Ofsted says learning is…

fredy-jacob-764477-unsplash…a change in long-term memory. Other definitions are available but let’s explore Ofsted’s, starting with three questions I ask children in class and finishing with advice and a powerful memory technique.

Try asking children these questions:

  1. When you’ve finished, what will be different?
  2. How will you make sure that you always know this?
  3. Why can you do this?

The first question has three kinds of answer:

  1. A wild stare; a furious mental scrabble for the correct thing to say.
  2. A shrug.
  3. A clear articulation of what’s being learned, usually with reference to success criteria stuck in an exercise book or displayed on a whiteboard.

The occasional child will say, ‘I’ll be at play time’ or, ‘having lunch’.

The question is powerful because it’s vague and ambiguous: Finished what? – this work? today? school? this question, word, line?

Different? – for me? in my book? in my head? in my life?

Each child brings their own meaning to the answer which is why it’s valuable to us. They reveal what they think is happening and what finishing it means to them. They have to think for themselves, about their learning, and about how things will change while learning is happening. They can’t look to the teacher for help and there is no ‘right’ answer.

Once a child can describe what will be different; what is being learned, then I’ll ask the second question: ‘How will you make sure you’ll always know this/always be able to do this?’

It stumps most children. ‘Write it down again.’ they say, or ‘do it another time.’

And the final question really hurts. It requires a child to reflect and connect. ‘Why can you do this?’ Some say, ‘because I work hard’, or ‘because my teacher helps me’. It’s rare for a child to refer back to previous learning as a foundation for current success.

I’m hoping Ofsted will take a broad, deep and authentic view of what a change in long-term memory actually means, and that its inspectors will value curricula that include lessons on memory skills and thinking skills. If not then it’s missed its own point.

A change in long-term memory is more than knowing the capital city of Iceland because it was drilled in to you 3 months ago. A change in long-term memory means that you can drive a car without referring to an instruction manual every time you sit in the driver’s seat. It means you can remember what to do, how to do it, and actually do it in different contexts (that’s called lateral progression).

So may I offer you three ways to develop long-term memory (Ofsted-defined learning):

  1. Design learning around the Curve of Forgetting.
  2. Ask pupils the three questions.
  3. Teach memory skills.

And here’s a premium Thinking Classroom tool based on an ancient memory technique:

Memory Theatre Thinking Tool

Thinking Classroom

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