Unforgettable Teaching: how can we teach in ways that help pupils to remember?


Higher expectations.  A bigger curriculum.  A greater emphasis on terminal tests and exams.  The end of coursework and controlled assessment in most subjects.  A common implication of many of the curriculum and assessment changes that schools have been faced with in recent years is that pupils are going to be required to remember more.  This creates new challenges for teachers: we might be very good at teaching for understanding, but how good are we at teaching for recall? What can we do to help pupils to remember what they studied months, or, perhaps, years ago?  On 7th October, at Sawston Village College, we hosted a conference on behalf of CASSA, exploring exactly these questions.  With contributions from an academic researcher, a designer working in the biotech industry, and practising teachers, this conference explored how pupils’ memory actually works and introduced approaches that could help us to provide unforgettable lessons.  This blog shares the materials from that conference.

Professor Sue Gathercole, Director of the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk), associated with the University of Cambridge, provided insights into the different forms of memory function and offered advice on how working memory in particular can affect a student’s learning.  Find out more in this PowerPoint CASSA October 2015 Sue Gathercole – Memory A gateway and barrier to learning and also through Francis Rowland’s sketch notes at www.flickr.com/photos/francisrowland/21920289668/.

Francis Rowland, Lead User Experience Designer at the European Bioinformatics Institute (www.ebi.ac.uk) spoke about visual note-taking, a technique he uses to help to comprehend, retain and share new professional knowledge.  Francis’ design work requires him to have a deep understanding of how users of technology process information and this informs his approach to noting and learning.  To find out more, view his slides at www.slideshare.net/francisrowlanduk/visual-notetaking-listening-learning-remembering and view his sketch notes from Sue Gathercole’s keynote at www.flickr.com/photos/francisrowland/21920289668/.

Jerry Read, history teacher, spoke about his investigations into how to help pupils to develop fluency in their factual knowledge.  Drawing upon his MEd research and the work of Willingham in particular (www.danielwillingham.com), Jerry spoke about how he uses various techniques, including “pre-testing” to help pupils to have more secure factual knowledge that they can use in meaningful ways.  To find out more, please see this PowerPoint: CASSA Workshop – Facilitating Knowledge Fluency – Jerry Reed

James Woodcock, Assistant Principal and history teacher, spoke about his experimental approaches to revision.  Influenced by Jerry Reed’s research (above), James shared the revision materials he has generated for his GCSE classes and a new curriculum structure that makes ongoing revision a routine and integral part of lesson sequences.  James’ PowerPoint also includes prompts and questions that encourage teachers to think about how these activities, and the principles that underlie them, could be adapted for different contexts and different subjects.  Find at more here: R&D Conference 7 Oct 2015 – Memory – JWO session on revision

If any of this work is of interest and you would like to discuss it further, please do get in touch via twitter: @ProfLearnSVC

Further reading and viewing:

Web materials, publications, events at the Centre for Attention, Learning & Memory: http://calm.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk

Carey, B. (2014) How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why it Happens. United Kingdom: Pan MacMillan.

Roediger, H. L., McDaniel, M. A. and Brown, P. C. (2014) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Willingham, D. (2008) ‘What Will Improve a Student’s Memory’, American Educator, Winter 2008-2009.

Willingham, D. T. (2009) Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. San Francisco: Wiley, John & Sons.

Mike Rohde – “Sketchnote Handbook & Workbook

Sunni Brown – “Doodle Revolution

Sunni Brown – “Doodlers, unite!” TED talk

Sketchnote Army website

Gathercole & Alloway – “Understanding Working Memory

Peter Doolittle – Working Memory TED talk

Katarina Schwartz – “Making Learning Visible” (article)

Marquardt & Greenberg – “Sketchnotes for Visual Thinking in HCI



  1. Reblogged this on and commented:

    James Woodcock, Assistant Principal, Sawston Village College (jwoodcock@sawstonvc.org)
    Jerry Reed, History, Sawston Village College (jreed@sawstonvc.org)

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