The Importance of Retrieval in Supporting Children's Long Term Memory

The Importance of Retrieval in Supporting Children's Long Term Memory

We are now aware that the Education Inspection Framework and Handbook continually refers to children ‘doing more, knowing more and remembering more’. Most of us have made many moves, including creating several resources, to help with children’s retrieval or ‘ability to remember key knowledge’.

Igniting Children’s Prior Knowledge

One important strategy is igniting children’s prior knowledge. To this end, we regularly use activities such as linking children to their prior knowledge at the beginning of lessons. For mathematics lessons, I regularly come across activities such as ‘fluency in five’. In other schools, I have come across early bird starters, etc. These are attempts to support children’s retention by igniting parts of the brain’s long-term memory so that new learning is more readily received.

Return to Key Knowledge

Alongside this is the importance of returning to key knowledge regularly. For example, many schools use the first 10 minutes immediately after lunch to use what they describe as ‘retrieval activities’ to help with long-term retention. These activities work well across most subjects but particularly well when the subject is not being taught daily. This applies to subjects such as history, geography, computing and DT. In these cases, the activities must be brief and concise. They can be oral or have a written outcome. To ensure we don’t add to the teachers’ workload, we recommend that these activities be easy to check.

The retrieval activities can be linked to the last unit for the given subject or, indeed, to learning they may have done in previous terms or years related to the topic. A few schools I know have a fortnightly retrieval time allocated for 10 minutes after lunch, with history every other Tuesday, geography every other Wednesday and science every other Thursday.

Recent research shows that a well-organised retrieval system enormously supports children’s long-term retention of key knowledge. Schools need a bank of resources to support their retrieval activities. The activities need to be easy and quick to administer and preferably activities children enjoy.



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