Cognitive Science Approaches in the Classroom

Last week the EEF published their new evidence review ‘Cognitive Science Approaches in the Classroom: A Review of the Evidence’.  The review has sparked a flurry of excellent twitter discussion and blog posts, but three in particular really stand out:

The review is both timely and really well balanced.  Does it claim that the evidence around cognitive science provides a teaching silver bullet? No.  Does it claim that the evidence around cognitive science should be ignored by teachers? No.  What the review suggests is that whilst there is relatively good evidence that many of these approaches work in controlled ‘lab’ conditions, the evidence around applying these cognitive science approaches in the classroom is more limited.  

“Principles from cognitive science are neither myths to be discounted, nor silver bullets that directly translate into accelerated progress”.

“Findings from the lab do not always translate into effective teaching and learning in the classroom and they may not apply across different pupil age groups, subject areas and school contexts”.

Clearly more work needs to be done in terms of translating this to classroom settings .  This is an exciting challenge for teachers and leaders over the coming years. – how do we mobilise this research evidence into best bets for the classroom? 

The review shares some useful examples of how teachers have been doing this, which we’ve collated in this blog.

Spaced Learning

What it is:

Spaced practice (also referred to as spaced learning, distributed practice, distributed learning, and the spacing effect) applies the principle that material is more easily learnt when broken apart by intervals of time. 

Mobilisation Examples:

  • After teaching her class a new word, Ms Begum always makes a note of when she will revisit the word in other lessons throughout the coming week. Whether asking pupils to recall the definition of the word or designing tasks in which they must apply it in a new context, Ms Begum always ensures the word is returned to as this can help to embed it in pupils’ long-term memory.
  • In his Year 4 class Mr Coales regularly breaks up the teaching of key concepts in science with other activities that distract pupils from what they have been learning. For example, after teaching his class about the different components of flowering plants (roots, stem or trunk, leaves, and flowers), Mr Coales supports his class to revise their previous topic on forces for ten minutes.


What it is:

Interleaving involves sequencing tasks so that learning material is interspersed with slightly (but not completely) different content or activities, as opposed to undertaking tasks through a blocked and consecutive approach.

Mobilisation example:

  • When teaching fractions to his class, Mr Hodiak likes to test his pupils as this can help to identify areas for improvement and gaps in understanding. To ensure that his pupils have to think hard about how to solve fractions, Mr Hodiak interleaves problems with different numerators and denominators. Mr Hodiak thinks that by requiring his pupils to identify the subtle differences between these varied types of problems, he can embed learning and improve pupils’ ability to select appropriate strategies when solving fractions in the future.

Retrieval Practice

What it is:

Retrieval practice describes the process of recalling information from memory with little or minimal prompting. 

Mobilisation Example:

  • At the beginning of German class, Mrs Key asks the class to think back to their learning from the previous week and to list as many of the German words for animals as they can on a sheet in front of them.

Managing Cognitive Load

What it is:

A key challenge for educators is that working memory is limited. There are lots of things that can cause it to be overwhelmed. An example is when problem solving learners might be presented with a large amount of complex information and asked to follow a series of problem-solving steps. Where a student has limited prior knowledge committed to their long-term memory this might lead to their working memory being overwhelmed, impairing learning. The aim of strategies that focus on managing cognitive load is not to minimise cognitive load but to optimise it—minimising unnecessary load and ensuring that working memory remains focused on the information that is being taught.

Mobilisation Examples:

  • When teaching her class about titration calculations, Dr Turner demonstrates how to organise the information in a question within a grid format. This breaks down the steps involved in the overall calculation, helping to ensure pupils complete each step in the correct order. Dr Turner always models how to use the grid correctly when teaching it to pupils.
  • Whilst reading aloud to class, Mrs Walker chunks the sections of reading into manageable lengths and stops to explain difficult concepts to the class. The students were supported, through the use of a structured worksheet, to identify key terms, organise ideas from the text in sequence, and to identify themes and the main ideas in the text.
  • When learning quadratic equations, pupils are given partial information, which means they must work together to solve the problem. Equation values are unpacked to distribute them among the pupils (for example, for -15×2 , each member would receive -5×2 ). Rather than holding all pieces of information in their head, group members depend on others’ information to solve the problem.

