Book title: Memorable Teaching
Author: Peps Mccrea
Publication date: 2017
1. What is your overall impression of the book?
My first impression of Memorable Teaching was how slight it is. With some books I might find this disappointing, but with teaching books I think that brevity is essential as it is much more likely that I will be able to use the information.
As the name suggests, Memorable Teaching ensures that the reader walks away more confident in knowing how to make their students remember what they have been taught. It does this by clearly and succinctly outlining theories from cognitive science and showing their relevance to the classroom.
I picked up the book earlier this year as I was becoming increasingly aware of pupils doing a lot of work, but not necessarily learning what I intended them to learn. I was looking for ways to make learning more sticky and, after reading this book, I have found my practice is changing considerably, for example, with more focused explanations and improvements in my pupils’ work.
2. Who do you think would benefit most from reading the book? What will they learn?
Every teacher will benefit from reading this book, whether they are an NQT just starting out or an experienced teacher looking to hone their practice. I have yet to come across a book that articulates the principles of memorable instruction so well.
Teachers will learn how to create the optimal conditions for learning to take place and avoid distractions. They will also learn how to apply ideas of working and long-term memory to their teaching to promote meaningful learning, rather than short-term retention.
The reader will also become more comfortable with the language and ideas surrounding cognitive science, such as interleaving, cognitive load and distraction. This opens up further books and articles that may be of interest.
3. What did you think about the quality of the writing? Please consider the tone, structure and ideas. Does it suit the audience?
Memorable Teaching is extremely well written and focuses on its target market by using a lot of applicable information condensed into a little over a hundred pages.
It is broken into nine principles, with each taking a chapter. These are organised around a simplified model of memory and learning: manage information, streamline communication, orient attention, regulate load, expedite elaboration, refine structures, stabilise changes, align pedagogies and embed metacognition.
Each of these principles are explained simply and in short, bite-sized pieces of information. Not a word is wasted and everything is very much focused on classroom practice using real-life examples, which tend to be drawn from Mccrea’s own field of mathematics, but which are easy to apply to any subject or setting.
4. Please discuss the research used to underpin the ideas. What evidence does the author use? Is it robust and up-to-date?
The research underpinning the work will be familiar to many teachers who have an existing interest in educational research, but is also accessible to the those who do not.
It draws on similar ideas as Daniel T Willingham's Why Don’t Students Like School? and Brown et al's Making It Stick. You can see the influence of Sweller’s work on Cognitive Load, Hattie’s Visible Learning and Bjork’s Theory of Disuse.
Each chapter has end notes with links to the original research, or the texts that cite it, along with some further comments that give further avenues to explore.
5. What did you learn from reading the book? What ideas/approaches/practice will you change or adopt as a result of reading this book?
This book had an immediate impact on my teaching. For example, I have removed distractions in the form of posters from the front of the room, unnecessary images on slides and I am much clearer on when pupils should be discussing their work and when they should be concentrating in silence.
I have also improved my explanations; I am much less likely to allow myself to go off on a tangent, instead keeping my insights well planned out and thought through.
I have also taken away advice on how to:
- Avoid overloading working memory by ensuring that explanations are direct and to the point
- Use relevant and well-chosen images alongside text to support learning
- Leave examples of my own thinking on the board as a form of scaffolding.
I had already started using more low stakes quizzes as a way of improving retention but have found the book useful to clarify my thinking behind it and better articulate their purpose to the rest of the department. This has led to us focusing less on these quizzes as a form of formative assessment and more as a way to strengthen future recall.
6. Could you share a quote from the book that particularly resonated with you?
‘Memory underpins learning. Why then, as a profession of learning enablers, is it something we spend so little time talking about? Part of the reason is memory’s historically bad reputation in education circles…
‘As a result we have neglected to build a robust understanding and common language around memory, leaving us with an impoverished view of its capacity, and a naïve appreciation of the role it plays in our classrooms.’
7. Please add any additional comments.
In summary this is a book that has the power to transform the quality of teacher explanation and help us to ensure that we go from a culture of doing to one of learning.