A brilliant blog by Reach Academy in Feltham who have been using these for years – a long read but incredibly useful – it is primary based but the approach is used by hundreds of schools nationwide at secondary.
Follow the link – Click here
A brilliant blog by Reach Academy in Feltham who have been using these for years – a long read but incredibly useful – it is primary based but the approach is used by hundreds of schools nationwide at secondary.
A great blog from Durrington Research School:
As we have previously blogged about here and here, we at Durrington are currently implementing knowledge organisers across the whole school. At the moment, we have knowledge organisers in place in all subjects for Year 9 and Year 10. The knowledge organisers themselves are disciplinary, by which we mean they are subject specific and so show variation according to the curriculum that they support. However, we have also tried to ensure consistency through adhering to the following principles:
Here are some examples of the knowledge organisers that we are currently using in different subject areas:
We are very aware that knowledge organisers by themselves are fairly meaningless; it is how they are used for planning, teaching and testing that will have the intended positive impact on our students’ outcomes, experiences and future opportunities. Consequently, we are keen to share the simple yet effective ways in which different subjects are utilising their knowledge organisers in lessons, as described below.
In geography the team are collating the words that students most frequently misunderstand or confuse (these are words from the knowledge organisers). The students then take a two-part quiz: In part 1 they choose the correct explanation of the word from three options, and in part 2 they identify the word in the correct context from two options. This is a great example of how the vocabulary from the knowledge organiser is being taught explicitly to students and misconceptions are being tackled at the same time.
In history, the curriculum leader emails out weekly slides, comprising a section of the knowledge organiser, to be used across the department. These slides ensure that there is consistency to the use of knowledge organisers and retrieval practice in every history lesson. The students complete the slide-task, for example filling in blanks in sentences with appropriate tier 3 vocabulary, and then use the knowledge organiser to self or peer check their response. The tasks in themselves are simple but they effectively focus the students’ efforts on improving specific areas, for example accurate use of tier 3 historical words and phrases.
Maths are using their range of knowledge organisers to support homework tasks. Firstly, the students can access their maths knowledge organisers are any time using our online system Connect. This means that students have scaffolding in place for when they are working outside of the classroom. Furthermore, every fortnight the maths team set a homework that is based on retrieval quizzing. The students are required to use the knowledge organisers to find the answers to upcoming quizzes and then actually sit the quiz in class on the due date for the homework. Students who score less than 12 out of 15 are then supported in making flashcards on the questions, again gaining the information from the knowledge organiser, and use these to retest until they are successful. This strategy demonstrates how knowledge organisers can be used to support learning through the testing effect.
The science team have carefully selected the tier 3 vocabulary that they feel is imperative to scientific success and published these on their knowledge organisers. In class, the teachers explicitly teach this vocabulary using a morphological approach, i.e. by drawing students’ attention to prefixes such as mono, hetero, pent etc.. The beauty of this approach is that once the vocabulary has been decided there is no need for any further resources or planning. It is simply a case of the teacher taking a few moments of the lesson to highlight the prefix in order to activate students’ prior knowledge of this word part (or teach it for the first time) so that students can go on to decipher the likely meaning of the entire word.
Finally, in English the team are making frequent use of their knowledge organisers to retrieve the contextual knowledge, key themes and authorial methods linked to literary texts. In addition, the English team are also making students use identified tier 2 vocabulary by linking it to characters and plot situations from multiple texts, thereby giving the students ample and varied examples of the words in use. Knowledge organisers in English tend to be produced on PowerPoint and use a grid format. This makes it incredibly quick and easy to extract sections, put this on a slide and blank out boxes ready for students to fill as a 5 minute starter every lesson.
Our use of knowledge organisers is a journey and one in which we have only taken the first few steps. To move forward we will:
If you are interested in learning more about our approach to teaching and learning please take a look at our upcoming training days here.
