What I know about knowledge (or, How to put an end to pointless note taking and got pupils applying knowledge)
When I set out to write a new blog I had planned to write about Knowledge Organisers, what I thought was good about them and what I thought was truly horrendous. To do that wouldn’t fully reflect what I doing at the minute with my classes. Yes, I’m using knowledge organisers (or variations on the idea), but that’s just a piece of the puzzle.
I became interested in knowledge organisers because I started seeing a lot of Twitter activity with people talking about them, which coincided with my work planning for the new GCSE curriculum. I was myself planning out the key ideas and concepts that I thought my students would need to know. The first ‘knowledge organisers’ I made had been for my own sake, my own guide to the exam content. The process was enormously beneficial, on a few sheets of paper I had plotted out all of the key things that I was going to need to teach pupils. I had it in a beautifully succinct way, no fluff, just focussed knowledge.
As I started to plan lessons, I would refer to these ‘knowledge organisers’ I had made, crafting what I thought were some really good lessons, but as the course went on and as I began to check pupils books there were a few cases where I wasn’t entirely happy with the notes that some pupils had written:
Now, my approach could be described as Knowledge Organisers (in that some take the stereotypical style that can be found online) but it could also be described as a sheet of notes.
In describing this some teachers have nearly died of shock, arguing that it is doing too much for the students and that I’m doing their work for them. I would argue that they are missing the point of what is happening in my classroom and it is something I’ll try and unpack.
For each lesson, or sequence of lessons, I give pupils a sheet (either in Knowledge Organiser format, or as a sheet of notes and diagrams). It is their responsibility to learn this. They have a permanent homework to learn the key words, definitions and concepts. They are tested on these regularly (which is something that Dawn Cox writes brilliantly about here, here and here - sorry but Dawn's blog is one of the first I turn to when I need ideas/inspiration/good common sense).
Upon entering the class, pupils have 5QQ (Five Quick Questions, something many Maths teachers will be familiar with). This is on material that has been studied across the GCSE course, I make sure I keep a track of which questions are being asked and always focus on topics that misconceptions occur in. Keeping track means that you can respond to those misconceptions and that you don’t spend too long retesting on material that they are already confident with.
As the register is being taken, pupils read through the information, as they read through they highlight parts, write questions, expand upon point and make links to other information that has been studied.
Then, as a group, we discuss the information. They ask questions that they may have written down, we unpack ideas and I quiz them on the information that they have just been given. All this has happened within the first 15-20 minutes of a lesson.
Then it is time to apply the information, this can be to an exam style question, into a revision resource, with dual-coding, a debate or a whole range of other activities. It provides another opportunity for us to talk through the key material, for them to apply it and then for me to see whether they have understood the information.
Ten minutes, or so, before the end of the lesson we get an opportunity to talk through the ideas, maybe expand on some ideas (verbally, or written) and then for us to finish with a quiz on the material being studied.
Pupils know that their permanent homework is to revise the knowledge, which means that in class we can focus on applying it and testing it. I finish each lesson with a clear understanding of how well they are grasping the concepts and it frees me up to give individualised feedback.
I’ve discussed this approach with a few different teachers, many of whom react with shock, astounded that I just give pupils the notes. It is not that I think note taking isn’t an important skill, I do. I haven’t abandoned it, but I want pupils to be able to explore, discuss and commit this information to memory, not just for that lesson but throughout their course. As time progresses I’ll hopefully add some anonymised data to show how knowledge retention has improved over a longer period of time (i.e. a two/three year course of study) but it’ll be a while till I’ll have that.
The students have adapted to this process really well and it is certainly paying off with students, who are frequently saying that they understand the information much better now, something which is definitely becoming apparent in recent test results.
In summary, where’s what I like about the approach:
I’d certainly recommend this approach, but what you must ensure is that you are not just giving pupils the notes, telling them that they need to learn it and just leave them to it. The notes I give are referred to constantly throughout the lesson/sequence of lessons/from weeks or months ago. I’ll model how I would use the information by either projecting it on the board or using a visualiser to show them exactly how I am going to use, or manipulate, the piece of information. I’m giving them the notes so that we can be active learners, not passive ones.
Hopefully I’ve been able to outline/justify what I’ve been doing. If not, please leave a comment/tweet me (@MrMcKavanaghRE) and I’ll try to elaborate or send some examples of what I’ve been doing.