Psychology: memory, learning & metacognition’

One area of research that Putney High is keen to focus on is around memory. How do we learn? How do we retain information? What are the barriers in the way of memory? And what can we do to improve that for our students?

The Head of History and Politics went on a GDST Inset course recently run by David Didau, and explored all of these questions.

The advise and pro-active solutions given were refreshingly practical. We all want to come away from Inset with pedagogical tools we can try in the classroom and adopt into our scheme's of work.

There are too many to list here now, but if you want to know more then check out Didau's award-winning blog:

We all know that learning is the long-term retention and transfer of knowledge and skills (Retention = durability + Transfer = flexibility), whereas performance is what you can see in a lesson – the ability of students to produce the answer you want them to produce (e.g. mimicry). But what can we do to support this? And ensure we are teaching in a way that allows for the best learning?

1. Schemas

Schemas count as one ‘chunk’ of information. Therefore 4 ‘chunks’ of information can be very powerful if you have a developed schema. For example, a Caro-Kann opening in chess!

2. Automatisation If we return to the traditional format of teaching content really well and embedding it our students understanding BEFORE we ask them to apply or evaluate the information then we are giving them more space in the brain to allow for those higher-cognitive skills to develop once later in their learning.

3. Managing Cognitive Load

The cognitive-processing capacity needed to handle information may be of such a magnitude as to leave little for schema acquisition, even if a problem is solved.

If we want to help develop the "working memory" of our students so that they can better access their "long-term" memory, then we need to consider these long term retention ideas. But how can we put them into practice in the classroom? How can we achieve them?

1. Practice must be spaced out over time

2. Practice should be interleaved

3. Practice should include testing

I won't give away all of Didau's hard work, but as teachers it is important that we are considering how we undertake the above.


  • How often should we test our students knowledge? At the end of every unit? Or regularly? Throughout the term, building cumulatively on the knowledge learnt before?

  • And when should that testing take place? What is the optimal time between each to maximise the retention of our students learning?

  • How should we teach each SOW? In blocks chunks? Or interleaved between each other?

Its given us at Putney High School a lot of food for thought and we are excited to create our Action-Research projects around the topic of memory, to hopefully, help prove and support some of the myths considered above.