Last week, Andy Tharby wrote about Durrington’s journey with knowledge organisers and in particular how we are using these to improve retrieval practice. Andy’s blog generated a lot of interest, perhaps because it taps into the current debate regarding the possible advantages and dangers of using knowledge organisers as a central resource for classroom learning (and because it is expertly written, of course).
One of the major issues we at Durrington have faced on this journey is ensuring a cohesive approach to using knowledge organisers in a way that tackles some common misconceptions about their design and use. Below is an outline of our experiences so far.
The Pros and Cons
At Durrington, we are aiming to have knowledge organisers in place for all units of work, in every curriculum area and for all year groups. This, of course, is an ongoing process and something that we hope to achieve over the next two to three years. To support this process, we have used the EEF’s implementation guide so that we can maximise the chances of this change being successful and having the desired impact on students’ outcomes.
We see knowledge organisers as having a lot of positive potential, especially with regards to our knowledge-based curriculum (you can read about this here). However, we are also highly aware that in order for this potential to be fulfilled we have to be judicious, informed and reflective in terms of their production and our expectations of how knowledge organisers are used by teachers and students. We do not want it to be the case that teachers dedicate a huge amount of time to producing knowledge organisers that are either ineffectively designed in the first place or created with expertise and attention but then fade out of consciousness as the year unfolds.
In the exploration phase of our implementation plan, i.e. when we were systematically investigating the practices tied into the use of knowledge organisers, it became increasingly apparent that there is not any robust research evidence that supports their use. As an evidence-informed school, this was a clear issue for us. Firstly, the current dearth of research evidence underpinning knowledge organisers means that there is also a lack of guidelines for best practice, or even concrete ideas about how they might be effectively used in classrooms of different contexts. Accordingly, any school that is thinking about implementing knowledge organisers as a whole-school approach, or even departmentally, faces somewhat of an abyss when it comes to knowing exactly what to do. However, the experiences of schools that have adopted knowledge organisers seem to align so closely with our T&L principles that it was deemed a path worth pursuing. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that the research evidence does not exist yet, meaning that nothing has been tested either way.
Tackling the Issues
After much research and careful thought, we decided to ask all curriculum areas to create knowledge organisers for the units that will be studied by Year 9 and Year 10 students in the first term of this academic year. Crucially, however, we also decided that the knowledge organisers needed to be the mechanisms for our three current whole-school T&L approaches: retrieval practice, explicit vocabulary instruction and developing metacognitive learners. By emphasising that the knowledge organisers should be developed and used in a way that supports our three evidence-informed T&L foci, rather than as a different pedagogic approach altogether, we felt that we were reducing the risk of them becoming obsolete bits of paper stuck in books, or at worst injurious resources that would narrow the curriculum.
In summary, we have come to believe that knowledge organisers as an isolated pedagogical tool are probably not the way forward, but using knowledge organisers as a way of enabling teachers to incorporate retrieval practice, explicit vocabulary instruction and metacognitive learning in their lessons seems very fruitful indeed.
So far, the whole-school implementation of knowledge organisers has not been easy – they require a substantial amount of time and expertise, and tend to throw up more questions before any answers emerge. There have also been lots of very understandable doubts that we have struggled to quell with ease. However, some of these concerns were rooted in misconceptions that we have been able to overcome. These misconceptions include:
Expectations for Using Knowledge Organisers at Durrington
To tackle these misconceptions we consistently emphasise that the fundamental purpose of our knowledge organisers is to put our three T&L foci into practice. Accordingly, we have identified the following attributes as expectations and reiterate these regularly through CPD channels such as INSET:
The Journey Continues
Perhaps the best part of our investment in knowledge organisers so far has been the collaboration it has engendered. Rather than seeing the lack of prior knowledge organisers as a hindrance, we at Durrington are using this opportunity to galvanise a pioneering spirit. There are many questions that are still unanswered, and this means that curriculum time centres around discussing, questioning and debating what we should teach in our subject and why. There is no side-stepping the fact that the creation of knowledge organisers does take a very long time, but we believe that will be time well spent.
