This is not a particularly exciting post, but I think it’s an important one (and it’ll probably be my last for a while). A lot of people online have been trying to build science resources featuring SLOP: Shed Loads of Practice. You can find mine here and I have a section about the importance of practice here. I also recommend Willingham on the virtues of practice/drill.

Sometimes it’s really easy to write SLOP work. When it comes to balancing equations or working out rates of reaction from a graph it’s pretty straightforward to write lots of questions (despite the fact that modern textbooks seem incapable of doing so). Generally we would call the type of knowledge practised here procedural knowledge: an individual’s ability to identify and apply a procedure e.g. how to balance an equation.

However, there is lots of knowledge that isn’t like this. For example, the AQA specification for the new GCSE states that students should be able to:

describe briefly four potential effects of global climate change

This is a bit tougher to practise. Once the student has been presented with four effects, what next? They simply need to commit them to memory – it’s a little hard to actively practise this knowledge short of asking students to “describe briefly four potential effects of global climate change.”

You could argue that’s fine. Just give the students the information, tell them to memorise it at home and then test them in the next lesson. In reality though I think it is worthwhile to, there and then in that lesson, actively practise this information to try and embed it a little more through thinking hard. It is also worth trying to find different ways to test it to prevent their responses becoming cue dependent and enable transfer: in short, to be able to answer questions that are of an unfamiliar form to the one they are used to.

Generally, this kind of knowledge is called declarative knowledge: knowledge or understanding of a specific packet of information (1) and is, to my mind, harder to design SLOP.

Carrying on with the “four effects of climate change”, back in the day I would probably teach it as follows:

  1. Have loads of information sheets about effects of climate change
  2. Give them to students or stick them up on walls
  3. Students to extract relevant points from sheets
  4. Students to write a letter to their local MP (or similar) about the need to act

For a number of reasons that I’m not going into now, I wouldn’t do it like that anymore. A preferred route would be:

  1. Recap of how climate change comes about
  2. Teacher-led discussion of four possible effects with photos/global events to serve as cues
  3. Students either to take brief notes from board or to be given them
  4. SLOP#
  5. Review

Steps 1-3 are easy. Step 4? Not so much. In truth there are lots of areas of the specification like this, so in my opinion this is an important issue to deal with (2). Below, I offer a couple of routes to practise knowledge like this. Would love to hear from people with further suggestions/feedback. I’m sure there are lots of people out there already doing things like this better than I so it would be great to broaden the discussion.

1 Generation

Utilising the generation effect is probably the easiest way to do this and needs the least preparation. Once you have taught them about it explicitly, you could simply ask students to turn to a blank page in their book and write down as much information as they can about the four possible effects of climate change without looking at their notes. You could offer them cue words like “rainfall” or “ecology” but the principle is pretty straightforward. Class discussion would then enable students to reflect on their work and make relevant improvements.

2 Concept mapping

The real master of this is Keith Taber who advocates using concept maps to force students to make links between different concepts. The idea here is that they are both generating information and trying to look at the concepts in different lights, preventing their knowledge becoming restricted to a certain type of question. They don’t take long to prepare and can lead to very rich discussions and thought.

Concept map

3 Model answers

Sometimes I like to give students model answers some of which are good and some are poor etc. You can then have them annotate the answers or emulate them as a way of building better precision. Below are a couple of examples, one from rates of reaction and one from Y8 selection and adaptation. I would normally model first how I want students to approach these questions.

Correct the answersModel answers

As I mentioned at the start I am sure there are loads of different ways to do this. If you have anything to add please get involved.

 


1 I have breezed over some really important discussion about the differences between these types of knowledge and I recommend Michael Fordham’s pieces on the topic

2 Probably worth noting that the ratio of declarative/procedural is different across the three sciences with most procedural being in physics, least in biology and chemistry inbetween. Vice versa for declarative.

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