‘Remember and Remember and Remember’: How I’m boosting recall and retention of ‘Macbeth’ by Zoe Taylor

In the past few weeks, I’ve been working with my Year 11 class on recall and retention of key quotations from ‘Macbeth’- keeping in mind Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning for Literacy’ and Hattie/Donaghue’s Learning Strategies. Essentially, I wanted to do the following with my class:

  • Increase student retention of key quotations
  • Increase student knowledge and understanding of the whole text
  • Boost confidence with low stakes ‘easy win’ testing, especially where my more challenging students are concerned
  • And finally- get the balance right between surface and deep learning by establishing a ‘rhythm’ to the lessons. Or, as ‘Visible Learning’ puts it:

If you turn too quickly to the next set o’ facts, without giving students sufficient time and tools to go deeper, they will quickly learn that surface learning is what you value, and in turn, surface learning is all you will get.’ ( Hattie, Frey, Fisher ‘Visible Learning for Literacy’ (2016))

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The Process

Firstly, each student received a little yellow ‘test’ book. They loved these, and came over all nostalgic for primary school spelling tests.The notebook is where they record answers to a series of tests that (hopefully) fall into a rhythm over the course of a week. To get students used to the process of using their test book, I started simple by gauging prior knowledge of ‘Macbeth’- students wrote down anything they knew about the play in their main workbook. I wrote down any misconceptions (e.g. King Duncan kills Macbeth…) with a view to crossing off any ‘mistakes’ when our knowledge of the play had improved. We then read a text on the historical context of ‘Macbeth’, looking at details like the Gunpowder Plot. During this stage, students were encouraged to highlight key information/underline important facts- for this I looked to a blog from @PeterMDeWitt which helpfully outlines the best strategies to use for surface/deep learning. Next, students had to shut their books. This terrified them- I think they had a sense that their knowledge was going to be put to the test.

  1. They had to summarise what they had just read in their workbook. Most of them hadn’t been prepared for this, so we had to repeat this stage. This wasn’t a problem as it led to some useful discussion about how quickly we can forget information we read.
  2. They then looked back at the original text, using a red pen to add any information they may have missed.

Then, as we read, we continued the process of closing the text, summarising, then checking our knowledge and discussing what we missed.

At the start of each lesson, students would be retested on their knowledge of the scenes covered in the previous lesson. But each test would be gradually more open ended. E.g.

Test 1

  1. ‘Fair is foul and ____/_____/_____’
  2. The Great chain _______/_______
  3. Thane of _________

Test 2

  1. ‘Fair is _____ and _____/_____/_____
  2. The Great _____/______/_______
  3. Th___ of ________

Test 3

  1. This quotation from Act 1 scene 1 symbolises the inversion of the natural order
  2. An Elizabethan concept of social hierarchy
  3. Macbeth receives this title

Once students had consistently started scoring 9/10 or full marks, we moved on to the next scene and started testing on that. Amongst this, I was conscious that if I only focused on surface level knowledge, I would end up with a group of students who could recall information from the play but wouldn’t be able to analyse the text in any depth or make connections.

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So to build on the low stakes testing at the start of each lesson, we:

  • Summarise constantly. Students use information from each test as part of 5 minute written summaries throughout the lesson.
  • Make connections. Students write about a new scene, but are required to make links back to information recalled in their test books.
  • Use blank extracts and close copies of the text when we write

In addition, I’ve set high expectations for homework. Students have pre reading before each lesson (not much- this may be only 1-2 paragraphs) and take their books home to revise following each lesson, ready for a test.

Finally, I raided my son’s toy box for one of these:

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We’re also learning quotations by chanting them together. Every time they hear the bell, they have to stop whatever they’re doing and the whole class recites quotations from Macbeth. A different student takes charge of the bells each lesson and we gradually build up the number of quotations used in each chant. A new quotation is added in each lesson- we’re currently up to seven.

Impact so far

Compared with similar classes I’ve had (this is a middle ability group), this group have been able to demonstrate a far more varied knowledge of the text. Rather than written responses focusing on picking apart the little bit of the text they can recall, they’re moving through different points, linking to new evidence. Also, they’re far more confident. When a challenging student with a history of poor confidence with Shakespeare gets 10/10 on a recall test in the first ten minutes, it’s a springboard into producing something later in the lesson that demonstrates ‘deeper’ learning.



