Varying Retrieval

Knowledge of a text is crucial to succeed in assessment. Having students continually discuss and interact with a text is key to helping them remember it. But the interactions needn’t all be in the same vein.

In English Literature, the most important thing for a student to know is the storyline of a text. Without it, their essays will be hopeful to say the least. Helping students remember the storyline is therefore crucial in securing success in assessment, and there are a variety of ways you can facilitate retrieving their knowledge. Mark Esner shares some useful strategies here, and I’ve discussed the power of retrieval here, elaborative retrieval here , and combining a knowledge organiser with retrieval practice here. But in this post I want to share another approach that varies the degree of difficulty as students become more secure.

Over the course of 6 lessons, I will provide a range of scenes/sections/quotes from the text in an incorrect order. Each activity requires students to rearrange them in the right order, writing the correct order down in order to assist the memory.  Below is an example from my A Christmas Carol revision. 

Rearrange these sections/scenes in the order they appear in the text

Some quotes are related to the previous day’s scene – but I could have paid more attention to this to reinforce the scene. 

This has worked really well, replacing my standard quiz temporarily. Initially, especially by the 3rd activity, I modelled my thinking process of how to place them in order, working out what stave each scene was from. I put the number on the right hand side of the scene, then asked what came first in each scene if there were several instances. Once students got the swing of it, they flew in the next few activities.

As per usual with working on increasing retrieval strength, the constant discussion about the text is key, and I utilised the opportunity to ask multiple probing questions about each scene as I placed a number next to it. In fact, I asked what was just before and just after each scene every time I annotated the board, and asked about links to other sections of the novella continuously. Why? Because when students have access to the information multiple times each lesson, the likelihood of them remembering increases. 

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger


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