Do all lesson structures support students retaining information?

Recently I was listening to a teacher at my school, Aylie Berger, present some work on learning in Mathematics. A number of items were really interesting but for me the research around the “primary recency effect and cognitive closure” really struck a chord. The work comes from David Sousa’s work on “How the Brain Learns Mathematics.

How the Brain Learns Mathematics

In summary the research suggests that students have peak periods within a lesson where their brain retains information. The chart below plots the 2 peak periods.

aylies degree of retention

So what you may ask – well lets compare these peak periods where the brain retains information with many lesson structures and when information is presented in many lessons (plotted in the graph below).

aylie's graph

This suggest that the format of many lessons miss the peak retention periods of students. We are adopting a different structure of maths lessons in response to this information:

  • 5 minutes quick revision of number facts using little or no material (no time wasted in setting up) – there are lots of activities that fit into warm up
  • 10 minutes instruction where the learning intention and success criteria of the lesson is explicit and understood by students (the criteria could be for a sequence of  lessons on the same topic).
  • 20 minutes practice task that is challenging and promotes an initial “state of confusion” in students (I’m happy to share some material here) – some lesson its a skill being practised not a process or problem
  • 15 minutes reflection time where selected students are asked to explain their mathematical thinking with the teacher doing a final summation.

I’m wondering lots of things here – e.g. can the initial peak period be re-stimulated, what happens in longer lesson periods but most of all I’m wondering how other educators are thinking about this information?