Teacher of psychology, author, researcher.

Memory & Education Blog

A blog about education, psychology, and the links between the two.

Practical Suggestions for Tackling the Teacher Retention Crisis

The quality of teaching matters to how well pupils do at school. So how do we, as a society, encourage high-quality and experienced teachers to stay in the classroom rather than leave the profession or move into management? This question was addressed by the Scottish Government's recent report, 'Teacher Workforce Planning for Scottish Schools', and also featured in the initial findings from their panel of international advisers earlier in July 2017. It is becoming a major issue well beyond Scotland, too, with record numbers of teachers leaving the profession south of the border. Teaching unions have spoken of...

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Jonathan Firth
What is evidence-based education?

Evidence-based education is the idea that research of various kinds should be used to inform decisions about teaching and learning. It is conceived of as an alternative to teaching practice that is guided by intuition and/or experience.

An educator’s job includes a huge amount of decision making. For example, what should be taught today? What about tomorrow? What type of homework should be set, and when? How can the teacher maintain discipline effectively? Evidence-based education aims to tackle these questions pragmatically on the basis of past findings, and is sometimes referred to as a "what works" approach.

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Jonathan Firth
What are tests and questioning good for?

The testing effect is a well-known psychological phenomena whereby people remember things better if they are tested on them. The benefits don't stem just from getting feedback on right or wrong answers - although that can help too. It appears that the process of retrieving information from memory actually helps it to be consolidated. In other words, a test can make the memory more secure and less likely to be forgotten.

So what role should tests play...

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Jonathan Firth
Can teachers be researchers?

Can teachers engage in research? And if so, should they be supported in doing so?

It has been great to be involved in the launch and running of Scotland's first school-based research centre over the past two years. This work has included running a research conference for our senior pupils with external visiting speakers, establishing an ethics approval procedure for teacher projects, and managing a number of collaborations including a research fellowship for visiting researcher Anna Beck of the University of Strathclyde.

My own experience is that teacher research is valuable but not always valued. Engaging in research is one of the most  valuable CPD activities I can think of, boosting my skills while making me more aware of educational debates and evidence. But practical support for teacher research in terms of time or funding depends on it being seen as a priority, and there is an inherent potential conflict with heavy teaching timetables and the need to focus on pupil attainment.

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Jonathan Firth
What did memory evolve to do?

Humans have evolved over the course of millions of years. Since we last shared a common ancestors with chimpanzees more than 6 million years ago (White et al, 2009), a number of hominin species have evolved - most, of course, have died out (as recently as 100,000 years ago, 4-5 homo species existed concurrently).

For most of this time, our ancestors and near relatives probably lived in grasslands environments, hunting and gathering. This environment has shaped...

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Memory in education - a mission statement

I believe that memory is very important in education. This might seem obvious - of course children and students need to remember things. Perhaps it also seems threatening - reducing education to mere passive memorisation?

I don’t think so.

Improving how we use memory is not threatening, in my view, because remembering is essential regardless of your view of how teaching should be done, or what the syllabus should consist of. Whether you are talking about lectures or discovery learning, a minimum requirement is that the pupils retain some of the information and/or skills that you have been teaching, and develop skills and understanding over the long-term.

Indeed, educational approaches tend to be judged, at least in part...

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Improve your focus: The 'pomodoro' technique.

Coursework, data analysis, revision...  It can be hard to concentrate on a task all day, or even for an hour or two! Which, of course, can lead to procrastination, and to short breaks that become long breaks.

The pomodoro technique is a method of time management that encourages us to focus for 25 minute spells, each followed by a shorter break of 5 minutes or so.


The exact time can depend on the individual - each of us has a...

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The social brain hypothesis

What caused human brains – and those of other apes – to grow so large? One theory is that it resulted from the complexity of our environment – the day to day problems that our ancestors would have encountered in foraging and survival: Where are the fruit trees? Which ones did I pick from yesterday?

Another idea – the social brain hypothesis – is that the complexity of our social groups require a big brain to keep track of, especially when the group is large – a bigger group means more relationships to remember...

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