Using ICT in our classrooms by Year 10 students Elena Walker, James Buckton-Graham, Ayesha Begum and Ellie Beckford

Using ICT in our Classrooms

Our Digital leaders presented to all staff as part of our teaching and learning conference.  This article is a follow up to this which outlines four key ways we can use technology.

Chromebooks – Why We Should Use Them

Chromebooks are very useful because they are convenient to use; their small size and light weight make them easy to carry around with you and therefore you can carry them around with you all day at school allowing for every lesson to have access to technology. Every lesson having access to this technology is great as it means you can begin to phase out more traditional methods of teaching such as workbooks and sheets. Not only is this beneficial towards the environment but is also easier to use and harder to lose or damage your work.

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In addition to this, Chromebooks are useful because you can share your work with other people, meaning several people can collaborate on the same piece of work. Sharing and working together on a certain piece of work means it can get finished quicker, to a higher standard. Also teachers can mark and comment on your work. This is beneficial because it is quicker and more efficient meaning teachers spend less time marking and students get their work back quicker.


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Kahoot is an online quiz platform where teachers can make their own quizzes for lessons or use quizzes and content created by other teachers. Kahoot quizzes are great for reviews and students are extremely enthusiastic. There is a top 5 leaderboard that encourages students to try their best and aim for the top spot. Students can work alone or in pairs and have fun in their lessons with Kahoot! At the end of every question there is a graph to show how many people picked which answer so you can get a better idea of what people know and what they struggle with. Kahoot is great for any subject and it’s so easy to use in a school environment. It is important that teachers use Kahoot because it can encourage competitiveness and can show what students know and they can review their work. Kahoot is great for either reviews or connects and is the perfect way to engage students into the lessons.

Blog, Vox , Poll

The class blog is a useful tool because it has a variety of different tools that you can use in your lessons to enhance your students’ learning.

For example one such tool is the poll, which students can use to vote on different options. This can be useful for connects, so that you can get a vague idea of what the students already know on the topic anonymously so they don’t feel embarrassed. You could also use the poll as your review to check what your students have learnt about the topic and if you may have to do any follow-up work later. Another useful tool is vox, which is basically the online equivalent to putting your hand up in class. Some students can be intimidated by speaking up in front of the whole class however, so the poll can be much easier for them to share their ideas at any point in the lesson. All of these tools can be found at the banner at the top of the class blog.

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The class blog itself is also a good tool, as you can display everything that your students have learnt in your lesson so far. The best use of the blog is for posting all of your lesson plans on it so that students can go back to it if they have missed the lesson or if they want a recap of a certain topic for revision or just to consolidate their learning. This is really simple, easy and quick to do and it means that your students can always come back to certain topics or they can view the lessons on their screens for easier access.

Google Classroom

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Google Classroom is a platform that allows teachers to create classes and invite students to join. Teachers are also able to invite parents to observe lessons and their child’s progress. Lesson plans and resources can be uploaded onto Google Classroom to allow easy access to revision, which provides clarity for future instances. Students can prepare for learning prior to the lesson, as videos can also be attached to posts.
As Google Classroom can be accessed on a range of different devices such as smartphones, chromebooks and tablets, students can connect their learning from all aspects of life; smartphones are particularly good for Google Classroom and students will receive notifications right away and will respond immediately as most will already be on their smartphones-so, why not learn instead of scrolling through Twitter? It’s also easily accessible through the Frog home screen and no additional login is required as your account should automatically be logged into Google Drive.  Templates can be made available to students in Google Classroom and a copy of them is automatically made for Screenshot 2017-12-03 at 15.53.23students in the class and shared with the teacher.  Google Classroom does all of the organising automatically.

It is generally more efficient to upload homework notices and such on Google Classroom, rather than using the Frog Home Learning button although a note should still be made on the home learning area. Students can mark off whether they have completed a task or not; if they are unsure of what has been assigned, public comments can be uploaded directly onto the post or the student could  contact the teacher privately, without having to go through the hassle of searching through emails and so on.

