Tag Archives: cognitive science

10 Research Based Principles of Instruction for Teachers

I recently read an American Educator article from 2012 by Barak Rosenshine that set out 10 principles of instruction informed by research, with subsequent suggestions for implementing them in the classroom. It was also one of the articles cited in the “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” by Rob Coe et al and provided further elaboration on one of their six components of great teaching thought to have strong evidence of impact on student outcomes, i.e. quality of instruction.

Here’s my summary of the key messages from each of the 10 principles.

1: Begin with a short review of prior learning

Time-for-Review

Students in experimental classes where daily review was used had higher achievement scores. A 5-8 minute review of prior learning was said to strengthen connections between material learned and improve recall so that it became effortless and automatic, thus freeing up working memory.

Daily review could include, for example:

  • Homework
  • Previous material
  • Key vocabulary
  • Problems where there were errors
  • Further practise of knowledge, concepts and skills

2: Present new material in small amounts or steps

problem-solving-steps

Working memory is small and can only cope with small chunks at a time. Too much information presented at once overloads it and can confuse students, who won’t be able to process it. Sufficient time needs to be allocated to processes that will allow students to work with confidence independently. More effective teachers in the study dealt with the limitation of working memory by presenting only small amounts of new material at a time.

3: Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students

lots-questions

Questions allow students to practise new material and connect new material to prior learning. They also help teachers to determine how well material has been learned and whether additional teaching is required. The most effective teachers asked students to explain the process they used and how they answered the question, as well as answering the question posed.

Strategies suggested for checking the responses of all students included asking students to:

  • Tell their answers to a partner
  • Write a short summary and share it with a partner
  • Write their answers on a mini-white board or similar, followed by “show me”
  • Raise their hands if they know the answer or agree with someone else

4: Provide models

chemical modelStudents require cognitive support to reduce the cognitive load on their working memory and help them to solve problems faster. Examples include:

  • Providing clearly laid out, step-by-step worked examples
  • Identifying and explaining the underlying principles of each step
  • Modelling the use of prompts
  • Working together with students on tasks
  • Providing partially completed problems

5: Guide student practice

guidanceNew material will quickly be forgotten without sufficient rehearsal. Rehearsal helps students to access information quickly and easily when required. Additional time needs to be spent by students summarising, rephrasing or elaborating on new material so that it can become:

  • Stored in long-term memory
  • Easily retrieved
  • Used for new learning and problem solving

The quality of storage relies on:

  • Student engagement with the material
  • Providing feedback to the students to correct errors and ensure misconceptions aren’t stored

The rehearsal process can be facilitated and enhanced by:

  • Questioning students
  • Asking students to summarise the main points
  • Supervising students during practice

In one study, the more successful teachers spent more time guiding practice, for example by working through initial problems at the board whilst explaining the reasons for each step or asking students to work out problems at the board and discuss their procedures. This also served as a way of providing multiple models for students to allow them to be better prepared for independent work.

6: Check for student understanding

thinking aloud

More effective teachers frequently checked for understanding. Checking for understanding identifies whether students are developing misconceptions as well as providing some of the processing required to move new learning into long-term memory.

The purpose of checking is twofold:

  1. Answering questions might cause students to elaborate and strengthen connections to prior learning in their long term-memory
  2. The answers provided by students alert the teacher to parts of the material that may need reteaching

A number of strategies can be used to check for understanding, e.g:

  • Questioning
  • Asking students to think aloud as they work
  • Asking students to defend a position to others

7: Obtain a high success rate

80percentWhen students learn new material, they construct meaning in their long-term memory. Errors can be made though, as they attempt to be logical in areas where their background knowledge may still be weak. It was suggested that the optimal success rate for fostering student achievement is approximately 80%. Furthermore, it was said that achieving a success rate of 80% showed that students were learning the material, whilst being suitably challenged. High success rates during guided practice led to higher success rates during independent work. If practice did not have a high success rate, there was a chance that errors were being practised and learned, which then become difficult to overcome. The development of misconceptions can be limited by breaking material down into small steps, providing guided practice and checking for understanding.

8: Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks

Building site scaffoldingScaffolds are temporary supports that help students to learn difficult tasks, which are gradually withdrawn with increasing competence. The use of scaffolds and models, aided by a master, helps students to serve their “cognitive apprenticeship” and learn strategies that allow them to become independent.

