge organizer, this seems particularly well-suited to memorizing vocabulary and quotations. It strikes me as not dissimilar to the memory palace technique - for example, as used by Sherlock Holmes - where you places information in familiar settings so that by evoking a recognizable image in your mind, you can recall the associated facts. In Reading Reconsidered, Doug Lemov advocates providing visuals as part of vocabulary instruction (2). For example, an image of Banquo’s ghost seated in the chair of Macbeth could be discussed as a visual representation of usurpation.
I encourage my students, when they are revising (studying), to dual code by drawing images related to vocabulary words. For example, the word 'hierarchy' might be accompanied by a vertical line with a crown at the top and a hand (to represent begging/poverty) at the bottom. Or, the aforementioned Egeus quotation could be accompanied by an image of a girl (stick girl, in my case with my extremely limited drawing ability!) in a trash can; or a gravestone with Hermia’s name on it to represent Egeus’s wish to ‘dispose’ her to her ‘death’. Of course, pairing images and quotations in this way relies on an understanding of the vocabulary within the quorarions first!
I encourage students to demonstrate spaced practice through revising with the knowledge organizer a little between each lesson (checked by their teacher) rather than a lot each week or fortnight, and their revision starts at the very beginning of the scheme of work.
I also use Andy Tharby’s excellent memory platforms at the beginning of each lesson to interleave their practice of different concepts in one quick retrieval practice session, through the following structure:
Question 1-3: last lesson’s learning
Question 4: last week’s learning
Question 5: last term’s learning
Question 6: link last lesson to last term
By regularly practicing the above, students also make links with other units of study when revising with the knowledge organizer.
My final approach to interleaving is utilizing ‘poem of the day’ with Year 7 where we study a poem linked to that day in history (thanks to the excellent book Poem for Every Day of the Year (3) for this!), and discuss the tone and any relevant poetic techniques. We then try to link this discussion to our study of Shakespeare, exploring common themes, authorial intent, writers’ methods and even the fact that Puck would have enjoyed a limerick! Here is an example of a poem we would read and discuss:
I hope this blog has provided some useful ideas or at least food for thought! If you have further suggestions or adapt any of the strategies listed above, I would love to hear about it.
(1) Brown, P.C., Roediger III, H.L., & McDaniel, M.A.. (2014). Make It Stick. The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
(2) Lemov, D., Driggs, C., & Woolway, E. (2016). Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy Instruction. John Wiley & Sons.
(3) Asiri, A. (2017). A Poem for Every Day of the Year. Pan Macmillan.