No more forgetting what they learned yesterday- forgetting curve homeworks

A typical representation of the forgetting cur...

A typical representation of the forgetting curve. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many times have you heard teachers complain that students couldn’t remember what they learned yesterday, let alone last week or last month? Retention of learning is a big issue and one that must be addressed. This year my department is trialling some key stage 3 homeworks that directly tackle the issue of pupil retention of learning and I thought you may like to take a look at our practice.

We shouldn’t get frustrated when pupils do not retain learning from one day to the next. They are human and some experiments carried out by the German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus show that all humans forget things at an exponential rate. His famous Forgetting Curve illustrates the idea nicely and demonstrates that if you are only going to learn something once, you might as well not learn it at all. I have written at length about the Forgetting Curve and what it should mean for our own practice in my book, 100 Things Awesome Teachers Do, but the main point is that if you periodically relearn things, the rate at which you forget them again decreases rapidly.

Taking this idea, we decided that the most appropriate time for pupils to relearn topics was during their homework. The challenge then was to create homeworks that stayed in sync with the scheme of work and repeatedly revisited topics from earlier in the year. At the beginning of the year the first homework covers what you learned in the first week, but they build up as the year progresses so by week 10 you cover topics that you learned in class from weeks 10, 9, 8, 7, 6… etc.

Click here to see an example of our Forgetting Curve Homeworks. As you progress through the homeworks you can see that the number of topics they cover grows too. Any objective they learn in class gets periodically revised on subsequent homeworks all year. The whole years homeworks are in a single pdf file that we get the pupils to download at the start of the year from our revision website, avoiding the need for homework textbooks or endless amounts of photocopying.

Example of one of our Forgetting Curve Homeworks. Topics taught earlier in the year are regularly revisited on the homeworks. The ‘L’ column tells the pupil what level the question is and the ‘C’ column informs them whether they are allowed to use their calculator for that question

The homeworks are differentiated by level and so it is the teacher’s responsibility to choose the questions that are most appropriate to the level the pupils are working at. For example, a low-attaining class may do questions 1 to 20 where a high-attaining class may do questions 20 to 40. We decided to put all the questions ranging from level 3 to 7 on each homework so it gives pupils an opportunity to try some from a higher level that they had been prescribed if they would like to. Many pupils are choosing to do the 20 questions set then some extra ones to see what the next level up is like.

We are alternating these Forgetting Curve Homeworks with MyMaths homeworks for a bit of variety.

It’s not perfect and we are having some niggles as you would expect. For example, there are a few pupils who we need to print out the worksheets for as they do not have access to computers at home. Nonetheless, pupils are expressing positive opinions about the homeworks and our feeling as teachers is that they are providing real opportunities for pupils to relearn topics they covered earlier in the year. Given time in lessons to review and reflect on their performance on the homeworks it is helping pupils identify areas they need to work on, providing good AFL.

We will look both at exam performance and our professional judgement as teachers at the end of the academic year to see if we feel they have had a positive impact on learning retention. Please feel free to ask further questions or give us some constructive feedback in the comments section.

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6 Responses

  1. Steve Phelps says:

    Is the Year 8 example for 15 weeks?

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