• Question: Should I display formulae that students need to remember for their exams on the walls in my classroom - does having them there all the time help or hinder remembering them?

    Asked by missjplumb to Jessie, Jo, Liz, Lucy, Paul, Yana on 17 Jan 2018.
    • Photo: Lucy Cragg

      Lucy Cragg answered on 17 Jan 2018:

      I’m not aware of any research that explicitly relates to this question. I would say that just having the formulae there all the time without drawing their attention to them is unlikely to help them retrieve them in the exam – the more attention we pay to something and the deeper we process it the more likely we are to remember it. As mentioned in a number of other questions, retrieving information from memory is a great way of consolidating that information so that it’s more likely to be retrieved later (e.g. see http://tdtrust.org/testing-is-key-to-long-term-learning). However, you don’t want students not to be able to progress in a lesson just because they can’t remember the formula. Maybe one approach would be to ask students to recall any relevant formulas at the beginning of a lesson and then put them up on the walls /board for the remainder of the lesson.

    • Photo: Paul Matusz

      Paul Matusz answered on 20 Jan 2018:


      I’d just like to add to the great response from Lucy. From what we know, children’s ability to link external stimuli with memory contents is not as good as that of adults; that is, it is plausible that different symbols of the equation could activate other than desired bits of information within their long-term memory, thus giving an effect opposite to that expected. Here, Gaia Scerif’s work, especially with Andria Shimi but also with Duncan Astle, has been extremely informative with respect to the links between how well attention is controlled towards stimuli and links of these control processes with the content of long- and short-term memory; I am providing links to a few papers and reviews, although these mayb be paywalled (but the scientists mentioned are v happy to share their work, you can write them):

      In my opinion, this ties in nicely with the work of Anne Fisher demonstrating that larger number of classroom wall decorations leads to weaker learning – I mentioned it as well as some other studies relevant to the classroom design in my other response – https://learning.imascientist.org.uk/2018/01/10/i-was-wondering-from-your-research-if-there-were-any-obvious-techniques-methods-that-you-have/.

      Hope this helps.

    • Photo: Yana Weinstein

      Yana Weinstein answered on 22 Jan 2018:

      I don’t have the research to hand, but I would imagine that students would habituate to having that information displayed, and after a while would no longer notice that it was there. What’s worse, they might be overconfident in their ability to remember the formulae later, because of the familiarity of seeing them. Much better to have students frequently practice retrieval of the formulae, than be passively exposed to them.