Overall, Google Classroom can be very versatile and efficient in multiple subjects throughout school, when used to its full potential.




In order to avoid ‘surface level comments’ in source discussions in Humanities, the department have focused on discussing and upgrading student comments. For each comment the teacher chooses for discussion, students are asked about the answer and how to develop it. That way, students understand what makes a good source analysis.


Students are taught about an historical event and then the following lesson, they have to reorder a series of sentences in order to explain the event. They then have to categorise the reorganised events into ‘why’ and ‘how’ the occurred.


Sarah Nightingale, influenced by the Literacy toolkit, came up with some amusing ways for students to remember how to spell important topic vocabulary. These could really work for the more visual learners!


Slow Teaching by Jamie Thom

For the past eight months or so I have been researching and writing a book on teaching. Yes, I have far too much time on my hands and yes, I need to get out significantly more. Having spent the last few months apparently married to a laptop, writing into the dead of the night, I now fully intend to!

The book started as a project after reading ‘In Praise of Slow’ by Carl Honore, a fascinating read about the various benefits of slowing down our busy and frantic lives. Given the significant demands on the time of a teacher, I thought it would be interesting to apply the ‘slow’ approach to various elements of classroom life and how we manage the stress of teaching. By some miracle a publisher was interested in the concept and ‘Slow Teaching’: A guide to finding calm, organisation and impact in the classroom’ will be published in February of next year.

Working with Zoe Taylor on the Teacher Advocates group has been a great way to share some of the aspects that I have been looking at and for pinching some brilliant ideas!  A brief introduction to five things that I have found most interesting when applying a slower approach to the classroom:

Teacher talk:

There are so many occasions in which we are asked to repeat ourselves in the classroom. Slowing down how we communicate at the front of the room can be very powerful in ensuring that our students’ focus carefully on what we are saying. When trying to explain difficult concepts it is also powerful to drop the pace. By avoiding the temptation to speak quickly at the front of the room we also begin to have more reserves and energy in the long teaching days.


We ask hundreds of questions throughout our working weeks, and it is one of the aspects in which speed inevitably starts to dominate. Slowing down questioning can be very useful in improving the quality of answers we can elicit from students. Pausing to give thinking time before pouncing on the first student to give an answer means that all students are required to think and rehearse an answer.

Behaviour management

Calm consistency in the classroom fully embraces a slow and measured approach to dealing with behaviour issues. Reacting emotionally and quickly can often result in situations rapidly escalating. With more difficult students I have found the slow and clear approach to explaining why their behaviour is not what is expected will soon have them back on side and refocused.


One of the most interesting aspects of researching the book has been reading lots about memory and how to best teach for retention. A more strategic and thoughtful vision of planning may appear an obvious aspect of teaching, but often because of our busy schedules we plan quickly and with limited vision for the future. To help our students remember information, introducing low stakes testing and interleaving practice periodically in units of work can have real impact. Allowing ourselves the time to look at the year as a whole and how we can


The desire to sprint through a set of books is completely understandable; they tend to be quickly replaced with the next gigantic pile. The race marking strategy, however, does little for the learning of our students and does little to inform future planning. Slow marking might mean marking less, but it ensures that the marking is of value in terms of moving student learning forward. It involves much more reflection about the comments that will be left for students and how they might be interpreted and much more on what students will do as a result of feedback.

Writing this has made me realise that the book could have been remarkably shorter! If any of this strikes a cord or you would like to talk more about life in the teacher tortoise lane, now I no longer have a book to write I can be found doing something very slowly in Inspire Five.


The Maths Department has thought of a way to ensure that GCSE students know what good revision looks like:

In Maths, one homework task is to make a revision resource, based on a specific area that the student struggles with. Teachers can then use the resource to predict or at least, suggest, what grade the student will receive based on the quality of the resource. This way, students can see good examples of revision resources and perhaps even share them!




As with many subjects, students struggle to understand the vocabulary around exams. Therefore, Maths ensure they have rubrics around the board in every room to refer to.