Sadie McCleary, Chemistry Teacher extraordinaire and Science Department Lead at Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School, is a good friend of Team TLAC. She’s a TLAC Fellow and constantly keeps in touch to share ideas she’s adapting and developing. And she has a special interest in Knowledge Organizers. This year she’s been trying to support other teachers in designing and implementing them effectively. She put together a quick guide that we (i.e. Team TLAC) think is pretty tremendous.
The first section shows an annotated model of a Knowledge Organizer for a Chemistry class with some great clarifying comments. We especially love this point:
The vocabulary / key concepts are the foundational terms students should know in order to increase the rigor of the questioning possible by the teacher and increase the quality of student responses. Note that these are not the only terms/concepts students will learn this unit! They will continue to build on these and complicate their ideas. These are simply a starting place.
The second section shows how to use diagrams. This guidance is probably more specific to the sciences (we might be inclined to keep KOs to one page otherwise) but we love her point about annotating.
The third section is our favorite–it focuses on how to use the Knowledge Organizer during class. There’s a lot of gold here but Sadie’s observations about teaching students to use them–and therefore how to study–is especially powerful:
Teach students to use it: Studying is a skill! Just like with other skills in class, we need to teach students how to do it. This means studying (even simple vocabulary drills) needs to be modeled and students need at-bats.
• Self-quizzing: Take 2 minutes several times in Unit 1 to explicitly show students how to fold their KO to hide the definitions and ‘self-quiz.’ The best way to do this might be conducting a Think Aloud – read out the vocabulary word and begin narrating your own thinking. Example – ‘Analog measurement – I know there are two types of measurements, and the second is digital. This means analog is non-digital, and I know there are special rules for these because the accuracy of analog measurements is not communicated.’ Follow this up with several minutes of students doing their own silent self-quizzing and an oral drill or recall quiz.
• Partner quizzing: Provide opportunities for students to quiz one another for 1 – 3 minutes in class. Explicitly name for students that this should be replicated at home with a family member or friend. Model partner quizzing for students, and set clear times for when partners should switch who is quizzing whom. If time allows, follow up partner quizzing with an oral drill or recall quiz.
All in all it’s an amazing piece of work. Our thanks to Sadie for sharing it with us and therefore with you. Hope it’s useful!
I have found recent discussions and debates about the concept of a ‘knowledge-rich curriculum’ – or knowledge-led; knowledge-based – fascinating. Some of this has been explored brilliantly in various blogs. Here is a selection:
There are also numerous blogs from Michael Fordham (Knowledge and curriculum – Clio et cetera), Clare Sealy (Memory not memories – teaching for long term learning – primarytimerydotcom) or Christine Counsell: the dignity of the thing
Along with plenty of others, I initially struggled to get my ahead around this idea. As a science teacher I’ve always felt my curriculum was packed with knowledge and, without question, I’ve seen numerous cohorts sit lots of GCSE exams year after year, each requiring significant knowledge. However, having engaged in the debate, read Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21c and Dan Willingham’s work, I’m increasingly convinced that a knowledge-rich/focused/led/based curriculum is an important concept that we ought to embrace.
Based on my work with lots of schools in varying circumstances over the last few years, I would say that not only is this approach often different to the default practice, it offers a secure route to the rising standards that we’re continually seeking.
Based on various ideas pulled from the blogs and books cited above, I would suggest there are four components:
Knowledge provides a driving, underpinning philosophy: The grammar of each subject is given high status; the specifics of what we want students to learn matter and the traditions of subject disciplines are respected. Skills and understanding are seen as forms of knowledge and it is understood that there are no real generic skills that can be taught outside of specific knowledge domains. Acquiring powerful knowledge is seen as an end itself; there is a belief that we are all empowered through knowing things and that this cannot be left to chance. There is also a sense that the creative, ’rounded and grounded’ citizens we all want to develop – with a host of strong character traits – will emerge through being immersed in a knowledge-rich curriculum.
