This is the first post in a series that will focus on the different stages of a typical explicit instructional sequence. You can find a generic lesson plan for an explicit instruction lesson here. Although many of the stages within that lesson plan may happen within a single lesson, they may also span multiple lessons.
Retrieval Practice Strategies
For an overview of some of the theory and a range approaches to retrieval practice, see these posts:
While closed questions and extended quizzing can be really useful to build, organise and connect knowledge (particularly with students who are novices in that they lack relevant prior knowledge), asking student to apply their knowledge in small bursts of extended writing can also be really useful.
10 minute writes
I often start lessons with a recall/application task that asks students to write about what we have learnt and discussed in the previous lesson. Students are asked to write for 10 mins in response to a question prompt. Here are some examples:
Example 1: Jekyll and Hyde
Sometimes I ask students to list the prompts first as a retrieval exercise before asking them to write; sometimes I provide the list of prompts to remind them of things that they could write about, making it clear that there may be many other things that you could explore and that this is not an exhaustive list. As they write, I can go round and check that they are on the right track. The prompts can also act as a useful AfL strategy: if students can’t remember or do not fully understand them, I can stop and reteach the ideas, perhaps through some notes or live modelled writing under the camera.
Example 2: An Inspector Calls
In this example, I asked students to initially make some notes for 2 mins in response to the question. After that, I took suggestions from the class, writing notes under the camera and telling students that they should add anything that they don’t have to their notes. Each idea, once displayed to the class, then can form the basis of a think-pair-share discussion. For example, after writing ‘Entrances and Exits-women leave when discussion is serious!’, you could ask What does that tell you about gender? How do the entrances and exits mirror Edwardian society? This process could be repeated for each note before then asking students to write for 10 mins using the ideas.
Example 3: Jekyll and Hyde
In the previous lesson, we had read, annotated and discussed a model essay that explored some of the dichotomies within the novella and these are listed as prompts under the question.
Example 4: An Inspector Calls
Sometimes, if I think it is necessary to build knowledge, I will start with a model answer to one of these questions:
Sometimes this is written live under the camera as I explain my thought process and choices of language; other times I display the model and ask students to borrow and adapt ideas from it. At this stage, student answers are close to mimcry but this may be an important first step on the journey towards flexible knowledge and independent practice.
Example 5: An Inspector Calls and Macbeth
Because I want students to remember these ideas-they have high utility and fit many possible examination questions-I often ask students to write about them again at a later date, sometimes increasing the scope of the question like this:
Example 6: Macbeth
This example points students to a particular page in one of our booklets which they can use to support them in writing their answer. In later lessons, I will ask them to write without this support, increasing the challenge.
Possible Benefits of this Approach:
- It provides students with lots of writing practice, building their writing fluency and stamina as well as helping them to think deeply about important content.
- It acts as a useful form of AfL: if students cannot incorporate a particular note or prompt, it probably needs reteaching.
- Students can use the ideas that I provide or they are free to add their own.
- When they are writing, I can walk round and check. I often stop the class to draw their attention to something that someone has written to give them additional ideas and interpretations: Rachel has cleverly argued that Macbeth’s anagnorisis doesn’t really come until his nihilistic comment that life is ‘but a walking shadow’.
- Students who regularly write about high utility, abstract ideas in response to a range of different question prompts are more likely to be able to apply these to a different question prompt. Transfer is difficult to achieve but one way of helping students to achieve it is to show the similarity across different tasks, essentially helping them to group examples (in this case the ideas) under a superordinate category (in this case the questions) through a process of induction.
Possible detriments to this approach:
- If you don’t gradually fade away the support (remove the prompts etc) then students are unlikely to be able to do it independently.
- If you don’t use distributed practice, students may not retain what they are practising.
- If your students didn’t pay attention to the previous lesson where the content was originally taught, retrieval will be ineffective. Failed retrieval can, however, be mitigated through feedback after the task: this could be through deconstructing a model answer under the camera and asking students to make amendments so that their answer is of a similar quality.
- If the ideas that you are asking them to write about are not as transferable as possible (i.e. they only fit a very narrow set of possible question prompts), this may not be an efficient use of their time: some ideas are more useful than others!
- If students do not fully understand the components that you are asking them to combine in these wider tasks, you may be better focussing on more restrictive practice tasks before gradually combining them.