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Forgetting the Curve

Posted by Mr David Elsing (Head of Secondary) | Found in: News

My daughter has started in Pre-Primary at MCC this year. She is absolutely loving it.

I wonder if one of the reasons she enjoys school is the sense of success she feels is due to the way her teachers have been using the technique of Mastery Learning. This is a simple process where students are taught a new word, and then read and write the word to consolidate what they have learnt. They should do this 3-4 more times that week so that the word moves from the short-term memory into the long-term memory. Once they have been tested on the word, and passed, the students have then ‘mastered’ the learning. From time to time this word should be revisited to cement the learning.

Short-Term & Long-Term Memory

Our working memory, or short-term memory (what computer science people call the RAM) can only handle seven things at once, give or take a few. For Primary school children, it is only four things. To help our students feel more successful in their learning and reduce what is called ‘Cognitive Load’ we can help our children move new information from the short-term memory into the long-term memory. We want to do this because the long-term memory has an unlimited capacity.

Last week during assembly I showed students the concept of the forgetting curve (see graph image):[1]

The curve shows that after being exposed to new learning the brain will forget most of this new information after seven days - unless the information is reviewed or practiced. For every review of the new information, the time it takes to forget the information increases. What we can see, is that if students want to cement new learning in their long-term memory they need to practice and revise. Our classes incorporate a review of past lessons, making this a regular part of our learning culture. I encourage parents to work with their children in building mastery of learning by ensuring that new concepts are revised at home in a regular and staggered sense to embed the new learning. If your child says to you “I don’t have homework”, you can say “show me your revision notes” 😊.


[1]Shrestha, P. (2017). Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. PsycheStudy Blog. https://www.psychestudy.com/cognitive/memory/ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve
Lemov, D. (2020) Doug Lemov’s Field Notes: Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching & Practice https://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/using-now-retrieval-practice-update-alex-laney/