The knowledge content is specified in detail: Units of work are supported by statements that detail the knowledge to be learned – something that can be written down. We do not merely want to ‘do the Romans’; we want children to gain some specified knowledge of the Romans as well as a broad overview. We want children to know specific things about plants and about The Amazon Rainforest, WWII, Romeo and Juliet and Climate Change. We want children to have more than a general sense of things through vaguely remembered knowledge encounters; in addition to a range of experiences from which important tacit knowledge is gained, we want them to amass a specific body of declarative and procedural knowledge that is planned. This runs through every phase of school: units of work are not defined by headings but by details: eg beyond ‘environmental impact of fossil fuels’, the specific impacts are detailed; beyond ‘changes to transport in Victorian Britain’, specific changes are listed.
Knowledge is taught to be remembered, not merely encountered: A good knowledge-rich curriculum embraces learning from cognitive science about memory, forgetting and the power of retrieval practice. Our curriculum is not simply a set of encounters from which children form ad hoc memories; it is designed to be remembered in detail; to be stored in our students’ long-term memories so that they can later build on it forming ever wider and deeper schema. This requires approaches to curriculum planning and delivery that build in spaced retrieval practice, formative low-stakes testing and plenty of repeated practice for automaticity and fluency.
Knowledge is sequenced and mapped deliberately and coherently: Beyond the knowledge specified for each unit, a knowledge-rich curriculum is planned vertically and horizontally giving thought to the optimum knowledge sequence for building secure schema – a kinetic model for materials; a timeline for historical events; a sense of the canon in literature; a sense of place; a framework for understanding cultural diversity and human development and evolution. Attention is also given to known misconceptions and there is an understanding of the instructional tools needed to move students from novice to expert in various subject domains.
The best way to attack this is through some examples:
Exhibit A: The Romans
If you imagine some Year 8s looking back to their time in Year 4, when they ‘did the Romans’, what would we want them to remember? They might remember their trip to the ruins or the museum, the video of the gladiators and something about togas and what the soldiers looked like. They might have a general sense that Romans had an empire and that they were around a long time ago. In a knowledge-rich curriculum they would remember all of this but would also be expected to know the terms empire, emperor, centurion, amphitheatre, aqueduct. They would know who Julius Caesar was; they would know a set of dates, placing the Romans in time in relation to Jesus and 1066 and be able to identify the location of key Roman sites in the UK and Europe.
All of the teaching could be supported by giving students a knowledge organiser with all the key facts on it from which various quizzes and tests are derived to support their retrieval practice. This would be part of a long-term plan that ensured students returned to Roman history beyond Year 4; there would be an expectation that their knowledge would be built on, not left behind.
Exhibit B: Parliament Hill Science
At this Camden school, the science department has developed a superb set of resources to support students with learning. This is linked to their FACE It approach described in this post: FACE It. A formula for learning. The idea is that students need to master the recall of basic science facts and concepts on the road to deep understanding and the ability to apply knowledge to problem solving. They are provided with excellent study guides; more detailed than a knowledge organiser but stripped down from what might be in a text-book. Here’s a sample from the GCSE unit on genetics and selection.
Significantly, students are shown the quizzes that will be used to test them on their knowledge. They are embedded in the books. They are seen in advance so that students can learn the form in which knowledge is sometimes expressed. It guides their learning. Students are asked to learn the material after being taught it and then take the quizzes without any study aids. The aim is that all students get all the questions right. That’s the point. Their theory is that, if students can’t get the simple factual recall questions right, they have no chance of then getting the ‘application to new contexts’ questions right.
This embedded quizzing teachers lower attaining students to build confidence, gaining important study skills and has paid dividends. It also helps a team of teachers to focus their energies and to plan collaboratively. It’s a Godsend for any new or non-specialist teachers too.