Working with Schemas

What it is:

Schemas (sometimes referred to as mental models, scripts, or frames) are structures that organise knowledge in the mind. When learning, the mind connects new information with pre-existing knowledge, skills, and concepts thereby developing existing schemas.

Mobilisation Example:

  • After studying a text with her class, Ms Howarth uses her knowledge of the text and experience teaching the same text with other classes to create knowledge organisers that collate the most crucial foundational concepts and knowledge onto a single A4 page. These resources help pupils make links between ideas and concepts, often grouping information by big overarching themes from the text, key quotes with annotations on language devices, and relevant information on the social and historical context in which the text was written.

Cognitive theory of multimedia learning

What it is:

Dual coding theory is based on the theory that working memory has two distinct components, one that deals with visual and spatial information and another that deals with auditory information. By presenting content in multiple formats, it is possible that teachers can appeal to both subsystems of the working memory, which subsequently strengthens learning.

Mobilisation Examples:

  • When learning about circuits in science, pupils are provided with images at different levels of abstraction. Sometimes these include pictures of actual lights, while at other times they use the formal symbols for them.  
  • When learning about the water cycle, pupils are presented with diagrams with labels and process information that illustrate the different steps of the cycle. Evaporation is shown through an illustration of water rising from the sea to clouds, while a ray from the sun shines onto the sea. An arrow illustrates the direction of travel and a note explains that the evaporation is caused by heat from the sun’s energy and occurs in water in lakes, rivers, oceans, and on land.
  • When doing calculation tasks in maths, pupils are taught to use the mental image of an abacus to visualise the way the calculation takes place. As they complete sums, they imagine their mental abacus and use it to support their calculations.

Embodied Learning and Physical factors

What it is:

Embodied learning and physical factors refer to strategies that engage and make use of movement and the body to support effective learning. 

Mobilisation Example:

  • When teaching equations, the teacher uses hand gestures when referring to different sides of the equation. When saying the word ‘one side’, the teacher sweeps her hand back forth beneath the left half of the equation. When the teacher says ‘the other side’, she sweeps her right hand back and forth below the right half of the equation.

Shaun Allison

Director of Durrington Research School

Next year, James Crane & Ben Crockett will be leading a training programme, exploring the approaches in this blog.  Details and registration here.

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The 12 Best ClassTeaching Blogs of the Year

As we near the end of what has been a pretty challenging year and look forward to a well-deserved summer break, I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting some of the best blogs from the ClassTeaching archive for this academic year. Things may have been tough and most certainly very different from the norm, however hopefully as these blogs demonstrate there has still been much to celebrate, explore and contemplate this year.

September 2020: Gonna Get Myself Connected by Andy Tharby

It is often said that “you should save the best to last”, however in this case the opposite could not be truer. Andy Tharby kick started the academic year with a fascinating blog discussing how we acquire new knowledge by connecting it to what we already know – our schema. In the blog Andy shares some examples of how we can support students to forge connections through our classroom teaching and curriculum planning strategies.

October 2020: What’s the plan? By Chris Runeckles

In this blog Chris Runeckles explores the importance (and yet frustratingly difficult challenge) of getting students to plan their work, before undertaking a task. Chris explains how we can explicitly teach students the thinking/planning process that we as subject experts go through when planning a task. The blog also gives some excellent class room strategies, questions and prompts that teachers can use to support student’s self-regulation and metacognition, and encourage them to reflect on their planning.

November 2020: Using SPDS to draw together our T&L Foci by Ben Crockett

In this short blog Ben describes how he and the Geography team may use their Subject Planning and Development sessions to plan and discuss how they will incorporate the wider school teaching and learning foci into a topic being taught within the upcoming fortnight. The blog explains how these sessions are used to contextualise the school’s focus on areas such as formative assessment and metacognition to the subject matter being taught across the department.

December 2020: Feeding Back to Novice Teachers by Chris Runeckles

In this blog Chris reflects on his role as NQT assessor and overall NQT lead on how we can most effectively give feedback to novice teachers based on the Deans for Impact: Practice with Purpose publication.

