Module: How to write SLOP

Welcome to the professional learning module on writing SLOP. We hope you find it helpful and informative, and send us any feedback you might have. For the full list of the modules and explanation of how they work, please see here.

This module has been reviewed by Nick Soderstrom.

“It is virtually impossible to become proficient at any mental task without extended practice”

Daniel Willingham

This course is about SLOP: Shed Loads of Practice. It will cover the role of practice in learning and how to prepare resources that are conducive to your students conducting extensive amounts of practice. The beginning of the module is theory focussed, but as the module goes on there will be a number of activities to help you start writing your own resources. We have prepared a Google form here to help you structure your notes and thoughts throughout the unit. 

1. The role of practice

This section will consider a brief introduction to practice in the classroom, and ask you to conduct an audit of the amount of practice your students receive.

Start by reading Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. If you have read it before, please do so again. Focus on sections 4, 5, 2 and 9 in that order. Reading the rest is worthwhile, but those sections will suffice for this module.

  • What are the different types of practice that Rosenshine describes?
  • Your explanation sets the ground for practice. How do the best teachers prepare their students for practice?
  • Why is it important to monitor student practice?

Next, read Adam’s blog on how he uses booklets.

  • What are the different types of practice identified?
  • How much practice is provided for students?
  • How is the practice structured to support students?

Audit – how much practice do your students receive?

  • In general, how much practice do your students receive in lessons?
  • What percentage of the time over a 5 lesson sequence is spent with your students independently practising content?
  • After teaching new material, how many practice questions do your students complete independently?
  • How often do you revisit past material as a part of student independent practice? (i.e. not in something like a retrieval starter)
  • People tend to appreciate the need for practice in physical activity (like sport) more than in purely cognitive activity. Why do you think this is? How could you convince them of the need for more practice?

2. Overlearning

You can find an introduction to learning and performance by Soderstrom and Bjork here. From it, read the “introduction” paragraph which looks at the difference between learning and performance. Pay particular attention to the mention of overlearning. Next, read the middle paragraph on page 7, then read the paragraph at the bottom of page 9.

  • What is the difference between learning and performance?
  • What is overlearning?
  • What does “performance [was]…at asymptote” mean?
  • What are the ramifications for AfL of the distinction between learning and performance?

3. Drill and thrill

Students completing extensive, individual and independent practice has been out of vogue for a little while, and can be touted as boring or uninteresting. First, read Joe Kirby’s blog about the importance of drill here.

  • What justifications does Kirby give for student drill?
  • In the football video, what is the purpose of the drill?
  • How is the drill arranged so that all players participate?
  • Is the drill monotonous and boring?
  • Consider Lemov’s six rules. Which one do you think you already do the most, and which one the least?

Read Dani Quinn’s blog here. Though it is maths focussed, there is much there for us to learn.

  • How do Quinn’s justifications for drill relate to Kirby’s?
  • Look carefully at how the problem sets increase in complexity. In science, which topics/concepts are conducive to this kind of practice?
  • Quinn mentions a number of pitfalls and occasions where they “don’t work.” Which items in her list do you think are most pertinent to science teaching?
  • How does Quinn justify her claims that drilling can be joyful?

4. Spacing and interleaving

In the retrieval practice module, we discuss spacing as the act of spreading out learning opportunities on a given topic over time, and we saw it has many cognitive benefits. Interleaving is about how topics are mixed together during practice. Watch this video by Robert Bjork which introduces interleaving.

  • What is interleaving?
  • Without knowledge of the art example, would you expect the sport example to be generalisable to more concept-based areas?
  • To what extent is the art example generalisable to the classroom?

Read the first four pages of this study by Rohrer et al.

  • How do the researchers define “interleaved” practice?
  • What do they suggest as the main mechanism by which it improves learning?
  • How does this contrast with previous reading about overlearning?

Read the “caveats” section from on page 10.

  • Which caveats do you think are the most important for generalising to the classroom?
  • A small amount of blocked practice may be necessary first. How does this relate to previous reading about overlearning?
  • Feedback is clearly crucial on tasks of this kind. How can you ensure that your students receive rapid and precise feedback?

Read the last page of the study. It notes that this is a highly feasible intervention, but relies on the availability of good resources. Researchers also note that this is an effective intervention, but is not “flashy.”

  • What other possible obstacles to implementation are there?
  • Do you have resources which feature interleaving?
  • How have your beliefs about teaching and viable interventions changed based on literature such as this?

5. Guidance fading

The next reading is a chapter from Sweller et. al.’s Cognitive Load Theory. Set aside some time, as it is packed full of useful information and pointers and should frame much of your activities when designing practice. You can skip page 6-11.