Exhibit C: Trial by Ordeal
If you were teaching the GCSE History theme study on Crime and Punishment, you might show this BBC Bitesize video: https://www.bbc.com/education/clips/zrtk2hv. It’s a great colourful story full of information, examples, facts, concepts, gory details. You could watch it and have a wonderful engaging discussion during a lesson. But…. some days and weeks later, what would students remember? If you hoped students would recall as much as possible simply through absorbing information or by making their own notes, you’re going to get a wide range of responses – and for certain, the weakest students will have the worst notes and, in all likelihood, the lowest level of recall. It’s not enough.
In a knowledge-rich approach, we don’t leave this to chance. We spell it all out. Alongside watching the video and having the discussion, we make the note-making absolutely explicit. These are the key facts; this what everyone must know; this is what you must all remember. Not only this, but at least all of this:
You might choose to train students to produce their own structured notes in a quizzable format or you might just give them the notes and focus on the retrieval practice and application. But what you won’t do is all students to scrabble around dredging memories for half-remembered titbits of facts in the hope that they have a coherent picture of the idea of trial by ordeal. You control it; you are precise about it.
Exhibit D: Sequenced knowledge of Motors.
This is my favourite bit of teaching physics – one of them at least. If I teach this through a knowledge-rich approach I want to make sure that the knowledge builds securely. Firstly, say in Year 8, through demos and practicals, I want students to build their tacit knowledge of the key phenomena: magnetism, magnetic fields, attraction and repulsion, the idea of ‘strength’ of a magnet; forces; current in circuits – each with direction and magnitude; the idea that phenomena interact. All of this can be highly qualitative – simply focusing on changes of direction and the simple awe and wonder thing that motors work at all in our universe. I will also secure recall and understanding of some key terminology.
Later, as part of a spiral curriculum, avoiding cognitive overload and building on prior knowledge, I need students to understand and use F = BIL and Fleming’s left hand rule. I need them to know the terms, that magnetic flux density more or less means ‘strength’, has a symbol B and units Teslas. I need them to learn the equation by heart and practise using it and manipulating it. All of that needs focus – so that they think about the equation away from the buzzy distraction of a sparking, whizzing motor. I build the sequence carefully, deliberately with a focus on practice and recall and schema-building.
Is this new? Well, yes I think it is to many teachers and in many schools – especially once the cogscience combines with the idea of subject grammar. It’s way beyond some reductive idea of rote learning and regurgitating facts for no purpose. It’s about ensuring students always have a secure knowledge platform allowing them to reach the next level. But it’s not too important (is it?) whether we did this before… some of us will; some won’t and that will depend on context, subject, phase… The point is that we do it now. It’s actually rather exciting….
One of the most important roles for Research Schools such as us, is to support teachers and leaders who work in schools and colleges to mobilise the research evidence that is out there, so that it can make a positive difference to the students we teach. At our INSET day today, five of our fabulous teachers did just this. They shared how they have taken the evidence we have shared with them over the last couple of years and implemented it in their classrooms.
Over the past couple of years, rather than flitting from one topic to another during INSET days, we have tried to focus on some key themes that we believe, if embedded across the school, will have a significant impact on student learning. They are:
So today, five of our teachers talked about how they have done this. Here is a summary of each presentation.
Like many teachers, Aex has been thinking about how he can support his students with retrieving and recalling knowledge from across the whole specification, in preparation for the new terminal exams. He also wants to support students with elaborating on their responses, by linking together ideas and thinking more deeply about what the topic they are being taught. So Alex, has turned to the ideas of retrieval practice and elaborative interrogation.
In order to do this, Alex has thought about the questions he asks students at the start of the lesson. In the example slide above, you can see that he starts the lesson with a variety of recall questions. The black questions relate to what they have studied in recent lessons (this is for a Y11 group). The red questions go back to what they studied in Y10 – Alex calls these ‘link back’ questions. When choosing his ‘link back’ questions, Alex tries to pick questions that have a common thread. So for example here, they are all linked to blood and the circulatory system. This encourages students to understand the links between the topics they study, an important aspect of elaborative interrogation.
