Here, the #CogSciSci community has brought together a whole bunch of blogs, articles and research to help you answer the question “Why are you doing that?” This is far from an exhaustive list but instead aims to find writings that give a good rationale behind the choice explanation of particular areas of cognitive science and how they can be applied to the classroom.
The idea started with this blog by A Common Biologist, looking at ways cognitive science mutates in schools. It’s important to realise that two very different areas of research impact upon the classroom: education research and cognitive science research. Education research takes place in the classroom, with well-designed studies having large sample sizes and well designed control groups to monitor the effect of any intervention. The results from education research tend to be quite hazy, owing to the difficulty in isolating a cause for a particular effect once in the classroom environment. Cognitive science research, on the other hand, is laboratory based, giving researchers a considerable amount of control over the subjects (their environment, their attention etc.) and so teaches us a considerable amount about how we learn. The downside is that results from cognitive science studies will always require a certain amount of interpretation before they are used in a classroom setting.
Here, the ideas of cognitive science are introduced, and teachers/educators then go on to explain how they are using some of these findings within their classroom, altering their practice to become more ‘research-informed’. This list is far from exhaustive and both Adam Boxer and Craig Barton have excellent research lists with their own commentaries.
If you have any questions that you want answered please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE BASICS OF COGNITIVE SCIENCE AND MEMORY
“How do our brains work?” answered by Efrat Furst.
“What are all these fancy terms to do with memory that you keep using?” answered by Elizabeth and Robert Bjork whilst discussing how desirable difficulties can improve learning.
“What on earth is working memory?” answered by Professor Susan Gathercole and Dr Tracy Alloway, discussing what it is, its limitations, how it changes and how you can support students to learn in spite of their limited working memories.
“What is a schema?” answered by Greg Ashman.
“Do students remember what they learn in school?” answered by Daniel Willingham, drawing on education research and cognitive science to explain why our memory is an incredible but fallible resource.
“Why do students forget things?” answered by Jemma Sherwood who discusses how to design lessons with memory in mind.
“What is the ‘forgetting curve’?” answered by Durrington Research School.
“Is forgetting a vital part of remembering?” answered by Dalmeet Singh Chawla who interviews a range of researchers from neurobiology who point out that if we remembered everything, our brains would be far more inefficient.
“What will improve a student’s memory?” answered by Daniel Willingham, giving examples of methods that work and those that don’t when helping students commit ideas to memory.
“How does research into our memories affect teaching?” answered by Craig Barton, whose commentary on memory research (particularly that of Elizabeth and Robert Bjork) shows that memory lies at the heart of retrieval, interleaving and spacing.
“What are neuromyths?” answered by Thomas Moran, listing the 10 most common misconceptions about the brain. Do we only use 10% of it? Do we have preferred learning styles? Is your mental capacity something you are born with? No, to all of the above.
Remember also that we have an entire module on the basics of cognitive science here.
COGNITIVE LOAD THEORY AND LEARNING
“Can somebody explain simply how cognitive load theory applies to the classroom?” answered by Adam Boxer, who simplifies the theory for practical usage by teachers.
“How can I take into account cognitive load theory in the classroom?” answered by Blake Harvard, who introduces the idea of ‘element interactivity’ as a consideration for when trying to manage the cognitive load.
“What is the difference between learning and performance?” and “What is a desirable difficulty” both answered by Nick Soderstrom. The learning vs. performance argument is a crucial one for teachers to understand and has huge implications for how we assess the ‘understanding’ of students within a lesson.
“Aren’t cognitive load theory and the idea of desirable difficulties diametrically opposite?” answered by Blake Harvard, who tries to reconcile the need for simplifying (from cognitive load theory) and the need to challenge students (from desirable difficulties). A fascinating insight into how to understand ideas from cognitive science when they initially seem to point in opposite directions.
“Why are some things easy to learn and others are so hard?” answered by Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner, looking at David Geary’s work into biologically primary and secondary knowledge, an idea that aims to explain why we can learn to understand facial expressions much more easily than we can understand chemistry.
“Why can we learn some things naturally from our environment but need instruction to understand others?” answered by David Didau, again looking at Geary’s work, but thinking about the relationship to explicit instruction and discovery learning. Why do we discover the talent for speech, but discovery approaches to reading are less effective?
“Why do students think they understand, when they don’t?” answered by Daniel Willingham, demonstrating why ‘familiarity fools our mind into thinking we know more than we do’.
“Why do they seem so confident they’re right, but they’re wrong?” answered by Kendra Cherry, exploring the Dunning-Kruger effect.
SPACING, INTERLEAVING AND RETRIEVAL PRACTICE: THE BASICS
“What is spacing?” answered by Daniel Willingham.
“What’s the difference between spacing, interleaving and retrieval? Are they desirable difficulties?” answered by Nick Soderstrom.
“What is retrieval practice?” answered by Efrat Furst.
Remember that we have an entire module on retrieval practice here.
KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERT TEACHING
“Can’t they just google it?” E.D. Hirsch explains why knowledge is a cornerstone of our understanding of the world.
“Why is knowledge important?” answered by Daniel Willingham, who shows how ‘knowledge brings more knowledge’.
