Developing the art of teaching outside lessons

The title of this blog may seem misleading, so I’m going to quickly clarify that what I do not mean here is the educationally dubious decision to take a bunch of kids outside rather than just get on with a lesson in your classroom.

I’m talking about something more simple and subtle. It’s a way in which I’m adding retrieval practice into my movements around the school.

Of course, the obvious place to add retrieval practice is in lessons and I’m doing this, but it’s not always as easy as that in reality. The main reason for that is that RS teachers only have students once a week in my school, or at most twice a week (in year 11). This means that lesson time is precious and removing it for retrieval practice risks squeezing time to engage with the new content. However, I am placing little tests at the start of lessons and it is clearly working – students are engaged in the process of trying to remember key knowledge.

However, starting last year, and really developing this year, I am taking the opportunity when outside of lessons to continue to bring in retrieval practice. One example is in the lunch queue. On Friday afternoons I have to manage the queue to the kiosk where students can by their lunch outside. At one point it struck me that I could use this as an opportunity to do some spontaneous testing. Thus, a simple test on the Trinity has been forced on many Year 9s – reinforcing the knowledge that there are three persons but one God, and that two key sources of the belief in the Trinity are the Bible and the Nicene Creed. Year 11s are tested in the six beliefs of Sunni Islam, the five roots of Shi’a Islam or the seven prophets we have studied etc. What has struck me is that rather than complaining about being tested outside of lessons, the students see it as an exciting challenge. Best of all, every time I do it I force them to truly draw the knowledge out of memory as there are no cues such as an exercise book to help them give the answer.

I also just stop students I pass around school if I have a moment and ask them just one question. Their eyes flick up and they pause before they answer – a perfect indication that they thought through the answer and recalled it.

I’m increasingly seeing that whilst of course the vast vast majority of teaching and learning happens in the classroom, there are many opportunities to bring in retrieval practice elsewhere too. One student proudly said ‘Sir, every time you’ve asked me I’ve got every question right.’ This has incentivised me to think of harder questions and hopefully it’ll incentivise him to rise to the challenge.

Of course, my use is quite limited now to relatively recently taught content. The next stage is to bring in stuff from further back in the course. I’m contemplating having a bank of quick questions carefully structured to hit core course content in a simple way.

Implementing this is a really simple way of developing student knowledge outside of the classroom, showing your commitment to their success, making use of time wherever possible and even developing a bond with students (they are starting to expect a little test when they see me).