Why C.R.I.M.E. Might Pay Off In Classrooms
How teachers can purposefully support their students with myriad revision strategies to build life long learning and survival skills.
Calls to reform the traditional exam driven school curriculum resonate loudly around corridors of schools and homes all over the world. The pandemic shone a light onto other, perhaps more meaningful ways of assessing students, and yet little to nothing has changed on this front to date.
This is to be expected: the light the pandemic shone also revealed people’s and organisations’ desire for stability and for some, ‘going back to the way things were’ has proven to be a stronger pull than any accepted need for reform of this conservative and standardised education system.
So here we are, mock and Prelim exams loom large with the inescapability of teaching to a test and learning driven by an exam that requires specific answer structures and, in some cases, the use of specific sentence structures.
As teachers we know what we have to do. Students accept they have to rise to a challenge that demands memorisation skills under timed conditions. And yet, this is a complex and nuanced ask for all stakeholders.
What does effective studying ‘look’ like? Many parents will expect their charges to be pouring over their books and completing past paper questions. Some teachers will use tried and tested revision strategies that may work for some students, but not all. Perhaps some teachers will recommend or champion what worked for them.
Some students will lack confidence, self-awareness and self-regulation and carry out what they think is revision, but does not help commit the content and skills they need to learn to their short- or long-term memory. Some students will avoid revision because they are over-confident or they just do not know where to begin.
The need to develop efficient learning strategies
Hattie and Yates point out in their book ‘Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn’, that learners can use strategies to move information to be learned into their long-term memories. They state that this entails active responding in that the mind has to ‘do something with this stuff before it disappears.’
They advise a strategy they label C.R.I.M.E.
On this occasion it may appear that crime pays.
What is C.R.I.M.E. ?
This mnemonic stands for:
This means to group, sort , organise or classify information. The mind reduces cognitive overwhelm by creating patterns which can be recalled more easily than mismanaged content.
This involves repetition by the student of the material or skills to be learned. This can look like rote learning but Hattie and Yates state that “ by adolescence, rehearsal will take the form of ‘a cumulative rehearsal and fast finish, a much more sophisticated form’.
Students can literally picture in their mind the content to be learned, perhaps by visualising numbers, words, diagrams etc.
This can be any memory device but usually pertains to using letters to remember the order of events, etc. ‘ROYGBIV’ is sometimes used to recall the colours of the rainbow.
This means to process information by adding to it in a meaningful way. Using triggers or prompts, students can fuse together prior knowledge to new knowledge to create what the authors state should provide ‘a more durable and accessible memory trace’.
I decided to test out a new approach to the revision I was supporting with my students. This group of students aged between 15 and 16 are studying for a lengthy assessment in mid-January. We have around 6 hours left before they begin their Christmas break.
It would be optimistic for any teacher, parent or student to believe revision will take place throughout the festive season when they are understandably consumed with snow, parties, family gatherings and present wrapping and opening.
Therefore, my strategy involved taking 6 hours of teaching time to demonstrate and scaffold C.R.I.M.E. revision techniques and offer immediate feedback on their questions and practice questions and notes.
Universal Design for Learning
My first guiding principle was to adopt Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL combined with C.R.I.ME. and blended learning is a winning combination when it comes to classroom teaching and revision. I opted to move away from whole-group instruction for these revision sessions. Each student has different needs and is focused on revising different topics according to preference.
As Katie Novak and Caitlin D. Tucker point out in their book, ‘UDL and Blended Learning’, this approach allows teachers and learners to ‘re-imagine instruction’.
UDL is not differentiation. The core purpose of UDL is to create expert learners through self-differentiation. By adopting this approach in my lessons, I can be more responsive and agile to the needs of my students.
In order to move beyond tokenistic self-differentiation (such as students simply selecting which topic they will revise), I pushed them further and modelled how they might learn and how they will express what they know in authentic ways. I free them to self-monitor and reflect on their choices but I am ever-present.
Let’s take a look at this in action:
The class needs to revise a topic on the causes of international terrorism. I shared with them this video content that helps them understand the expectation of the depth of knowledge and analysis required at this level:
I also provided this content as a PowerPoint so they could manipulate it as they see fit. Some printed it as a pdf and turned the content into flashcards to self-test.
The class has also been provided with structured revision tasks so they can practise the evaluation of various sources of information and complete some quick knowledge checking questions. These were uploaded on the class Team as a word document so they can edit their own copies and share them with me so I can offer responsive feedback and support where needed. I advised they could adapt this content to suit their preferences. You can see some of the ideas that could scaffold this approach in the video below:
Students were further supported by a blended learning approach through this walk through of the course notes and explanation of tasks they can complete:
I also offered the class strategies to break down their revision into component parts to help them prepare for the essays they will have to write in the assessment. These are provided as PowerPoint templates to which they can add text or print and annotate. Examples have also been provided to the class so they can see this strategy modelled.
This strategy can be applied to all of the topics they need to revise and they just need to change the topic in the centre of the PowerPoint slide to make it work for the topic they are studying.
I created a website for the class to access with lots of different tasks and ways of practising and applying their knowledge and understanding of some of the topics they need to revise.
Flashcards are a popular activity that helps support some students in their revision. I created some simple cards that scaffold the students that feel they do not know where to begin. The students can edit these cards online or print them, write their answers on the back and then self-test or test with a friend.
Finally I used the power of social media to support students in their self-testing. By using Instagram Reels I was able to present visual prompts for students to check their knowledge and understanding of each topic. I used trending audio to engage them further.
The fact that the class follows me (but cannot DM me) means their revision reels will disrupt the pattern of their social media scrolling.
This is a really simple and accessible learning strategy that helps learners identify quickly any gaps in their knowledge and understanding. When retrieval practice is carried out in a classroom situation, the teacher can help to prompt students and then scaffold their elaboration of the content they have effectively recalled. Examples of retrieval practice worksheets can be downloaded from my website.
I am confident that the clamour for reform of the current examination system characterised by memorisation is growing louder, but until that time where teachers and students have greater autonomy over the learning and assessment experience and journey, we have to work within the existing constraints.
Perhaps the short-term, and far less radical approach to exams is to integrate deep learning techniques that will develop students to become life long learners.
Perhaps parents, educators and students need to keep their focus on the importance of how we learn and how we learn how to learn, because it is this that will determine some of our life’s outcomes.
Our world is in flux and the future is uncertain for many industries, but it will be those learners that can apply their knowledge and skills and those willing to continually learn that will thrive and survive.
Learning how we learn builds motivation, resilience, cultivates curiosity and self-regulation. Our current exam systems do not measure this, but teachers can use learning and teaching techniques to build these character traits to create a more sustainable solution for the now.