“Why does everyone keep talking about Rosenshine?” answered by Tom Sherrington, who explores why the principles in Barak Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’ are so useful in the classroom.
“What are Rosenshine’s principles?” answered by Mark Enser.
“Can’t we just teach skills?” No, explains David Didau.
“Can’t we just teach skills (number 2)?” Daniel Willingham explains why comprehension can’t be taught as a skill in isolation as it relies on knowledge of the subject matter that you’re reading about.
WITHIN THE CLASSROOM:
PLANNING AND INTERVENTIONS
“Why don’t you have a lesson plan?” answered by Bob Pritchard, who uses cognitive science as the basis to explain why he plans for a longer period of time than simply one lesson (and hence doesn’t have a lesson plan: here are some examples of when he probably did have one…).
“What interventions can I use to help those struggling students?” answered by Ruth Walker, who argues that we shouldn’t focus on interventions to specific groups but instead on the overall quality of teaching to all students.
“How can cognitive science help in the planning of the curriculum?” answered by Ruth Walker, drawing together ideas about schema, memory, hinterland and the true meaning of interleaving to create a better curriculum.
“Can you give me an example of interleaving within the curriculum?” answered by Ian Taylor, who uses ‘teaching by contrast’ as a way of ensuring the links are made between ideas within a topic instead of teaching each idea in a single lesson.
“What is mastery learning? And what isn’t mastery learning?” answered by Daisy Christodoulou.
DIRECT INSTRUCTION VS. DISCOVERY
“Why aren’t they discovering this for themselves?” answered by Paul Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard Clark in one of the must-read papers for understanding one of the fiercest arguments in education.
“Why are you explaining the concept rather than letting them do problem-solving?” answered by Greg Ashman, whose research indicates novices perform better when explicitly taught in the first instance. This study contrasts the predictions of cognitive load theory and productive failure.
SLOP (Shed Loads Of Practice) AND THE EFFECT OF SUCCESS ON MOTIVATION
“Why are they doing SLOP (shed loads of practice) in your lessons?” answered by the learning scientists, who link to and comment on the best ideas about what deliberate practice is and why it is so powerful.
“I don’t like the idea of SLOP, convince me otherwise,” answered by Niki Kaiser who uses her own experiences to show how she came around to the idea of giving students extensive practice.
“Why is practice so important?” answered by Daniel Willingham, discussing the balance between ‘practice makes perfect’ and student motivation.
“Why does success lead to motivation and not the other way around?” answered by Carl Hendrick, giving a motivational background as to why SLOP is effective for all students.
“How can reducing the cognitive load lead to more motivated students?” answered by Greg Ashman who uses cognitive load theory to help students see that is is the ‘process of getting better at something that is motivating’.
“Is interleaved practice better than blocked practice (in maths)?” answered by Doug Rohrer, Robert Dedrick and Pooja Agarwal, exploring the differences between giving practice in distinct blocks (as would be common practice in a curriculum split into defined topics per lesson) and interleaving practice within a mathematics setting.
“How big should spacing gaps be?” answered by Damian Benney, who shares his practice in planning spaced homework, giving reasoning behind his choice of gaps.
Remember we have an entire module on designing practice sets here.
“How can I reduce the cognitive load of practical sessions?” answered by Adam Boxer, introducing the idea of the slow practical, a crucial read for new science teachers.
“Isn’t real science like discovery learning?” answered by Bill Wilkinson, drawing on his research experience to explain why ‘real scientists’ aren’t doing discovery as might be assumed.
ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING
“Why aren’t you doing more AfL?” David Didau explains why we should be cautious about AfL given the issues with performance vs. learning.
“How should I be using AfL (assessment for learning) in the classroom” a symposium of ideas from Adam Boxer, Ruth Walker, Niki Kaiser, Deep Ghataura, Ben Rogers, Matt Perks and Dylan Wiliam.
“How can I use multiple choice questions in the classroom?” answered by Blake Harvard, giving a guide to best practice in creating MCQs.
BOOKLETS AND VISUALISERS
“Why would you want to use booklets?” answered by Adam Boxer, giving reasons behind his choice to move to a booklet model that come from cognitive science and the need to reduce teacher workload.
“But really, why would you want to use booklets?” answered by a guest post on Adam Robbins’ blog, with a very useful set of responses to the possible questions from sceptical colleagues.
“How did you write that booklet?” answered by Ruth Walker. It’s best for her to answer it since we’re probably using her ones anyway.
“Why are you using a visualiser? Isn’t that from the 90’s?” answered in a twitter thread by Mark Wilkinson, giving a whole heap of suggestions for how to use a visualiser.
“How can I use a visualiser with a class? What on earth does Show-Call mean?” an example of Courtney Betar from TLAC. The TLAC website has a huge amount of video evidence of great techniques to try in the classroom.
“Why are you using a visualiser and a booklet?” answered by Ben Newmark, bringing together the benefits of booklets and visualisers (in a post that surprisingly doesn’t demonstrate his incredible handwriting).
