Learning & cognitive science: a whole school approach


I’ve posted several posts about how I’ve been using what research suggests to help with long term memory and learning in my lessons. However, I’ve now started working with my boss on a whole school approach as we both believe it can make a difference to our students. This blog outlines what we’ve been doing and the future plans.

Firstly we came up with the key areas that cognitive science suggests might help with learning. It went through several drafts, including sharing with the TL team. We eventually decided on ‘Principles for Learning’ and these four aspects:

We decided that the central point was important because if you don’t know what it is that you already know and what you need to know, the whole idea of learning something becomes superficial. My own students like the fact I give them the specification outline and all the keywords they need to know in GCSE; they know what they’ve got to learn.

We elaborated each section with the kinds of things that teachers and students could do to use these principles. It was very important for us to keep it as simple as possible. The principles are equally for teachers and students so they both need to easily understand and apply them.

We deliberately haven’t mentioned revision anywhere in the model. The idea of revision in most people’s minds is actually something that is done far too late. Embedding these principles needs to start from lesson 1 and continue infinitely. We also wanted to ensure that the principles were universally applicable. They are easily embedded in some subjects such as maths and history however we could see that there was limited application for some of the principles in Art. Subjects such as PE and Drama now have much more theory that these could easily apply the principles.

Each of the principles have key things that teachers and students can do to use in their learning.

These were presented to staff in a training session where we discussed what subjects already do that use these strategies, lots of subjects already do lots of them but this gave them a chance to discuss and formalise a whole subject approach. We used examples from what teachers already do and also some of the great resources created by The Learning Scientists here. They use 6 principles but we started ours before these were published and decided 4 was enough.

Subjects also identified one strategy to try out in the coming year.

Since then all the students in the school, have been surveyed on learning and how they think it ‘works’ so we can see any common misconceptions and examples of how the principles are already being used.

Further plans

  • Students will be introduced to these in an assembly.
  • They will have 4 tutor sessions on these with centralised resources for tutors to use
  • We will regularly work with teachers on using their strategy e.g I’ve run a 15 minute forum on them to recap and will do one on how I use Google for quizzes
  • We hope that teachers will use these more and more (using the language of these strategies)  including when they set ‘revision’ for homework and use these directly instead of saying ‘revise’
  • Reissuing the survey to see any changes in student understanding of what helps them to learn
  • Posters and postcards of the principles – in classrooms and to give to parents who might ask how they can help their child to learn
  • Links to all resources on the website

How will we know that these have made a difference?

We won’t know if they’ve made a real difference in learning without complex trials, which is not what this is about. We can ask staff,students and parents if they’ve used them and if they feel they help or not. We can see if we tell students to do something like ‘learn these spellings’ if they respond with one of the strategies, so they pick an efficient method. However overall we won’t be able to ‘measure’ impact but we believe that knowledge of these can benefit teachers and students enough that it’s worth the effort to share and promote their use.


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