January 2021: Print to Screen: How can we support students with online reading by Fran Haynes

Based in the context of the return to remote teaching this blog, written by Fran Haynes, focused on the benefits and challenges of using on-screen texts during the period of remote teaching. The blog then provides strategies that can be used to supporting reading and engagement with on-screen texts. While hopefully the days of remote learning our now behind us, these strategies may still be useful when giving students text for homework tasks etc.

February 2021: Why most teacher CPD fails and what we might be able to do about it by Shaun Allison

In this blog Shaun summarises the work that Mike Hobbiss, Becky Allen and Sam Sims have been doing on the role of habit formation and its impact on teacher development. Shaun explains how in their early years teacher’s performance improves rapidly, but then plateaus from year 3 or 4 onwards. He then moves onto to explain how instructional coaching may provide a way of preventing this plateauing.

March 2021: Returning to Knowledge Organisers by Fran Haynes

As students returned to school Fran looked at how knowledge organisers could be harnessed for recovery teaching, or in other words help mitigate the problems that could occur as a result of the different experiences between students in regards to remote learning. Fran’s blog gives practical examples of how best to use knowledge organisers in the classroom so that the time spent creating them is not wasted.

April 2021:Disciplinary Reading in Real Life by Fran Haynes

In this blog Fran explores how the tricky theoretical aims of disciplinary literacy may actually look in the messy real life of the classroom. Fran explains how the greatest element of disciplinary literacy is its focus on subject specificity, and outlines how curriculum leaders are implementing this at Durrington

May 2021: How Reliable are your assessments by Ben Crockett

Following a tracking point entry at Durrington, Ben discusses the complexities of ensuring valid and reliable assessments, based on the “Four Pillars of Assessment” publication from Evidence Based Education. In the blog Ben outlines how some of the departments at Durrington attempt to ensure high reliability through their moderation processes so that variability is minimised as much as possible.

June 2021: Feedback EEF Reviews by Fran Haynes, Ben Crockett and Deb Friis

Three for the price of 1! Following the publication of the EEF’s “Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning” Guidance Report Fran, Ben and Deb wrote a blog each summarising the main points of the report and taking a closer look at recommendations 1 and 2.

July 2021: Leadership Lessons from Gareth Southgate by Shaun Allison

While the final result may not have been what every England fan had hoped for, it can’t be denied that English football under the stewardship of Gareth Southgate is on an exciting and upward curve. In this blog Shaun explores the behaviours and approaches that have shaped Southgate as a leader and reflects on how these can be transferred into school leaders.

All that leaves me to say then is, thank you for reading and supporting the blogs this year and that we hope you have a restful, relaxing and enjoyable summer break.

Durrington Research School Team

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Weekly Round Up: 18th July 2021

Here’s the last round up of 2020-21.  We would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support this year and to wish you all a very restful and relaxing summer.  We will be back again in September.

The Durrington Research School Team

Blog of the week

‘Poor Proxies for Learning: Powerful Insights from Prof Coe’ by Tom Sherrington

Tom explores the impact Professor Rob Coe has had on making us think about poor proxies for learning

On Classteaching:

‘Elaborating on Elaboration’ by Chris Runeckles

How can we make students elaborate on their thinking?

On the Research School blog:

‘Pre-questioning’ by Fran Haynes

What do we mean by ‘pre-questioning’ and how might it support learning?

Other useful links:

ClassTeaching podcast: (Apple) (Other platforms)

Episode 13 available now: Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning

James Crane talks to Ben Crockett about the EEF guidance report on feedback.

Twilight CPD Webinar

Our programme of twilight CPD webinars have finished for this year.  You can view the recordings here:

We’ll be back next year with more!



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Weekly Round Up: 11th July 2021

Blog of the week

‘Teaching Through Examples’ by Thomas Chillimamp

This super blog looks at how examples can be used to teach a concept directly, rather than being an after-thought.

On Classteaching blog

‘Leadership Lessons from Gareth Southgate’ by Shaun Allison

What can school leaders learn from the recent success of the England football team?

On the Research School blog

‘From Theory to Practice’ by Chris Runeckles

How we make sure that the theory shared in our training programmes becomes a reality in the classrooms of our participants.

Other Useful Links


Episode 13 available now: Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning

James Crane talks to Ben Crockett about the new EEF guidance report on feedback .

Twilight CPD Webinars

Our programme of twilight CPD webinars have finished for this year.  You can view the recordings here:



We’ll be back next year with more!

