The new GCSE & planning for learning; a practical guide


I blogged here last week about I how I felt that many schools and teachers have missed a huge opportunity to really think about learning and memory when planning their new GCSE curriculum.

This blog is giving some suggestions of what I will be considering when planning mine. I have taken all of these ideas from reading other people’s blogs/tweets and reading a few books/journal articles that mainly link to memory.


One common way of teaching a curriculum is to work your way through each part, following it bit by bit in the order it has been written in the specification. Topics are taught as separate units. You start and finish the whole topic in a block of time. Little thought is given to learning but usually to practicalities e.g so text books can be shared or one set of equipment not double booked.

With interleaving you teach different topics interleaved with each other. It seems an odd thing to do and may seem confusing to you and the students but Brown et say:


Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel.

Step 1 Take your GCSE specification (once approved) and spend time reading through it.

Step 2 Draw a visual representation of the time you have for the whole course.

Step 3 Colour code/highlight each topic in one colour

Step 4 Create several copies of each topic (you will need these for repetition, perhaps 5+)


Spacing is the repetition of content over a long period of time. You need to plan to cover and recover content, you don’t leave it to the last weeks before the exam in the form of ‘revision’. Spacing is revision throughout the course.

However research doesn’t say how big the gap between each coverage should be but suggests it should gradually get bigger.

For example if we consider a two year GCSE and the time available it might look like this:

Content A


You’re probably looking at this and thinking that it is impossible as you don’t have enough time to do this with all content. I’ll explain how you might approach it further on.

Step 5  Answer these questions:

  • What are the basics which build a foundation for other content?
  • Which concepts and information are repeated but applied differently?
  • Where can skills be applied to different content?

Step 6 Place content into time chart ensuring that each topic is repeated with increasing space but that the basics are covered before they need to be applied further on. It’s a huge jigsaw puzzle. Keep these principles in mind. Move things around. Ask others. Come back to it. It’s not going to be done in 10 minutes. This is planning for two years curriculum.


For many testing is summative. However this is not its only use and it’s probably the least useful way of using testing at GCSE. I use it for two reasons: to find out what they do/don’t know and crucially it is learning in itself. Pressurising your memory to recall previously covered information helps to embed it in your long term memory.

However this testing needs to be low stakes; there aren’t negative consequences of not doing well.

This can be done in many ways which do not require lots of marking:

  • Quick 1-5 recap – in the first 5 mins of the lesson do a quick recap of what was learnt last lesson. Peer/self Mark.
  • Multiple choice quizzes. Paper or on online. Quick to administer and mark.
  • Topic tests that cover everything from the start of the course

This last point is important. Many teachers only test on the last topic covered. However it should cover everything or parts of the learning since the start of the course. This is where you can use spacing without having to spend time going over content in class. Put it into the test. The model above might then look like this:


Step 7 Decide which repetitions of content will be in the form of tests. Add tests. They need to be frequent. Include homeworks.

These are the first steps for my curriculum planning. I also want to include other principles however these 3 areas form the main structure of the course. I will be blogging on how I’m going to use this for the new GCSE religious studies.


For a more detailed version of all of this including research refs:

Useful videos:


3 thoughts on “The new GCSE & planning for learning; a practical guide

  1. Hi Dawn

    Thanks for this – practical advice rooted in research is always welcome.

    I have a question about interleaving. Is this research undertaken in realistic school settings? I have two lessons a week at GCSE, meaning students have 27 lessons of other subjects. Is this built in interleaving? I’ve read some of the research you mention but haven’t seen the answer to this. I know the idea of interleaving is about topic interleaving rather than time/lesson interleaving but I wonder about the efficacy of this outside controlled conditions.

  2. I have also considered this. We have natural spacing and interleaving within a school timetable. This allows the ‘forgetting’ time. Interestingly this also relates to holidays. I think it’s about thinking how to then get students to retrieve at intervals rather than just moving on.

  3. Pingback: And now for something a little bit different…. | Just a Teacher Standing in Front of a Class

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