Scaffolds include:

  • Thinking aloud by the teacher to reveal the thought processes of an expert and provide mental labels during problem solving
  • Providing poor examples to correct, as well as expert models
  • Tools such as cue cards or checklists
  • Prompts such as “Who?” “Why?” and “How? that enable students to ask questions as they work
  • Box prompts to categorise and elaborate on the main ideas
  • A model of the completed task for students to compare their own work to

9: Require and monitor independent practice

practiceIndependent practice follows guided practice and involves students working alone and practising new material. Sufficient practice is necessary for students to become fluent and automatic. This avoids overcrowding working memory, and enables more attention to be devoted to comprehension and application.

Independent practice should involve the same material as guided practice, or with only slight variation. The research showed that optimal teacher-student contact time during supervision was 30 seconds or less, with longer explanations being required an indication that students were practising errors.

10: Engage students in weekly and monthly review

calendar reviewAs students rehearse and review information, connections between ideas in long-term memory are strengthened. The more information is reviewed, the stronger these connections become. This also makes it easier to learn new information, as prior knowledge becomes more readily available for use. It also frees up space in working memory, as knowledge is organised into larger, better-connected patterns.

Practical suggestions for implementation include:

  • Review the previous week’s work at the beginning of the following week
  • Review the previous month’s work at the beginning of every fourth week
  • Test following a review
  • Weekly quizzes

The full report by Barak Rosenshine: Principles of Instruction – Research based strategies that all teachers should know is available here.

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Designing a new post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch

This is the 5th post in a series about how we are designing our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest update contains a miscellany of information and ideas that I’ve shared at our second curriculum conference and most recently at the Dare to imagine – Education for the 21st century conference and the Cramlington Festival of Learning TeachMeet.  It attempts to pull together more detail on:

  • context and why we are moving away from levels
  • the interplay between curriculum planning and assessment
  • tracking of progress

It also includes a number of curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework.

A new taxonomy?

Most of us are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy and the SOLO taxonomy, however, the end of statutory levelled assessment has brought with it a new kind of taxonomy that can be used to describe the various behaviours people often seem to exhibit in response:

a new taxonomy?

  • IGNORING – pretending it’s not happening
  • PANICKING when you realise it is happening
  • PROCRASTINATING – accepting it’s happening and deciding to deal with it later
  • WAITING for “something” to come along
  • SEARCHING what are others doing?
  • BUMBLING  trying to move forward without any real plan

Despite exhibiting a number of these behaviours ourselves this year, I’m pleased to say we are now at last well on the way to creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model.

Some thoughts on levels

  • Although originally intended to provide information on progress, there is a danger they have become a label that discourages a common intellectual mission and perpetuates a fixed mindset.  “Joe is a level 5” or worse still “I’m a level 5.”
  • The temptation to move up levels quickly in the name of “progress” is at odds with our desire to secure a deeper understanding of the big ideas, not just isolated content, and to allow more time for mastery of fundamental knowledge and skills.
  • The various models used to aggregate test scores, APP and the use of sub-levels by schools makes them unreliable.
  • High performing school systems don’t use levels

Can you re-think assessment in isolation without re-examining your existing curriculum?

Despite levels becoming non-statutory at Key Stage 3, the freedom to innovate and deliver the curriculum we want has always been there.  The limited amount of change in some cases between the old and new National Curriculum could offer little incentive to change, with some schools deciding to “stick” rather than “twist” or bolting on new assessment systems to their existing curriculum.

round-hole-square-peg

On the other hand, it also represents a golden opportunity to design curriculum and assessment systems that teach and assess what we value.

  • To make links and connections between big ideas explicit
  • To develop individuality and the ability to think
  • To specifically develop skills and habits of learning as well as knowledge.
  • To go “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
  • To provide our students with formative feedback that means something
  • To allow for simple, meaningful reporting to parents and carers

Re-designing curriculum and assessment isn’t easy though.  We have to ask ourselves searching questions and think hard.  It takes time and we have to allow for that and ensure we provide ample opportunities within school.

Big ideas

Each of our subject areas have determined their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills that weave through their curriculum – the golden threads.

