I am instinctively cynical about any “latest new thing” in teaching. As a profession, we have been teaching kids things for centuries, and I feel it it is highly unlikely that anyone will suddenly stumble upon something genuinely new that will have a significant impact on learning. Knowledge Organisers feel a bit like they are the latest new thing, so I have to say my heart sank ever so slightly when I was asked to join a middle leaders meeting this week to discuss our plans for introducing them next year.
In reality, I’m sure there is nothing particularly new here. If I could go back 30, 40, 50 years, I would probably find examples of these being used in schools even though they may have gone by another name. And I think the name is part of the problem. To me, “Knowledge Organiser” doesn’t really describe what they are. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember the Filofax of the 1980’s which were called Personal Organisers.
There was a whole world of wonderful inserts which you could buy and arrange how you desired, clipping them into the 6-ring binder, a wonderful way of whiling away your day! The name “Knowledge Organiser” implies to me that the learner will compile some sort of folder themselves over time and decide how to organise their own knowledge.
From what I’ve seen, that’s not what they are. They are Fact Books. I’d like ours to say “Maths facts you need to know in Year 7”. I feel that is more descriptive of what they are and how they will be used.
I’ve decided to write this because I left my meeting feeling much more positive about them than I was at the start. This is a whole-school initiative – surely the only way to introduce them so that pupils and parents see a consistency across subjects. Although I agree with a lot of what Kris Boulton says (Why Maths Teachers Don’t Like Knowledge Organisers) I think it is right and proper that we support the whole-school initiative and don’t fall back on the refrain “but Maths is different” thus risking acquiring (reinforcing?!) a reputation as the awkward squad!
So why am I becoming more convinced of their possible merit? In our meeting we had a good discussion on the principles of what Knowledge Organisers are and how we should use them, namely:
- They list the base level of facts that pupils need to know to achieve in this subject in this term. They are not intended to cover everything. They are not to be seen as a syllabus or a revision guide.
- Their core purpose is to enable pupils to engage in self-quizzing. We will need to explicitly teach pupils how to do this.
- They will form the basis for fortnightly quizzes. It is this retrieval practice which creates the change in change in long-term memory.
There are plenty of examples of excellent Knowledge Organisers out there (Jo Morgan has a collection on this page.) I intend to lean heavily on these when creating our own. After all, there is nothing new about these facts, although inevitably we will want to tweak and adapt to fit our Scheme of Work and format.
So my starting point is to sit with the team and see what we think. It’ll be interesting to hear their thoughts..,