1. Review of previous learning

This session will take approximately 15 minutes to complete.

Review of previous learning

Rosenshine (2012) identifies ‘review of previous learning’ as an important part of instruction because it does two things that aid pupil learning: strengthens knowledge and builds fluency.

As you explored in module two, by recalling facts and information, pupils strengthen the connections of the material in their brain, making it easier for them to recall the information at subsequent times. Once this knowledge is effortlessly recalled, pupils have become fluent. This supports learners as it frees up working memory, preventing working memory overload and leaving more capacity for learning new material. This enables pupils to be more successful in their learning which is a key factor in developing intrinsic motivation.

In the classroom, a review can occur in many forms such as checking homework, going over work where there were errors, or practising retrieving knowledge so that it becomes automatic. The latter is more commonly known as retrieval practice – a strategy you explored in module two.

Listen to Claire Stoneman share her knowledge of retrieval practice and what this might look like in the classroom. Consider the following questions and record your response in your notebook:

  • What are the two key functions of review?
  • Why is it useful for pupils to actively recall information?
  • What are two ways that you could incorporate retrieval practice into your lessons?
The importance of retrieval – Claire Stoneman

Video transcript

Retrieval practice is something you’re likely to come across in many schools and it’s becoming more and more popular in schools in England. As Professor Robert Coe reminds us, retrieval practice is strongly supported by over a hundred years of research and is one of only two learning techniques rated by Dunlosky as having high utility for classroom practice. There’s a huge amount of research to support its use and yet, like many things that seem so simple in teaching, it has to be done really well or it could throw up a few calamitous pitfalls.

So why is retrieving prior knowledge a useful thing to do?

It enables the children to see their learning going somewhere, that lessons aren’t just weird little modularised bite-size chunks of learning but part of a golden thread of knowledge, and Barak Rosenshine suggests that teachers begin their lesson with review of prior learning for two reasons:

  1. It’s a practice recalling previously learnt material, thereby strengthening the ability to recall it in the future.
  2. To link new material to that which has come before.

So retrieval practice can be an exceptionally useful thing to do at the start of a lesson. It’s not simply recap, in other words going back over something, but it’s about the children actively trying to recall knowledge from their long-term memory.

It also helps the children to develop schemas that we can signpost. In their book ‘What every teacher needs to know about psychology’, David Didau and Nick Rose say that a schema has to be thought of as an organizing framework representing some aspect of the world and a system of organising that information.

Let’s think about that in practice for a minute. Imagine I have taught Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ to my year 11 group. We’ve probably spent lots of time exploring the nature of mankind, secrets, duality, all sorts of interesting things. So when we move on to power and conflict poetry and I teach them Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ and they come across the noun ‘visage’, the children will have a schema of connections about concealment upon which to draw to help them unpick the noun ‘visage’. If we can help our pupils make explicit links between these different lessons, the better they are able to develop secure schemas. And retrieval practice can really help with this.

So how can you incorporate retrieval practices in your lessons? You can start your lesson with a low-stakes quiz. They’re effective, efficient and predictable. Pupils know what’s coming and so it can free up working memory. Your lesson becomes a tool and an effective routine. There are of course other ways to take advantage of retrieval practice and although Rosenshine talks about using the start of the lesson to review previously learnt material, don’t think that this is the only opportunity to make those things. Sometimes there will be opportunities and lessons to naturally recap on knowledge learnt in a different unit or lesson. At other times you’ll want to plan in opportunities. Both are fine and really useful.

Claire highlights two key functions of review when used to build and strengthen learning:

  • To consolidate material by prompting pupils to recall what they have learnt
  • To help pupils make links between new knowledge and prior knowledge and connect this in their mental model


Think about a topic where you recently incorporated a review of learning and consider the following questions. Record your response in your notepad.

  • What was the purpose of the review?
  • How did you incorporate it into your practice?
  • What did it tell you about pupils’ learning?
  • How did it inform your teaching?

Mentor meeting

In the previous term, you learnt about how effective explanations can prevent working memory overload. Explanations are a vital part of effective teaching and therefore will be recapped in your next mentor meeting. Your mentor will observe your explanations and may focus on how you:

  • break complex material and explanation into small steps
  • combine a verbal explanation with a relevant graphical representation
  • use worked or partially completed examples

Related ECF strands

How pupils learn

2.7 Regular purposeful practice of what has previously been taught can help consolidate material and help pupils remember what they have learned.

2.8 Requiring pupils to retrieve information from memory, and spacing practice so that pupils revisit ideas after a gap are also likely to strengthen recall.

2h. Balancing exposition, repetition, practice and retrieval of critical knowledge and skills.

2i. Planning regular review and practice of key ideas and concepts over time.