As a result of this, Alex has noticed the following:
In history, following Fran’s input at our November INSET day on explicit vocabulary instruction, Beth and Kate set to work on implementing these ideas in history. They came up with a very clear plan of what they wanted to do:
Explicit vocabulary instruction
Their starting point was their existing knowledge organiser (example above). After much discussion, they decided that this had too much content on one page and wasn’t really in a coherent format. So they set to work on splitting this up into three topics:
Each topic now has it’s own knowledge organiser, with 10 key people/events for students to focus on. They also used this to clarify key tier 2 terminology that was used in exam questions. Here’s an example:
Once they had produced them, the history team then discussed a consistent way of using them. Students are given them at the start of the topic and are encouraged to use them to produce flashcards and dual coding activities (more on this later). They are also referred to in lessons and used as a revision tool for quick quizzes at the start of lessons, where students are expected to spell the word correctly and recall the meaning.
To develop the use of the knowledge organisers further, when students produce a piece of extended writing, in response to a question, they highlight the words/names/events they have used from the knowledge organiser. This reinforces the importance of these words/names/events.
Beth and Kate then went on to describe other ways in which they are developing explicit vocabulary instruction:
Students have to complete a sentence that has been started for them that uses the new vocabulary. For example:
1.In Anglo-Saxon England, the burh was …
2.The housecarls in Harold’s army were …
3.The submission of the earls at Berkhamstead was …
Students are given the new vocabulary in two sentences. they have to decide which sentence is using the new vocabulary correctly. For example:
1.One way in which Anglo-Saxons lost their land was through forfeiture.
2. One way in which Anglo-Saxons rebelled against Norman control was through forfeiture.
Sam has been looking to tackle the following challenges in his classroom:
–Know and understand the contextual meaning of tier 2 (geographical) words
These are important issues to tackle, as by doing so students will be able to articulate a wider range of responses and therefore produce higher quality responses. Sam is seeking to eliminate the common response that we often hear from students:
“ I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it”
Like Beth and Kate, Sam has been using test sentences:
This usually includes 10 key words for a particular topic and is used as a homework task. the same words are then reinforced by using sentence stems:
Sam has also been trialling an approach that brings together a number of metacognitive approaches, when supporting students with interacting with a text:
As you can see from the photograph above, students a given some text about a particular topic (in this case, the North Pole) that they read and stick in the middle of a double page spread. They then do 4 things with this text:
What has Sam noticed since implementing these approaches?
Tod started his presentation by telling us a story of an actor friend of his who missed out on a number of roles. When asked during auditions to ‘be bashful’ he would break into ‘Hi Ho’ from snow white and the seven dwarves, or bash the script on the table. Why? Because, he simply didn’t know what the word bashful meant. He was an intelligent individual who had done really well in life, but just hadn’t been exposed to that particular word. How many of our students don’t understand an exam question (even though they may have the subject knowledge) or might miss out on opportunities like this in the future, simply because of a limited vocabulary?
Tod has been addressing this by explicitly teaching tier 2 vocabulary (see example above). He has been using direct and clear explanations, using ideas and examples that the students will probably understand.
He then develops this, by testing their understanding of this new vocabulary:
As can be seen from the slide above, Tod uses a number of approaches to support this. For example, matching the words with the correct meaning, using new vocabulary to complete a sentence and writing a synonym for the new vocabulary. By using a variety of approaches like this, students become immersed in this new vocabulary.
What has Tod noticed since implementing these new approaches?
Churchill Academy and Sixth Form
Brain food for the thinking teacher
Working harder makes you smarter
...our directory of excellence
Developing successful habits of mind, body and pedagogy.
Fascinated by Leading and Learning
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Finding & sharing teaching 'bright spots'
Most Influential UK Education Blog
I want a life that's bigger than me!
Because learning is too important to be left to chance
Zest for Learning... into the rainforest of teaching and school leadership
Teaching in British schools
Reflections on Education: a blog by Chris Hildrew
How to implement a growth mindset culture......