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Leadership Lessons From Gareth Southgate

It’s the day after England’s 2-1 extra-time victory against Denmark in the semi-finals of the 2020 European Championships, securing a place in the final against Italy.  Let’s just pause and enjoy that sentence for a bit.  

For many of us, this is the first time this has happened in our lifetime.  After 55 years of hurt, it really might be coming home!  Many things have contributed to this success, but undoubtedly a key factor has been Gareth Southgate’s leadership.  Whatever happens this Sunday, Southgate has done an incredible job and has achieved what, for many England fans, has seemed like an impossible dream for years.  So, what can school leaders learn about leadership from the England manager?  Let’s unpick this from the words of the man himself.

“I’m just so pleased. I was looking at the big screen and I saw David Seaman up there. The team-mates that played with me, I can’t change that, so that’s always going to hurt.”

Domain specific knowledge and credibility really matters for leadership.  Southgate has played and performed at the highest level himself, so he understands what his team are going through and can draw on his own knowledge and experience on the football pitch to shape his decisions as a leader . This also gives him credibility and means that players are more likely to follow him.  If as school leaders we want great teaching to permeate our school, we need to understand what the evidence says this looks like and have a track record of demonstrating it ourselves.  We can also then draw on this knowledge and skills when driving improvements in a team.

Whilst this domain specific knowledge is important, it probably isn’t enough on it’s own.  If this was the case, every expert in a domain would be a brilliant leader.  So what other behaviours and approaches have also shaped him as a leader and provide useful reflections for school leaders?

“Results are a consequence of doing things well and having high standards, improving the detail of how we play.”

This emphasises the importance of focusing on the process instead of the outcomes.  We won’t get brilliant outcomes for our students by just increasing our targets or hoping they will happen!  We need to put our energy into improving the specifics of teaching e.g. supporting metacognition, vocabulary development,  formative assessment and strong routines, relationships and expectations.  If we do this, the results will follow.

“We always have to believe in what is possible in life and not be hindered by history or expectations.”

A track record of disappointing results do not have to define us – as individuals, curriculum teams or a school.  WIth the right focus, team and leadership, great things are possible.

“We have to focus on a system and really try to hone it, work on it, improve it.”

Southgate talks a great deal about ‘sustainable strategy’.  Him and his team have meticulously analysed the performance of the team.  This has involved identifying the strengths, but also pinpointing the weaknesses.  From this, they have come up with a plan to exploit the strengths and develop the weaknesses.  They then have confidence in the plan and stick with it. The will review and make slight adjustments, but they won’t chop and change the plan wholesale.  The most effective school leaders take a similar approach.  If they decide that, for example, ‘explicit vocabulary instruction’ is a key improvement focus, they will stick with it for 2-3 years, rather than changing to something else after two terms.

“I didn’t like it as a player when I felt a coach was fudging the reasons for leaving me out. As a player, I wanted to know where I was lacking in my game and where I could improve in order to get back in the team.”

If we are going to grow our team, we need honest candour and specific feedback. As leaders we have a professional obligation to help individuals within our team to grow and improve.  This requires us to be honest with them and have the domain specific knowledge to give them very specific feedback about how to improve e.g. we can’t help a teacher to develop metacognitive teaching approaches, if we don’t have a deep understanding of the research evidence behind this ourselves.

“For me, the biggest reminder, in the seniors, was that we must always have humility.”

We should never believe that we are the finished product and should always be looking to learn from others.  This is a really important trait for us as leaders, but it’s also a trait that we want to instil in our teams.  It’s not about ‘superstar’ individuals, but rather a strong and cohesive team who learn from each other and beyond.

This is also why Southgate surrounds himself with experts in his support staff (including a former Southend United player!)  He also seeks the advice of other experts outside of football such as olympic sports coaches, business leaders and military leaders. More on this here. Twitter is great for this.  It gives you an insight into what schools all over the world are doing.

“I like players to have responsibility; to think about what we are asking them to do, to have an opinion on the way we are asking them to play and the way we are asking them to train,”

Empowerment is key to strong leadership.  It shows trust in your team and means that the team becomes stronger than the sum of its parts.  Teachers are far more likely to engage in improving their own practice, if they have been involved in determining the focus of this improvement.  This gives them ownership of the improvement focus.

