Pedagogy Postcard #7: Learning by Heart and Drilling

A series of short posts about specific elements of teaching practice that I think are effective and make life interesting. Some are based on my own lessons and others are borrowed from lessons I’ve observed.


In a recent post I’ve described the value of Learning by Heart and the work some of my KEGS colleagues have done in this area.  I’ve been looking at ways to feed this thinking into my own teaching and come to the conclusion that I need to be quite explicit about it

There is teaching for understanding now; and there is teaching for remembering later.  Obviously they are linked: the better students understand now, the more they’re likely to remember later -but it’s not the simplest of links.  I’m often dismayed by the things my Y13s can’t remember from 6 months ago and I’ve found that it pays to make the business of recall very explicit. It obviously helps them to pass exams but it also helps them to understand subsequent work.  It also makes them better educated in the long-run.  It’s worth doing for its own sake.

The two main methods I use are quick-check tests using mini-whiteboards  for immediate feedback or short  quizzes in exercise books, given without notice with a delay after the material was last covered.  I also often tell a class that they need to learn something specific by heart and be prepared to go through it the next week – chosen a random from the class.

The other method is drilling.  This is when something is highly repeatable and students can be set several questions that are more or less the same to go over and over.  10 Density questions; 10 PV=nRT questions; 10 ‘6 mark answers’…. and so on.  Eventually, the method sinks in and becomes routine.

All of the things below could be taught for understanding… and taught for recall.

Neutralisation: Acid + Base = Salt + Water  (nitric acid –> nitrates; hydrochloric acid –> chlorides)

Momentum change = Area under Force-time graph, called ‘impulse’, units Ns, a vector,   

Force on a moving charge: F = Bqv  – same dimensions as F = BIl; q x v <=> I x l <=> (q x l )/ t

Just War Theory: War must be a last resort when all other means of solving dispute have failed / war
must be for good, and against a serious threat of evil / goal must be to restore peace
law and order / there must be some chance of success / weapons must not be used
excessively / decision must be made by a lawful authority

Of Mice and Men George Quote: “Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want. God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy.”

Characteristics of Living Things: MRS GREN (movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion, nutrition)

Vietnam War Dates:  1968 Jan, Tet Offensive, then March My Lai, then Nov Nixon elected, then  Jan ’69 Vietnamisation Policy. ( Martin Luther King assassinated April ’68)

RE Christian basis for being anti-prejudice:  Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”

French grammar:   I am going to hit him: Je vais le frapper (Direct object pronoun); I realised: Je me suis rendu compte (useful, interesting, structure)

RE Six Mark Answer structure:  Do you agree?: State opinion.  Give explanation with evidence from source/quote/case study.  Give opposite,contrasting view.  Explain it with evidence from source/quote/case study.  Conclude with a weighing-up of both cases and final statement.

OK.. you understand now.  But will you remember it later?


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