Key terms to help you understand the chapter:

  • Guidance is how much support is provided
  • Worked examples are a form of high-guidance
  • The expertise reversal effect is where as students become more expert, they require less guidance.
  • Why is it important to tailor the amount of support students receive?
  • What is a completion task?
  • What is the guidance fading effect?
  • What is the difference between backward and forward fading?
  • Which is superior, backward or forward fading?
  • On page 5, what is the effect of prior knowledge on the optimal rate of guidance fading?
  • The chapter focusses on worked examples/completion tasks as a route to fading. What other routes are available to teachers in terms of the support they offer and how they fade it?

Activity:

Download the quantitative chemistry mastery booklet below, and look at page 5.

  • How has guidance been faded across this problem set?
  • Why have some questions had the answers provided with them?
  • Is there enough practice in the problem set?

6. Summary so far

At this point we pause to summarise what we have found so far:

  • Instruction begins with an explanation based on a small amount of material
  • Students receive a worked example or model
  • Students receive practice with faded support like a completion task
  • Students conduct massed independent practice of the new concept
  • Independent practice becomes more interleaved

7. Procedural and declarative: practising procedural knowledge

Procedural knowledge relates to knowledge of how to do something, like balance an equation or change the subject of a formula. Declarative knowledge relates more to knowledge of concepts or ideas, like that mass is conserved in chemical reactions, or how the tilt of the Earth”s axis causes seasons or how a root hair cell is adapted. You cannot write practice for taught material without this distinction in mind.

Procedural knowledge tends to be much easier to write practice for, but still requires skill and careful thought given our summary steps above. Tom’s exemplary blog here looks at both, but pay particular attention to his thought processes when structuring procedural knowledge.

  • Why is it important to distinguish between procedural and declarative knowledge?
  • How does Tom build complexity and fade support in his worksheets?

Look at questions 38-80 of the booklet on B1 below.

  • How are the problems sequenced?
  • In what way is complexity gradually added?
  • How is interleaving incorporated by the end of the question set?

Look again at the quantitative chemistry mastery booklet you downloaded above, and consider how all the principles already mentioned have been built in.

Look at the year 7 worksheet below:

  • In question 2, how is variation introduced into the problem set?
  • What is the effect of this variation?
  • In questions 7-11 how are topics mixed together?
  • What is the purpose of question 12 and what knowledge/skill does it build?
  • How long do you think it would take for an average year 9 student to complete the worksheet?
  • Overall, do you think there is enough practice on this worksheet?

Activity:

Choose a topic you are due to be teaching with features heavy procedural elements. Construct a worsheet to accompany your instruction featuring:

  • Worked example
  • Completion problems (or another route to fading support)
  • Extensive massed practice
  • Followed by interleaved practice

8. Procedural and declarative: practising declarative knowledge

Declarative knowledge is much harder to write practice for than procedural. Read this blog by Ruth on “SLOP-resistant” topics, and this blog by Adam on similar.

  • Why is it harder to practice declarative knowledge?
  • What simple techniques can you use to practice it?

Replacing worked examples with models:

For declarative knowledge a model answer can be a powerful discussion tool. Look at the worksheet below:

  • How would you use this worksheet in class?
  • How would you monitor the quality of students’ work as they begin to practice?
  • What other topics might benefit from an approach like this?

Other examples of practice work on declarative knowledge:

In each of the worksheets, pay careful attention to the way in which the questions are repeated and altered slightly to force students to think. Remember that the key point is that the students have to select the appropriate solving strategy from memory. In particular, look at how different topics are introduced and interleaved throughout the questions and the careful phasing of massed and interleaved practice.

Activity:

Choose a topic you are due to teach which is heavy in declarative content. Prepare a section of a booklet for that content featuring:

  • Model example
  • Faded practice
  • Independent massed practice
  • Interleaved practice

9. Final activity

In order to obtain your certificate and finish this module, you will need to apply what you have learned in order to prepare a resource. The resource should be used to accompany a significant amount of learning, so not just half an hour in one lesson, more like at least half a unit. It should account for all of the ideas above, starting with examples/models, moving on to guided practice, slowly fading that guidance until students begin independent massed practice then move on to independent interleaved practice.

Please email your resource to cogscisci@gmail.com. We will obviously not publish it without your permission, but if you would be willing for it to be published then let us know in your email and we will happily add it to this site’s resources section. Please also be aware that though we have a high standard for publication, our dedicated resources team commit to helping you improve your work to the point at which we can publish it, so if you want specific feedback do just let us know.

If you have any feedback for us, you can submit it anonymously here.

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