“It’s important to recognise every player is different in their own characteristics, personality, and what they respond to.  As a coach, you always have to be there to support the person – improving them as a player becomes secondary to a degree.  But if a player feels that you respect them and you want to help them, then they are more likely to listen to you and follow you.”

The best leaders invest time in the individuals within their team.  They get to know their strengths, weaknesses, what motivates them and what other factors might be having an impact on their performance.  They then work alongside them to maximise their performance.  This can’t be done quickly.  It takes time and needs to be sustained, but it is time well spent as a leader.

“I think it is important to listen and I think it is important to get a feel of what motivates the individual.”

Great leaders listen intently and with interest.  This helps them to understand the issue they are facing from a range of perspectives and so shape a more effective solution.

“When something goes wrong in your life, it doesn’t finish you, and you should become braver, knowing that you’ve got to go for things in life and don’t regret because you didn’t try to be as good as you might be.”

Resilience is key to leadership.  Despite our very best intentions, things will go wrong and others will fail.  This is a perfectly normal part of life.  What’s important is that we learn from our failures as much as our successes – and that we encourage and support our team members to do the same.  We all remember Southgate’s penalty miss in Euro 96?

“Whenever you name a team and whenever you pick a squad, that is when you have to make the most difficult calls. To tell a player, ‘I’m not selecting you, and these are the reasons why…’ it’s tough.”

When implementing a strategy, there will be occasions when we have to make difficult decisions.  Communicating these to team members can be hard, however, the best leaders will do this with compassion.  They will explain the reasons for this decision and make it clear how this fits with the overall strategy of the team.

“Always, as a coach, you have to be thinking not to flood the players with information. You have to think what’s key for the player, for that team, and how do we deliver it in a way that it might stick and have an effect.”

A list of 40-50 improvement priorities for a team will be overwhelming and have limited impact.  Think carefully about what needs to improve, distil this down to a few specific priorities and communicate this clearly.  Then focus on this relentlessly and obsessively!

“I cant speak highly enough of the whole squad and whole group of staff because it is so united in there. The level of work has been great and their commitment to each other, you don’t get through with just 11 players. They are all top people”

Surround yourself with brilliant people and value the contribution of everybody in the team or organisation.  Likewise make sure every member of the team understands and appreciates the role that their colleagues play in achieving the overall vision.

“I’m slightly concerned, because as a centre-half who took a lot of knocks to the head I’m not normally synonymous with being a fashion icon.”

Lead with humour and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Show your human side.

Leadership is a complex and often messy business.  There is no magic formula to it and it isn’t just as simple as adopting a new ‘leadership style’ or focusing on generic leadership skills.  So much about effective leadership is based on what we know about the domain we are leading and the experiences we have had within this domain.  This domain specific knowledge coupled with other leadership behaviours described in this post are key when it comes to galvanising and focusing a team of people on a common goal.  One thing is for sure, we would probably all benefit from being a little bit more like Gareth!

Shaun Allison

Shaun is Director of Education for DMAT and Director of Durrington Research School. In 2021-22, he will be co-leading two training programmes:

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Weekly Round Up: 4th July 2021

Blog of the week

‘Literacy, Curriculum & Teaching’ by Ruth Ashbee

In this super blog, Ruth explores what we really mean by ‘literacy’ and how we should be thinking about it within the contexts of our subjects.

Classteaching Blog

‘Elaborating on Elaboration’ by Chris Runeckles

How can we make students elaborate on their thinking?  Chris explores some approaches in this blog.

Research School Blog

‘Tackling Educational Disadvantage’ by Shaun Allison

This post explores a seven step approach to tackling educational disadvantage.

Other Useful Links

Podcast (Apple) (Other platforms)

Episode 13 available now: Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning’
James Crane talks to Ben Crockett about the new EEF guidance report on feedback.

CPD Webinars

Our programme of twilight CPD webinars have finished for this year.  You can view the recordings here:

We’ll be back next year with more!

2021-22 Training Taster Sessions

Sign up for our free taster sessions in June/July here:

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Elaborating on Elaboration

Every now and again the longer-toothed of us teachers will happen across an old hard drive containing folders from the early days of our teaching careers. When I stumbled across one such folder recently, I found a lesson plan which structured the lesson, literally, to the minute.

