Head Teacher’s Blog

24th February 2013

I have been thinking this week about children’s ability to retain knowledge- facts, spelling, tables, number bonds etc.- some of the many things we spend endless time at school (and you at home) teaching to them. This was prompted by a response in one of the returned parents’ questionnaires. It asked how we enforced retention of knowledge and mentioned tables and spelling.
In my primary school days, learning was enforced to a degree. Sometimes this was done with the help of a leather strap, a wooden ruler across the knuckles or, worse, by using ridicule or intimidation.
I was one of those lucky people who was able to learn and remember fairly easily, although I do recall getting into a sweat at P4 stage about memorising the order of the books of the bible- perhaps the strangeness of some of the names defeated me. However the downside of this was that the pace in the classroom- where group work had yet to be invented, was sometimes unchallenging and my capacity to get into trouble came to the fore. Although I was never belted for not knowing my tables, I did get the strap on several occasions for not knowing where or when to stop on the path to mischief making. I can tell you that the belt was a deterrent, it hurt and made me think twice. The most effective deterrent, in my case, was the threat made by the school to tell my mother. It would have taken a braver soul than me to face up to her wrath if she had been called into school because of my behaviour.
Enough of true confessions- to return to the question of learning and retaining. There is no easy answer to this one. A father once said to me of one of his children, who did struggle a bit with learning to read, “He learns well if he is taught well”. This is simplistic but may well be true. Good teaching can encompass many aspects: understanding of how children learn; good delivery; engaging the learner in the process; clarity of purpose and outcome; enjoyment; built in reward; sufficient pace and challenge; clear relevance of the learning; a positive relationship between teacher and pupil. Suggestions for more?
As a staff ( and at meetings with parents) we have often discussed how we can help children to best assimilate and retain the myriad of facts and figures they need. Our recent spelling focus was prompted by the evidence that while children were scoring well in end-of-week spelling tests, they were not always (or even often) transferring that to written work in other areas of the curriculum. Similarly, tables learned at home as a challenge and for a fixed day, are often forgotten in future maths activities.
There is a wide plethora of facts and knowledge that we would like children to learn, retain and be able to use. We teach this daily in a host of different ways: rote learning, chanting (alphabet, number bonds, tables…), games, challenges, questioning, homework, tests, mnemonics, with rewards, encouragement, deadlines, bribes (house points, golden time…) and many more.
It is an ongoing and sometimes vexatious problem and one that we will never let go. How do you handle it at home? How do you encourage your children to learn tables? What works best? Are you frustrated when they do not retain things you have taught them? Can you see the same learning habits in your children that either helped or hindered you?
We are happy to share our successes and failures with you. Would you like to do the same? Perhaps we can learn from each other.
Have a good week,
Lindy Lynn