Remember and Remember and Remember: How I’m boosting Y11 recall of Shakespeare

I was really inspired by the post here  from @lauralolder, where she described how she got results with quotation retention in her Y11 class. Also, as part of our whole school CPD programme, we’re focusing heavily on the work of Hattie- currently dipping in to ‘Visible Learning for Literacy’ and Hattie/Donaghue’s ‘Learning Strategies’ . Essentially, I want to do the following with my class:

  • Increase student retention of key quotations
  • Increase student knowledge and understanding of the whole text
  • Boost confidence with low stakes ‘easy win’ testing, especially where my more challenging students are concerned
  • And finally- get the balance right between surface and deep learning by establishing a ‘rhythm’ to the lessons. Or, as ‘Visible Learning’ puts it:

If you turn too quickly to the next set o’ facts, without giving students sufficient time and tools to go deeper, they will quickly learn that surface learning is what you value, and in turn, surface learning is all you will get.’

Or, as this image puts it:

Surface to Deep-thumb-600xauto-20625

Firstly, each student gets a little ‘test’ book. They loved these, and came over all nostalgic for primary school spelling tests.

Image result for small yellow notebook

The notebook is where they record answers to a series of tests that (hopefully) fall into a rhythm over the course of a week.

The process

To get students used to the process of using their little yellow test book, I started simple. I started by gauging prior knowledge of ‘Macbeth’- students wrote down anything they knew about the play in their main workbook. They were encouraged to do this in note form, then we compiled a list on the board. I wrote down any misconceptions (e.g. King Duncan kills Macbeth…) with a view to crossing off any ‘mistakes’ when our knowledge of the play had improved.

We then read a text on the historical context of ‘Macbeth’, looking at details like the Gunpowder Plot. During this stage, students were encouraged to highlight key information/underline important facts- for this I looked to this blog from @PeterMDeWitt which helpfully outlines the best strategies to use for surface/deep learning.

Next, students had to shut their books. This terrified them- I think they had a sense that their knowledge was going to be put to the test.

  1. They had to summarise what they had just read in their workbook. Most of them hadn’t been prepared for this, so we had to repeat this stage. This wasn’t a problem as it led to some useful discussion about how quickly we can forget information we read.
  2. They then looked back at the original text, using a red pen to add any information they may have missed. We discussed how their memory worked and we used an analogy I learned during my own GCSEs to illustrate the idea of retention:

Image result for grassy path

We spoke about how retaining knowledge works in a similar way to the slow evolution of a path through the woods. If you walk across the grass once, there will be no imprint. But the more the path is revisited, the stronger and more usable a path becomes. It sounds simplistic, but this was a bit of a revelation to me when I was doing my own studying- I knew the importance of retaining information because I wanted to do well. But I’d never stopped to think about what was happening when I did ‘remember’ or how I could speed up the process.

Then, as we read, we continued the process of closing the text, summarising, then checking our knowledge and discussing what we missed.

At the start of each lesson, students would be retested on their knowledge of the scenes covered in the previous lesson. But each test would be gradually more open ended. E.g.

Test 1

  1. ‘Fair is foul and ____/_____/_____’
  2. The Great chain _______/_______
  3. Thane of _________

Test 2

  1. ‘Fair is _____ and _____/_____/_____
  2. The Great _____/______/_______
  3. Th___ of ________

Test 3

  1. This quotation from Act 1 scene 1 symbolises the inversion of the natural order
  2. An Elizabethan concept of social hierarchy
  3. Macbeth receives this title

Once students had consistently started scoring 9/10 or full marks, we moved on to the next scene and started testing on that.

Amongst this, I was conscious that if I only focused on surface level knowledge, I would end up with a group of students who could recall information from the play but wouldn’t be able to analyse the text in any depth or make connections. We have this image on the wall of every classroom at our school:

Screenshot 2017-09-24 at 09.48.01

So to build on the low stakes testing at the start of each lesson, we:

  • Summarise constantly. Students use information from each test as part of 5 minute written summaries throughout the lesson.
  • Make connections. Students write about a new scene, but are required to make links back to information recalled in their test books.
  • Use blank extracts and close copies of the text when we write

In addition, I’ve set high expectations for homework. Students have pre reading before each lesson (not much- this may be only 1-2 paragraphs) and take their books home to revise following each lesson, ready for a test.

Finally, I raided my son’s toy box for one of these:

Image result for jingle bell shaker

We’re also learning quotations by chanting them together. Every time they hear the bell, they have to stop whatever they’re doing and the whole class recites quotations from Macbeth. A different student takes charge of the bells each lesson and we gradually build up the number of quotations used in each chant. A new quotation is added in each lesson- we’re currently up to seven.

Impact so far

Compared with similar classes I’ve had (this is a middle ability group), this group have been able to demonstrate a far more varied knowledge of the text. Rather than written responses focusing on picking apart the little bit of the text they can recall, they’re moving through different points, linking to new evidence. Also, they’re far more confident. When a challenging student with a history of poor confidence with Shakespeare gets 10/10 on a recall test in the first ten minutes, it’s a spring board into producing something later in the lesson that demonstrates ‘deeper’ learning. I know it might all sound a bit intense- but it’s working!






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