10.15am: Introduce causes of WWI

10.17am: Students complete card sort

10.22am: Go through answers

10.25am: Students work in pairs to decide on order of importance

On so on.

I can’t say I remember what this plan looked like in reality, but I have a strong suspicion my best laid plans probably went awry. Looking back, one of the key problems with how I was teaching at this point in my career (we are talking before Twitter was even invented here) was an undue focus on pace. It was a case of getting through the curriculum rather than ensuring it was understood and remembered. I skimmed over the surface of learning rather than delving into the depths.

In the example given, students could sort through the cards taking a variety of shortcuts and never really think beyond the absolute basics of the knowledge they contained.

As time has gone on, and my experience and understanding of the research evidence surrounding cognitive science has grown, my practice has changed. I now spend more time knocking ideas about, looking at the same content from different perspectives and encouraging students to think hard about what I teach them. Essentially, what I am describing here is the strategy of elaboration.

A specific form of elaboration linked to learning is called elaborative interrogation. You will find references to elaborative interrogation in lots of places across the research-evidence jungle. Most notably perhaps in the seminal paper by John Dunlosky, Strengthening the Student Toolbox which rates it as having “moderate utility” (I’ll return to why that is later). In simple terms elaborative interrogation is ensuring that when students are presented with factual information they are prompted to respond to a “why” question connected to it. This then forces the student to build on the factual information by clarifying relationships with existing knowledge.

My card sort activity above would have left this process to chance. Some may have asked themselves these “why” questions and thereby gained the benefit of them, deepening their understanding and preparing them for the next phase of learning. Others may simply have sorted the cards in the simplest way possible, thinking little about the content as they did so. There would probably also be some in a smaller third group, who would have asked themselves why questions, but, crucially, come up with the wrong answers. In this case the process would actually be damaging because those misconceptions would have ended up embedded in students’ memories. This phenomenon is one of the reasons why Dunlosky holds back a bit when rating it as a strategy.

However, elaborative interrogation is not the only version of elaboration connected to learning. We can use a variety of different strategies to achieve this in our classrooms and force our students to think around the knowledge and build those precious connections with existing knowledge. Here are some to try:

  1. Elaborative questioning: As described above, asking the “why” question as a follow up. Then asking another question starting “and how does that affect…”. And then probably another two like that.
  2. Continuums: Wouldn’t work in every subject but you can put whatever you like at either end and get students to place knowledge at point of their choosing along it. Make sure you ask for justifications.
  3. Concept maps: This means different things to different people, but to me it means placing several chunks of knowledge on a page, for example quotes from various Shakespeare plays, and then finding all the connections you can between them.
  4. Explain it back to me: Give the correct answer and then ask students to explain back to you why the answer is correct.
  5. Different perspectives: Present the same information in a variety of different ways. For example read a text aloud, look at some images connected to it and then watch a short video. Each format will encourage different connections to be made.
  6. Use stories and analogies: These, judiciously used, will help students to build the links to existing knowledge that will aid their elaborative interrogation.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

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Weekly Round Up: 27th June 2021

Blog of the week

‘The Genius of DT Willingham and WDSLS’ by Tom Sherrington

In this super blog Tom summarises some of the key ideas from one of the best education books out there – ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ by Daniel Willingham.

Classteaching blog

‘Feedback: focus on moving learning forward’ by Deb Friis

In this blog Deb explores recommendation 2 of the new EEF guidance report on feedback.

Research School blog

‘Making plans: how to apply the EEF implementation plan as a classroom teacher’ by Adam Robbins.

Much has been discussed about how useful the EEF implementation guidance report is for leaders. In this blog, Adam argues it is just as useful for classroom teachers.

Other useful links

ClassTeaching podcast (Apple) (Other platforms)

Episode 12 available now: Implementation and CPD
James Crane talks to Mark Enser about the importance of careful and thoughtful implementation when it comes to CPD.

Twilight CPD Webinar

Our programme of twilight CPD webinars have finished for this year.  You can view the recordings here:

We’ll be back next year with more!

