4 Nov ’19 Teaching 2

Teaching is messy and learning so difficult to pinpoint, that teaching has to be responsive, that is my humble conclusion. Securing, holding, not overloading (a nod to desirable difficulties and cognitive load) students attention, essential. From there on in, the list of potential variables that may / or may not influence a student learning is quite probably inexorable. Far too many to mention here.

And so the phrase “best bets” appears to be emerging within our evidence informed and enthused conversation. Even that phrase, “best bet,” may be a gamble itself, given that expertise is specific to a curriculum area, and to particular contexts, (challenging school, Grammar school, high prior attaining school, all-girls school). Expertise honed and developed over hundreds and thousands of hours, Berliner (2004).

Despite my reservations, one variable that continues to prod at my thinking is the relationship between motivation and success. Or as I now understand find myself referring to it, success-motivation-success. I am siding on success being the driver.

All students in my classes were provided with a Knowledge Organiser (KO). Compiling the KO was my professional learning and preparation for teaching the text. Writing that into the low stakes quizzing, in the form a “Retrieval Roulette*,” (again contributed to my professional learning and preparation for teaching the text), it added a clear routined start to lesson – “Do it now” task with questions drawn from the following:

  • the identified vocabulary
  • contextual information (available on the KO)
  • the language and literary devices employed by the author (available on the KO)
  • textual references; plot, character, theme

Six questions are displayed for six minutes. First time through the students must attempt all the questions they are able to, before turning to their KOs or the text for to find as many answers as possible in the time remaining. After six minutes, I display and go over the answers, with students recording and highlighting only the answers they do not know or needed to correct.

It would be fair to say that motivation / reception to this “newtesting quizzing routine was at best, modest. (First and foremost the students saw it as a test). However, after 15-20 quizzes, towards the end of week three, beginning of week four, students started to regularly achieve high scores for both the first time, and the second time through the quiz. Experiencing success on the quiz, started to change their opinion of it, and their motivation for it. It was quite palpable. Students then started tagging short textual references (often question answers from the retrieval roulette) and contextual tip bits they had learnt (context info from the KO) to their verbal in-class responses in lessons. Yes, they misfired on the some of the language, knowledge and literary devices, they were learning and relearning but they were using actual textual references, the subject specific language and new knowledge. It would take a further two weeks before this confident-competence transferred to their written responses and it is still only just emerging. What is clear however, is that their English confidence is rising. The driver?

In my humble opinion, success was motivating. Why leads me to that conclusion. In the first instance, their motivation was, as I said, “modest.” Our relationship, teacher and class, rocky. I was new to Cantell School (fair game), I was demanding they work the very moment they walked through the door, and testing them every lesson. And yet, there was a very clear climate shift. Towards me, towards retrieval. And that increased motivation lead to improved attention, greater investment in their learning, more pride in their written work, arriving at class towards the end of break, rather than into the start of lessons. I accept that this is anecdotal of course, but I am sure I could check the register for ‘L’ marks, but collectively, all this small steps redeemed greater success. The success-motivation-success cycle was turning.


I have had a chance to go back to the students and ask about their scores. Some record their scores, some don’t. I do not take them in. I do ask for them. Those that recorded their own schools – class averages on the six questions have increased. With more correct answers first time through, students now have more disposable time to find the missing answers. Win-win. The find the right answer / positive scoring model that we use, most definitely contributing to their sense of attainment. Week one class averages of 1.7 have peaked at 4.8 in week 6, partly because the second set of three questions are always new content. These scores from 13-14 students (sometimes different students), that were able to calculate their sores from their marking.

Is now the time to raise the bar? Or do we wait for more students to hit 4, 5, 6 out of 6? The obvious incremental difficulty is to add more questions but do we maintain or extend the six minutes? Will students accept the additional challenge? We will find out soon.

For more on retrieval routines connect with @adamboxer1 or read his latest post here

We now have a challenger to the roulette – AnkiApp. Anki is web and mobile app memorisation tool that delivers spaced retrieval learning (which I am using to deliver learning, re-learning and revision). My account tells me that I first encountered Anki three years ago, it has resurfaced now because of the mock exams focus. More over here.


2 Responses

  1. […] to feedback or elaboration – just testing). In early November 2019, I wrote the phrase “success-motivation-success cycle” for the first time, even though I couldn’t explicitly what it was or define it, […]

  2. […] Roulette” to present low stakes, quizzing, at the start of class with the aim of building “success-motivation-success” momentum. Having written and refined approaching two hundred questions for Year 9 “A Christmas […]

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