How do we make learning stick?
Chip & Dan Heath’s most recent book ‘Made to stick’ provides a framework for making ideas ‘sticky.’ If you’ve not read the book I’d advise getting a copy. Whilst you’re waiting for your copy to arrive, I’d recommend watching the following two videos to get an overview of the Heath brothers ideas.
The Heath brothers brilliantly summarise a ‘sticky’ idea here…
A sticky idea is an idea that’s understood, that’s remembered, and that changes something (opinions, behaviors, values). As a teacher, you’re on the front lines of stickiness. Every single day, you’ve got to wake up in the morning and go make ideas stick. And let’s face it, this is no easy mission. Few students burst into the classroom, giddy with anticipation, ready for the latest lesson on punctuation, polynomials or pilgrims.
Here’s the good new about stickiness: This isn’t just interesting trivia about how the world of ideas works. Rather, it’s a playbook. There are very practical ways that you can make your teaching stickier.
In the book the Heath brothers come up with a framework called SUCCESS which can be used to deliver knowledge in a more memorable way.
Planning a ‘sticky’ lesson.
All of this has made me reflect on how I approach planning a lesson and I now believe that I can not only use this framework to help hook students into content, but help them remember it at the same time (I’m not ruling out the importance of deep, deliberate practice here). This is especially important at the beginning of new units and topics where baseline knowledge of students may be little or non-existent. Inspired by the ‘5 minute lesson plan’ series I’ve created a ‘Sticky’ planning document that would work just as well for lessons as it would do for workshops (in fact I used it recently to plan a workshop on GRIT I delivered to colleagues on an INSET day – blog post to follow). Here it is…
How does it work?
Top right hand corner is probably a good place to start. What do you want students/colleagues to think about in the session? Why is this important? Consider this English lesson about Romeo & Juliet whereby students were creating puppets of characters to act out a scene (Ofsted – Moving English forward report – March 2012). What do you think students were thinking about during the English lesson – the characters of the play or how to make a good puppet? It’s important to design experiences that will enable the audience to think about the core knowledge or practice key skills (this is explored further in the book ‘Seven Myths about education’ by Daisy Christodoulou. Daisy specifically refers to this lesson in myth 6: ‘projects activities are the best way to learn’).
Once you have decided what you want your audience to think about during the session you can think about how you can make this stick by using the SUCCESS framework on the left hand side. This is Shaun Allison’s brilliant example from a year 11 Science lesson where he wanted to introduce the idea of nuclear radiation:
Simple – I anchored it on to their existing knowledge of the atom, by getting them to draw and explain the structure of the atom, which we then shared and discussed. This would then lead on to two key concepts for the lesson – be able to describe and explain Rutherford’s scattering experiment and what an isotope is. This is definitely not about dumbing down or lowering expectations. It’s about distilling complex ideas into the key ideas and then using what they already know to build up to these complex ideas. In his article on explanation (see below) David makes the point of how important it is to use specialist academic language here – and insist that students do too.
Unexpected – In order to get them curious, we looked at photos of Chernobyl and posed the question, how could these tiny atoms cause such devastation? This is the gap in their knowledge that we were going to fill, having opened it. They were curious!
Concrete – Rutherford’s scattering experiment is very conceptual, so I demonstrated it by throwing squash balls at footballs. They bounced off, in the same way that early scientists expected the alpha particles to do when they hit the ‘plum pudding’ atoms. This led on to a discussion about what it meant when the alpha particles went straight through?
Credible – The photos of Chernobyl helped with this, as it made the issue very real. This can also be backed up by statistics e.g. claims that Chernobyl won’t be fit for human habitation for 20 000 years. However, this will be returned to next lesson, when we get out the radioactive sources and the Geiger counter. Students will see that objects emit radiation.
Emotional – The photos of people who had been affected by Chernobyl (mutations) certainly made them feel for the people. The ‘emotional’ trait can also be developed by making students feel aspirational.
Story – Science provides loads of opportunities to tell stories – and the story of Rutherford’s scattering experiment was no exception. It also resulted in some great questions from the students about ‘How science works’ e.g. Why didn’t he just believe the plum pudding idea? What made him think of this experiment? Did he do any other experiments? Did people believe him? How do we know he’s right? Brilliant fodder for the science teacher!
The last section of the plan can be used to plan out the logistics of your session – timings, activities, resources, e.t.c.
Sticky plan (editable) – print double sided on A3.
The SUCCESS framework has certainly made me think about how I deliver information, whether in a lesson, staff briefing or workshop. The power of a story certainly hooks people in and when pitched correctly using concrete, emotional examples I believe greater depth and retention (by the audience) is reached. Using the above plan to design a recent workshop (I’ll upload a copy of my plan if I can find the original paper copy!) made me really think through the content before hand and how it might be perceived. The SUCCESS framework made me think about how I would like to learn about the knowledge I was trying to deliver.
I’m going to be using it for future workshops that I deliver on INSET days and next term I intend to use it to plan a series of lessons. Why not give it a go yourself. Try planning a lesson or workshop using the ‘sticky’ plan. I’d really like your feedback on how it can be developed.