COMPLETION PROBLEMS, WORKED EXAMPLES, NON-EXAMPLES
“I know they reduce the cognitive load but aren’t completion problems a bit easy?” answered by Ben Rogers, who gives examples of how completion problems can be used as scaffolding to reduce the cognitive load and get students to focus on the subject matter at hand.
“Which is better: problem-solving or worked examples?” answered by Greg Ashman, in a post that attempts to resolve the conflict that exists between desirable difficulties and cognitive load theory.
“What is a non-example?” answered by Ben Rogers.
“Why do you think practice supports the lower attaining students?” answered by Adam Robbins, who explores how he uses SLOP calculation sheets to ensure opportunities for success for all learners.
“How do you teach the use of equations?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, giving a scaffolding method to ensure all students can be successful in performing calculations.
“Why did you design your calculation sheet like that?” answered by Tom Millichamp, going into detail about each of his choices that he makes when creating a resource.
“What on earth is dual coding?” explained by Rufus Johnstone.
“How can I use dual coding in science? Isn’t it just pictures?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, who gives simple, implementable examples of what dual coding truly is within the science classroom.
“Can I see more examples of dual coding please?” Gethyn Jones shows how he uses dual coding (and always has done) to teach SUVAT in Physics, as it’s a topic that naturally lends itself to dual coding, rather than it needing to be shoe-horned in.
“How can I change the layout of materials to ease cognitive load?” answered by Ben Rogers, who has excellent posts on the layout of materials, on the drawing of diagrams in science, and a post full of examples.
THE TESTING EFFECT
“What is the testing effect?” answered by Efrat Furst.
“Doesn’t all this testing just stress students out?” Blake Harvard explains why testing actually reduces test stress.
“How can I use knowledge organisers?” answered by the Learning Scientists.
“Can you give an example of using knowledge organisers?” answered by Adam Robbins, who kindly answers the question and gives out his knowledge organisers for science.
“When shouldn’t I use knowledge organisers?” answered by Kris Boulton, writing why they are less applicable to maths (and arguing they often shouldn’t be called knowledge organisers at all).
“What are some of the limitations of knowledge organisers?” answered by Helen Skelton, who uses the idea of schemas to show where knowledge organisers can fit into teaching.
“Why aren’t you differentiating?” answered by a guest post on Adam Boxer’s blog that should really make you think about why you’re asked to print off three different coloured worksheets.
“Why aren’t you differentiating by task?” answered by Greg Ashman, who looks at TALIS data which seems to show a negative correlation between differentiation and maths scores.
WRITING AND STORY-TELLING
“Why are they doing so much writing in your classroom?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, Ben Rogers, Ruth Walker, Tarjinder Gill, Jasper Green and Judith Hochman in the Writing in Science Symposium, an amazing collection of works on why writing should play a crucial role in the classroom.
“How can student writing help me to learn more about what they’ve learned?” answered by Tom Millichamp, who uses ideas from The Writing Revolution to delve into student understanding.
“Why would story telling help students retain more information?” answered by Ven Popov, explaining why research scientists are wary of story telling in their writing but why they shouldn’t be.
“How can I introduce stories to the classroom?” answered by Bill Wilkinson with a link to the #sciencestories project to encourage story-telling in the classroom.
COMPETITION AND GAMES
“Why isn’t competition always a good thing?” answered by Adam Boxer, discussing the notion that ‘boys will like it if you make it a competition’.
“Why aren’t you playing more games?” answered by Mark Enser, showing how inequality might be increased in the name of engagement.
OUTSIDE OF A LESSON:
“What does a sensible marking policy look like?” answered by Adam Boxer by giving out his department’s marking policy.
“Why are we marking?” answered by Gethyn Jones, clarifying the difference between feedback and marking and which is useful for students.
“What is whole-class feedback?” answered by Andrew Percival.
“How can I make whole-class feedback fit with my school’s marking policy?” answered by Ruth Walker who shows how her marking can tick a lot of the boxes that a school’s typical marking policy would have.
“Why aren’t books a good proxy for learning?” answered by Sarah Barker, who points out the issue with book scrutinies.
DATA AND TARGET GRADES
“What is my data showing me: progress or attainment or something else?” answered by Matthew Benyohai who shows the stupidity behind colourful trackers and why he uses bee-swarm plots instead.
“How should I be using assessment data?” answered in many blogs by Matthew Benyohai.
“What should I be doing with target grades?” answered by Ben Newmark, who explains why they don’t help the learning process.
“I need more convincing on this target grades thing, can you give me anything else to read?” Adam Robbins kindly obliges.
“What should I do after a mock exam?” answered by Adam Boxer, using a bit of assessment theory and knowledge of schema to rethink the post-exam strategy.
“Why aren’t you setting more projects?” answered by Adam Boxer, arguing through an example that grand projects only act to highlight inequality.
“Does flipped learning ever work?” answered by Bill Wilkinson, who uses some of the cognitive science basics to make flipped learning work for him and his students.
STUDYING AND REVISION
“How can I explain to students how to study?” answered by an article in Scientific American, explaining the basics behind retrieval, interleaving, spacing and elaboration, as well as what no to do.
MISCELLANEOUS OTHER QUESTIONS
“Why do you have your windows open?” answered by Jess Staufenberg.