Knowledge organisers built for locked-out learners

knowing stuff poster

Over the summer I built some knowledge organisers (KO) for AQA science. I’ve been reading about KOs and have borrowed some good examples from various blogs and schools. I’ve always struggled with how daunting they look to the struggling students, often with dense wordy descriptions or bloated with content all crammed on to one sheet. I wanted to build a new set of KOs that I knew any of my students could engage with as long as they wanted to.

I first came across the phrase “locked-out learners” from Sarah Donarski’s REdDurrington presentation on questioning. She attributed it to Doug Lemov. In Teach Like a Champion it is used to describe the students that put up barriers and avoid work at all costs if they find the first step too demanding. When looking at motivation it appears that achievement is one of the best motivators, so if we can create a resource that allows the students to feel success then they are more likely to engage with that resource.

So I set about creating the Regis SP (Starting Point) for science. Regis SP is an in-house name coined by David Oakes for a knowledge organiser built around assessment. I know you can argue all KOs are built around assessment, as the testing effect is in heavy use but what I mean is the Regis SP for science is designed specifically for both pre-learning of language and post-learning retrieval practice of key concepts.

I thought hard about the format and looked at examples from other schools. I decided that all information should be in tables. Oliver Caviglioli has been an excellent guide on design via his Twitter and website. While I haven’t the skill or eye to maintain his style and recommendations, his comments on clarification and organisation have been helpful.

It has always seemed to me that science has 3 types of knowledge students need to learn to be successful:

1. Keywords: Use word correctly to get mark, remove barrier to comprehension of question

2. ‘Isolated’ key facts: Trends across the periodic table, formulae aka trivia. Chemistry always seems to have a decent chunk of this. Often they are not isolated in nature but are easy to learn in isolation and they provide a foundation to build more detailed concepts on.

3. Topographical facts: Information that directly relates to location of other information. This is very common in terms of diagrams and procedural knowledge. E.g. labelling a heart, mitosis, fractional distillation, nuclear fission. Science has tons of this.

Most KOs do a decent job of part 1 and 2 (although many use too many words in my opinion), but for part 3 most just use annotation on diagrams. While it’s good to reduce the split attention effect for learning new information it is not easy for a student to learn a diagram. It requires them to develop a strategy, so they need coaching and will have to show some initiative.

When dealing with reluctant learners any extra step is another reason to stop. Removing short-term barriers is a key lever to discretionary effort.

So I decided to increase the cognitive load of the diagram aspects in the Regis SP for science. I made all diagrams for content learning have numbered labels and a table of reference.

See below

B2 SP ARB heart

This is aimed at providing the ‘desirable difficulty’ required for learning but also in a simple, familiar process. Since I started writing this blog a month ago Adam Boxer has written an excellent post on cognitive load theory and it’s relevance to everyday reaching. I want to just give him and the other members of CogSciSci a big thank you for helping me understand the various aspects to consider when creating the Regis SP for science.

How are they used at home

Some basic principles:

  • Each section is numbered and as much as possible I have tried to work from the specification directly to ensure the clarity
  • Diagrams with numbered labels are things that need to be learned
  • Diagrams with the existing labels are there for context or because the variety of diagrams available made it counterproductive to determine a fixed relationship – e.g. carbon cycle and water cycle (this might need work in version 2).

When setting sections to learn, staff provide a worksheet option which contains the section but with content removed. So just the keywords or just the diagram with the numbered labels. Students can then use this to learn. Keyword work can be completed as pre-learning but diagrams have to be used after the topic has been introduced using a lower cognitive load image that respects the split attention effect. The students can then get tested at a later date.

B1 SP worksheet parts of a cell

Students who like to use flashcards can just cut the keyword table into strips, fold and stick and they have ready-made flash cards. Our hope is that by providing a level of scaffolding that allows our locked-out learners the best chance of engaging, we provide an efficient and effective way to use a resource that all students can benefit from. A blog this week by Miss Sayers talks about the need to provide structure in your use of KO and how she uses quizzes etc., which links in nicely with my work here and is encouraging to read.

C4 SP ARB

How we use them in lesson

When designing tasks for locked-out learners, I sometimes let them use the SP from the start of the activity. But in these tasks I always provide work that continues the idea beyond the range of the SP. A good example of this is the alkanes. Below you will see the topic 7 chem SP with the first 4 alkanes in. But the work I got my bottom set to complete involved filling a table for the first 6. This meant that while the task was incredibly easy at the start (no excuse to not get started straight away) by the end of it they had to notice the patterns and make the correct deductions. This worked really well for my students and it’s an aspect of the SP I’m going to explore further. I recently found a blog by Tom Needham looking at completion problems and apply cognitive learning strategies to English teaching. So it seems like I’m barking up the right tree.

C7 SP ARB updated images

So far I’ve been really pleased with the way the students have used the SP, but they are a first draft and I might change things as I understand their motivational factors better. Also looking back over them I can see how my understanding of the style evolved and so they need a bit of formatting to make them completely consistent. But overall I’m proud of the job I did and the end result. I hope you find them helpful.

Below is a link to a .pdf version of all the Regis SP for science.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=11gQRCwCml5V4QaP9l913bdOxDUTyMyjj

If I have accidentally used an image that belongs to you and you do not want it to be used for a nonprofit educational purpose, or you want to be credited, please email me and I will resolve any issues.

If you use them I’d be interested in your thoughts in the comments here or on Twitter.

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