Knowledge Organisers

At The Purbeck School, we know completing your home learning is essential to long term academic success. It allows you to extend your learning and to reinforce what has been learnt in class. Over each half term, as well as the opportunity to complete enrichment projects, daily home learning comes in three 20 minute parts:

  • Knowledge organiser self-quizzing
  • Reading for pleasure
  • Maths

Every student receives a booklet called a ‘knowledge organiser’. As Joe Kirby from Michaela Community School explains here, they “organise all the most vital, useful and powerful knowledge on a single page.” In this post, we explain why we think that they are essential.

Why do we value knowledge?

The knowledge organisers are designed to help you learn a wide range of knowledge, which in turn allows you to connect different ideas and apply higher order skills in your lessons. It will also prepare you for the new style GCSEs that you will sit in the future. We know that an accumulation of knowledge has many benefits. One is that it aids reading comprehension. Reading comprehension may seem like just a skill, but it is much easier to understand a text if you have the associated background knowledge. A student with an understanding of the complexities of rugby will understand a difficult passage in that domain where they might struggle with a similarly complex passage on crocodiles or isotopes. By pre-teaching some of the prerequisite background knowledge in a unit, we can aid in comprehension.

Interestingly, the more knowledge we have, the more knowledge we can get. This is known as the ‘Matthew effect’, so named because of the Bible passage Matthew 25:29: “For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Having knowledge stored in long term memory also frees up our working memory. Our working memory capacity is finite, which means that we can only juggle so many different ideas in our heads at once. The more knowledge that is stored in our long term memory, the less that has to be held in our working memory, allowing more cognitive capacity to think about the topic at hand. Think of the difference between a student who has memorised their times tables versus one who has not. The latter has to use vital cognitive resources working out the individual calculations.

What about the myth that we can just google things, so why do we need lists of knowledge? That argument doesn’t really hold up, because you need some key knowledge just to even google something and then you need knowledge to process the results.

Why Knowledge Organisers?

It is one thing to say that we should build knowledge, but it is often difficult to curate the knowledge necessary for optimal performance. That’s why our teachers start with the end – what knowledge is a pre-requisite for understanding this topic? What knowledge will enable them to offer complex responses? What background knowledge is important in order for this information to stick and for them to accumulate new knowledge? We can’t choose every possible piece of knowledge that exists, just the most judicious.

The best knowledge organisers are quizzable, so can be used as simple quizzes in lessons. Also, homework can take the form of a quiz, making it an efficient use of students’ and teachers’ time. Students can also develop ways of self-quizzing. In fact, quizzing is one of the simplest and most beneficial forms of studying, because of the testing effect – the testing effect is the idea that we are more likely to remember things when we are made to retrieve the information from our long term memory.

How to use Knowledge Organisers?

At home, using a self-quizzing workbook, we encourage our students to revise using ‘Look, Cover, Write, Check’.

  • LOOK: Read the question and the answer.
  • COVER: Cover up the answer column.
  • WRITE: Write the answer from your memory.
  • CHECK: Finally, mark your work. Correct any mistakes.

Family and friends can help and support self-quizzing too. Home learning can be turned into a game or a competition. However, if a student is struggling with any of home learning then we always ask them to go and see their subject teacher or to attend Study Plus, our after school home learning club in the café.

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