What’s the simplest way to boost understanding? Give students more targeted practice at using ideas and skills. I don’t mean simple recall and filling in boxes, I mean practice in ‘Apply’ – being able to transfer what you know to unfamiliar situations. Most students struggle with recognising which idea to use where. So it’s obvious they need a lot more well-designed practice. This is the raison d’etre of our Mastery Workbook.
As with many learning principles, textbooks and revision guides ignore the elephant in the classroom. I counted only 5 ‘Apply’ questions in the chapter from Activate (OUP’s textbook) and a measly 3 in GCP’s revision guide. Way too few, I’d wager, to enable middle achieving students to reach competence in transferring what they know. And as for lower achievers, well, we didn’t expect them to reach those heights anyway, did we? (:
The Mastery Workbook takes a research-based approach to ‘Apply’. It uses what cognitive scientists call ‘proceduralising’. Don’t be put off, psychology just makes clearer what experienced teachers know in their gut. When students learn a concept, their knowledge is in the form of ‘know that’. To give a simple example, I know that balanced forces means two forces in opposite directions cancel out, which means the object is stationery or goes at steady speed. This kind of knowledge can be recalled but is not yet usable in unfamiliar situations. To apply it involves converting it into a procedure – ‘know how to’. In the example, it means I know how to recognise a force diagram, select the forces in opposite directions, subtract them, and based on whether the object was moving or not, I then predict what happens.
Proceduralising knowledge takes time, and a lot of experience doing similar questions. And our Mastery Practice Book goes large on practice. You can get an idea of how much more from the contents list below. For ‘Know’ each concept is broken down into small chunks to make sure students know all the conditions. For ‘Apply’ we have identified the categories of problems that exam questions typically ask.
Another oft ignored learning principle is that students find it easier to learn from worked examples. So each page in the Mastery Workbook starts with a carefully annotated example that explain the steps and the reasoning. Then the first questions are deliberately very similar to make sure students experience success. Subsequent questions get students to think more independently about how and when to use the procedure.