Memorable Teaching: A summary of Peps Mccrea’s book exploring how to engage students, enhance learning retention and create an impactful classroom experience.
Memorable Teaching: A summary of Peps Mccrea’s book
Leveraging memory to build deep and durable learning in the classroom: Learning results in a change to our long-term memory. This book focuses on the importance of our working memory, as this will determine what goes through to our long-term memory and how effectively it is stored.
Peps Mccrea summarises the following nine principles of memorable teaching.
Harnessing the Working Memory
- Managing information
Eliminate distractions. Distractions can come from the physical environment (displays, clocks, music), social environment (interruptions, off-task conversations, teachers talking while students are working), the tasks or activities (redundant text or images in presentations or worksheets, a forced focus on real life contexts or unnecessary complexity during early acquisition).
- Streamlining information
Consider how best to communicate the information we need students to learn. Speech allows us to communicate in a linear way, while diagrams can illustrate how components relate to each other. Text can allow students to process the information at their own pace, but speech is more flexible and can be adapted to meet the needs of the students. Our working memory can handle more information if it is presented to more than one component simultaneously (e.g. speech goes to our phonological loop and images go to our visuo-spatial sketchpad).
- Orienting attention
Information must be attended to if we want it to enter our working memory and consequently move into our long-term memory. Help students to filter the correct information by explicitly showing or telling them what to focus on in advance. Stress the most important information and reduce distractions that may take up valuable space in their working memories.
- Regulating load
Our working memory is most effective when processing two or three interacting elements at once. We can reduce the demand on students’ working memories by relating new information to concepts that the students are already familiar with. When this is not possible, reduce the amount of new information students are asked to process at the same time. Give students time to pause and write down what is being discussed to reduce the amount of information that they are required to store in their working memory; once it is freed up they will be able to contribute more fully to a discussion.
Directing the Working Memory
- Expediting elaboration
Elaboration occurs when our working memory interacts and modifies our long-term memory. Learning will be more effective if the relevant areas of the long-term memory are readily available through a starter activity (priming). You can explicitly discuss how the new knowledge fits in with previously learnt content.
- Refining structures
Variation is a useful strategy to help students refine the structures in their long-term memory; showing contrasting examples will allow students to discern the defining aspects of an idea or definition. Separating similar concepts into different lessons allows students to appreciate the subtle differences; often we do the opposite and teach similar topics at the same time.
- Stabilising changes
Memories in our long-term memory decay if they are not used in order to make the long-term memory more efficient. Forgetting is a default setting in our long-term memory and the information we teach will be forgotten unless we intentionally take steps to prevent it. Memories are strengthened every time they are retrieved. The less help students have with the retrieval, the stronger the memory becomes. Retrieval is more effective when it is in a low-stakes setting; otherwise, anxiety can take up space in the working memory and makes retrieval from the long-term memory more difficult. Retrieving something just before it is forgotten is the most effective time, so spacing retrieval throughout the term is best. Interleaving is also an effective approach to strengthening memories; moving from retrieving information about one topic another unrelated topic.
- Aligning pedagogies
This is about selecting the right teaching strategy for the skill or content being taught. The same content may need a very different approach during the early acquisition phase that it will once students have a secure introductory understanding of it. Direct instruction may be necessary initially before an inquiry-based approach can be effective.
- Embedding metacognition
For teaching to have the greatest impact, students need to understand the principles of memorable learning and strategies to improve retention, they need to have goals and be aware of whether they are on track to reach these and they need to be able accurately assess their own level of understanding. Teachers can explicitly explain to their students why they have selected certain activities for them. A practical way to improve calibration is to ask students to predict how they will score on a quiz or assessment, evaluate their own performance using a mark scheme or assessment objectives and then reflect on how accurate they were and why they were or were not successful at predicting their performance.
Mccrea, P., 2019. Memorable Teaching: Leveraging Memory to Build Deep and Durable Learning in the Classroom. JOHN CATT EDU Limited.