How does Middle School help students develop effective study skills that will help them navigate the I/GCSE journey and beyond? Claire Russell, Deputy Head of Academics in Senior School, explains.
In the Senior School, we have observed that for some students, the ability to study independently in an effective way doesn’t always “click” into place before they reach the I/GCSE and post-16 years, when these skills are crucial to examination success. As such, we decided to do something to change this by intervening earlier in our students’ academic journeys, teaching them effective ways to study and revise from the moment they walk through the doors of the Senior School and start Middle School in Year 7. This was how our “Learning to Learn” initiative was born this academic year.
Developing memory and metacognition
One of the major issues we were seeing was students struggling to embed crucial subject knowledge in their long-term memories. Without this knowledge committed to long term memories, students are then unable to manipulate it, analyse it, question it or apply any of the other higher order thinking skills required of them in external examinations and assessment. Memory, therefore, is key, and alongside this, metacognition. Simply put, metacognition means students knowing what they don’t already know so that they can independently identify the content they need to focus on to progress further.
Creating Knowledge Organisers
Having identified the two aspects of learning that we know from educational research will make a big difference to student outcomes, we set about developing our strategy to focus on memory and metacognition with students in the Middle School. Our agreed approach was to create Knowledge Organisers for every topic in every subject in Years 7-9; our Middle School years. The Knowledge Organisers act as a one-page curated visual of all of the essential knowledge belonging to a given topic in each subject. Alongside the Knowledge Organisers, each department has built a bank of homework tasks that require students to develop their own retrieval techniques, primarily through self-quizzing, flashcards and brain dumps based on the content of the Knowledge Organisers.
The emphasis is always on the student using these techniques independently, rather than teachers quizzing them in class, because we know this is a skill many students lack. Also crucial to success is a step in each homework task that requires students to use metacognition; reflecting on what they don’t know, identifying the gaps in their knowledge, and knowing what they need to work on. Finally, on the due date of a homework, the lesson begins with an activity that enables teachers to check homework and identify gaps in knowledge.
Year of the Pen initiative
Complementing this approach is our Year of the Pen initiative. We realised last year that one of the negative impacts of COVID and home-based learning was that as a school community we had shifted further than we would like towards the digital end of the spectrum, and that the default for completion of written tasks was increasingly, to type. Bearing in mind the need for students to write by hand in examinations at the end of their Senior School journeys, we are very conscious that writing is a skill we cannot afford students to lose. Alongside this sits the research that indicates better retention of knowledge when we write by hand rather than by typing. As such, across the Senior School, students are now required to use the stylus when responding in writing on a device, and a good old-fashioned pen and paper when completing more extended writing.
Learning to learn
We are calling our new approach Learning to Learn because we feel it sums up perfectly the intention behind our approach. At the start of the new academic year, we explained this to all Middle School students during an assembly, teaching them some of the cognitive science behind remembering, and why memory is so important to learning and effective study. We have also recently delivered a parent workshop to share our thinking with parents and enable them to support their children at home.
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