For example, in science:

Slide04

Planning for excellence (and beyond)

Progression is then mapped out for each big idea by asking:

  • What does excellence look like?
  • What can my students do?
  • What do my students need to understand next?
  • What does this enquiry prepare students for next and how does it build on what they have already done?
  • How can we go beyond the boundaries of the existing Key Stage?
Slide09

Big Idea 1: All materials in the Universe are made of very small particles

Cognitive science and curriculum mapping

We’ve also looked at how a knowledge of cognitive science might support the way we construct programmes of study in each subject.  In particular how it could help us to:

  • encourage students to engage emotionally with content by ensuring appropriate degrees of challenge
  • avoid overloading working memory by linking to the big ideas / building on prior learning
  • build storage and retrieval strength by mapping our programme of study to incorporate spacing and interleaving

Slide1

Here’s an example of how we might space and interleave some of our big ideas to ensure progression of knowledge and skills across our science programme of study:

Slide07

A threshold assessment rubric is then developed for each unit that:

  • Sets the bar high
  • Focuses on assessing the key knowledge and skills for that particular unit
  • Scaffolds down from the beyond threshold
  • Supports the development of deeper understanding and skill development
  • Enables provision of formative feedback that supports progression to the next threshold

Slide08

It is only at this point that the lesson-by-lesson overview is then created, containing links to the last interleaved sequence; the learning intentions; specific, pre-planned probing questions that encourage thinking as well as the “products” we expect students to create.

Slide14

How often though, do we begin our planning at this point, rather than defining our…

  • Purpose
  • Big ideas
  • Key knowledge and skills
  • Progression
  • Mapping
  • Assessment criteria

…in advance?

Tracking

Establishing progress necessitates the need for a baseline, which can be a tricky business.  In the past, we have tended to lean heavily on KS2 test data,  however in our initial discussions we see this as an opportunity to use a wider range of data to include:

  • KS2 English + Maths test scores
  • KS2 Teacher Assessment and dialogue with feeder schools
  • MidYIS / CAT3 ability testing
  • FFT estimates
  • Internal tests on entry
  • Reading ages
  • etc.

Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this using simple statements about progress relative to it, rather than targets that place ceilings on student achievement.

Slide16

Threshold performance could then be used to discuss “flight paths” to GCSE using the current grades A*-G or the new GCSE points system.

Slide17

e.g. if a student’s was currently working at the “securing” threshold they might usually be expected to progress to grade B/C (using current GCSE grades) or point 7/6

If they were working at the “developing” threshold then we might expect them to progress to grade C/D…etc.

What concerns me at the minute though, is how the use of some of this data fits with our thinking about a common intellectual mission and that all students are capable of excellence.

In fact, after months of reading, discussing, thinking and investing significant time (and cost) to allow joint discussion, planning and collaboration sometimes this feels as close as it gets to where my head is at right now.

Slide18

We’ve still got lots to work out and will need to evaluate the efficacy of all our work as we progress, however, in choosing to design a curriculum and assessment system that we value, it’s clear we share a real excitement, hope and optimism about the future.

Slide19

Here’s a link to an Excel version of our curriculum planning tools.  There are a number of planning sheets contained in the workbook, including some “Big Picture” questions by Pete Jones.  Feel free to use and adapt as you see fit.  I would love to hear from you if you decide to use any of them in your school.  Feedback is always welcome.

Dan

 

 

Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design

We recently held the first in a series of voluntary curriculum conferences for mid-leaders to share their ideas about what might influence the design of our new post-levels curriculum.

Ideas that were shared during our first meeting:

  • Designing a new English curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch (which you can read all about here)
  • An Ethic of Excellence (which you can read all about here)
  • Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design
  • Assessing without levels

Super Glue

Why do students struggle to retain information from one week to the next?  What can we do to help make things stick?

Head of Maths Neil Siday, shared his thoughts with us on how cognitive science might help us to achieve this by planning smarter.  Much of Neil’s thinking has been informed by reading Joe Kirby and David Fawcett’s brilliant blogs on cognitive science and memory, as well as the work we did recently with David Didau.

Getting the content and challenge right

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham states that your memory is a product of what you think about and not what you want to remember – in other words, if your students aren’t actually thinking and making meaning then it won’t be learnt.

Memories are created by the release of chemicals, like dopamine.  If we pitch the challenge just right, we create an emotional response that releases dopamine.  Too little challenge offers too little reward, too much challenge and students won’t engage emotionally.

Memory is also thought to be domain specific – which means that we need to fill it with meaningful subject content.  Making sure that tasks are designed to provide opportunities to actually think and solve problems are therefore key to retention.  Time should be spent building up structural knowledge with practice to achieve automaticity first, before extending to deeper learning.  Sharing worked examples, modelling, building time for students to think and asking questions that encourage students to think is important.