2021-22 Training Programme Taster Sessions

Sign up for our free taster sessions in June/July here:

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Feedback: focus on moving learning forward

The EEF released their new guidance report “Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning” a few weeks ago. Fran Haynes has already summarised this on our Research School blog and Ben Crockett has delved deeper into principle 1. This blog will explore principle 2 – “Deliver appropriately timed feedback that focuses on moving learning forward”.

Evidence on the timing of feedback is inconclusive and ambiguous. The report stresses that teacher judgement is key rather than arbitrary time periods, and outlines three things that teachers should consider about timings:

The task – this itself might provide the feedback required. In maths I sometimes give a set of problems to do along with the numerical answers, this means students can see straight away if they have correctly performed the steps (and also highlights the importance of working). We also use self-marking platforms such as HegartyMaths and Eedi which give immediate feedback to students.

The pupil – different pupils will need different amounts of feedback and scaffolding and at different times. Sometimes a set of instructions may be initially overwhelming to a student, and all that is needed is a hint on where to start: “Try drawing out a grid” when expanding brackets. The key here is to give just enough guidance to allow them to usefully progress.

The class – in maths we often start a topic or a lesson with multiple choice questions to check previous understanding. The teacher can then address any common misconceptions straight away before moving onto new content so that the students have firm foundations to build on. In other circumstances we may delay feedback. We set weekly homework and use follow-up DIRT (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) lessons involving whole-class feedback once it has been marked. Homework necessitates delayed feedback as students are usually attempting the questions on their own, and these DIRT lessons also give us yet another chance to revisit previous learning.

The report then looks at the type of feedback which is more likely to move learning forward and puts it into three overlapping categories. Feedback on the task or the subject is hard to demarcate and this doesn’t really matter, but the point is to be specific. For example recently in year 7 I have asked students to go back and re-write their working during a task on finding the area of a trapezium so that it makes sense mathematically (every maths teacher shudders at seeing 6+4 = 10 x 5 = 50 x ½ = 25!). I have used the visualiser to model this and also to look at great student work. With regards to the subject, some students are occasionally incorrectly identifying the parallel sides and perpendicular height required in order to correctly use the formula, and we have looked at specific techniques to help with this. Running alongside are self-regulation strategies. Next in my sequence of area lessons with year 7 we will look at lots of different shapes together, the strategies we can use to identify them and therefore which formula to use, as well as checking the reasonableness of the answers. “Where do I start?” is often the most important question that needs to be considered. Chris Runeckles has written extensively on metacognition and self-regulation techniques. In maths we have for ages been trying to dispel the myth that someone can be a “maths person” or not, focusing on personal characteristics is less likely to be useful and can even be counter-productive.

The report admits that there are still complexities around the use of grading, praise and effort and research findings have been mixed, so the section ends with a useful reminder:

“Regardless of whether a teacher chooses to give grades, offer praise, or comment on effort, the feedback they give on learning is more likely to be effective at improving pupil attainment if it includes a focus on the task, subject and/or self-regulation strategies. It is less likely to be effective if it focuses on a learner’s personal characteristics or provides a general or vague comment.”

Deb Friis

Deb is a maths teacher at Durrington High School. She is also a Maths Research Associate for Durrington Research School and Sussex Maths Hub Secondary Co-Lead and is currently delivering our training on the EEF Guidelines for KS2 and 3 Maths.

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Weekly Round Up: 21st June 2021

Blog of the week

‘On Beauty’ by Claire Stoneman

In this blog Claire discusses how a well thought out curriculum can ignite thought and agency – any this matters for our young people.


‘Laying the foundation for effective feedback’ by Ben Crockett

Ben explores recommendation 1 of the EEF feedback guidance report.

Research School Blog

‘Summary of the EEF’s new guidance report: Teacher feedback to improve pupil learning’ by Fran Haynes

Fran summarises the key recommendations from this new guidance report.

Other Useful Links

Podcast (Apple) (Other platforms)

Episode 12 available now: Implementation and CPD

James Crane talks to Mark Enser about the importance of careful and thoughtful implementation when it comes to CPD.

Next Twilight CPD Webinar:

  • Theme: Revision Strategies
  • Led by: James Crane
  • Date: Tuesday 22nd June
  • Time: 3.30pm-4.00pm


2021-22 Training Programme Taster Sessions

Sign up for our free taster sessions in June/July here:

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