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It’s When Knowledge Rich Aligned with Evidence Rich Pedagogy

Going back over 20 years, when I was teaching full-time, the science curriculum seemed as knowledge rich as ever. The change over these 20 years has not been so much to the knowledge but to the understanding of how we can teach using evidence developed through disciplines like cognitive science.

Below is a knowledge organiser I wrote in 1995.  The greatest difference to nowadays is our understanding of the mind and how it works.  We now have an evidence base to allow us to choose teaching strategies that will support pupils’ development of long term memory.  The use of retrieval practice that will increase the possibility of a pupil being able to recall previously taught material with greater automaticity; an understanding of the importance of carefully sequencing the knowledge taught so previously taught and new material can be held in working memory to start the process of schema building; spaced practice to allow the revisiting of key concepts and further formation and consolidation of key schema that help pupils understand our subjects and the wider World.

Knowledge Organiser circa 1995

Whilst 20 years ago concrete examples were evident in classroom practice and learning journals were loosely based around elaboration, there was no discussion of retrieval practice, interleaving or the spaced curriculum.  The evidence base that has built up around these practices and concerted efforts employed by teachers to implement them with in the classroom seems to be the real game changer. It’s the matching of the what (curriculum) with the how (pedagogy) that seems to be the biggest step forward of recent times.  I’d argue in the 1980s and 1990s we were relatively knowledge rich – though that varied from subject to subject – but we were definitely pedagogy poor; these aspects need to work in tandem.

There are a number of excellent resources by the wonderful Learning Scientists, aimed at students, that many schools may benefit from sharing.  Below are a couple of examples and a link to the Learning Scientists website where all the resources can be found.

Alongside the thirty minutes reading per day in Years 7-10 and 12, St. Mary’s has implemented thirty minutes a day retrieval practice based around a series of knowledge organisers for Years 11 & 13.  Retrieval practice alongside work on tier 3 vocabulary is developing as a standard part of classroom practice; some subjects are further ahead then others.  These practices are also being explored within our two primary academies.  As with most ideas it was nicked, many thanks to Dixon Trinity, Bradford. Alongside the inexorable development of the curriculum, the attempts to move increase spacing and build in reviews (retrieval practice) is on-going.  Dual coding, more effective use of elaboration and interleaving may be somewhere down the line; my advice is implement one or two changes effectively rather than rush to do everything badly.

You may want to look at the great resources below from the Learning Scientists and think about sharing them with students alongside an explanation and plenty of guided practice.



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