Willingham’s simplified model of the mind

Slide1

Working Memory

  • deals with ‘the here and now’
  • is used to process and filter what we teach, make meaning and form our understanding
  • has fixed, limited space, which is easily overloaded with distractions or irrelevant information, which leads to misunderstanding
  • is key to transferring information to our long-term memory

Long-Term Memory

  • provides background info to working memory to help make sense of info
  • is almost unlimited
  • is where retention occurs

When the working memory is dealing with new information it calls upon the long-term memory to help make sense of it.  This retrieval process in itself aides long-term retention.  The information needs to be worked on in the working memory for it to be retained.  It is therefore paramount that we plan tasks so that what “sticks” is what really matters.

Storage and retrieval

Memories have a storage strength and a retrieval strength.

Retrieval strength is basically how easy it is to recall information at a later date.  This decreases over time, which is why you struggle to recall some things that are “on the tip of your tongue”

Storage strength is basically how well information has been learned.  Deeper learning = greater storage strength.  With low storage strength, retrieval strength decreases quickly.

It is therefore desirable to have high storage and retrieval strength, although even when information is buried, it can quickly be re-mastered.

storage centre

Spacing and interleaving

Robert Bjork’s New Theory of Disuse describes how making learning easier increases retrieval strength.  However, without the deeper processing that encourages long-term retention, this retrieval strength quickly diminishes.  Contrary to our intuition, it is thought that forgetting is actually key to increasing our storage strength.

Hermann Ebbinghaus first introduced the world to his forgetting curve and the spacing effect back in 1885.

Slide15

The graph shows how the amount of newly acquired information we retain declines over time without any attempt to retain it. To increase retention over time Ebbinghaus thought that spaced repetition could help.  Spacing works on the idea that we learn better when information is spaced out in intervals over a longer time span rather than when information is repeated without intervals (massed presentation).  Each repetition is thought to increase the length of time before the next repetition is required.

Bjork also argues that spacing reduces the accessibility of information in memory and in doing so fosters additional learning of that information.  Building in opportunities to revisit information at the point of ‘almost forgetting’ for students is good, as it means they are more receptive to learning new information.

Spacing may well be one of the most effective ways to improve learning, but what do you do in between repetitions?  Bjork argues that an effective strategy might be to interleave our study, which requires learners to constantly ‘reload’ or retrieve information, allowing them to extract more general rules that aid transfer.

With careful curriculum design, interleaving multiple topics allows us to space them out, rather than blocking them together and gives us an opportunity to revisit and build on prior learning.

Slide2

Massed presentation

  • rapid improvement
  • performance
  • poor retention

Spaced presentation

  • sustained improvement
  • learning
  • improved retention

Activating prior knowledge

Knowing things makes it easier to learn new things.  When designing and mapping out our curriculum it is important we:

  • Build on prior knowledge as connections are built between the prior knowledge that is in long-term memory and new knowledge
  • Plan to return to, and draw on previous knowledge (build retrieval strength)
  • Make links / connections explicit

Connecting_the_Dots

Testing Vs re-study

Frequent testing is also thought to help us remember.  Testing does far more than assess knowledge or skills – in fact it provides opportunities for learning. The very act of retrieving information from memory makes it easier to recall in the future.

Practice testing has been shown to outperform re-study, where 4 blocks of study with practice tests outperformed 8 blocks of study without practice tests.  In this way, shorter, more frequent (e.g. once per week) testing would appear better than testing once per Half Term, as more retrieval from long-term memory occurs.  When mapping out a curriculum, building in plenty of opportunities for students to practice may be advantageous.

Pre-testing is also thought to aid long-term memory – even when students perform poorly on them.

Types of testing

We also need to think more about low stakes/high impact testing and other ways can we get students to demonstrate their understanding, apart from traditional test questions in traditional test conditions, e.g:

  • A quick pre-unit quiz – which has the potential to set up triggers and create a ‘cognitive buy in’ for students, who are more likely to want to know the answers
  • Multiple choice questions – which means more decisions and therefore more thinking as more potential incorrect options are opened up to them
  • Cumulative knowledge testing – e.g. questions from units 1 + 2 also appear in a unit 3 test

Key messages

  • Get the challenge right
  • Avoid overloading the working memory and focus on meaningful content
  • Activate prior knowledge, build concrete content and develop applied thinking
  • Build high storage and retrieval strength
  • Plan for spacing, interleaving and practice
  • Utilise low stakes, frequent, cumulative knowledge testing

Daniel T. Willingham’s book “Why Don’t Student’s Like School” is available from our Teaching and Learning library

Why don't students like school, Willingham