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Monday, 18 December 2017

Cognitive load theory - audio paper

Research that teachers really need to understand. Cognitive load theory is a theory of how the human brain learns and stores knowledge. It was recently described by British educationalist Dylan Wiliam as 'the single most important thing for teachers to know'. Grounded in a robust evidence base, cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction.

Read by Sally Kohlmayer, CESE.

Read the full publication.

cognitive load theory (PDF, 510kb)Cognitive load practice guide thumb

Cognitive load theory (PDF, 510kB)

Cognitive load theory in practice (PDF, 5.5MB)

One-page summary (PDF, 68kB)

Managing cognitive load through effective presentations - a practical resource

Evidence summary poster for school staffrooms 

MyPL course part 1

MyPL course part 2

 

Background

This literature review provides an overview of cognitive load theory, which is a theory of how human brains learn and store knowledge. Dylan Wiliam has described cognitive load theory as ‘the single most important thing for teachers to know’. Grounded in a robust evidence base, cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction.

Main findings

The human brain can only process a small amount of new information at once, but it can process very large amounts of stored information.
Information is processed in the working memory, where small amounts of information are stored for a very short time. The average person can only hold about four ‘chunks’ of information in their working memory at one time.
Long-term memory is where large amounts of information are stored semi-permanently. Information is stored in the long-term memory in ‘schemas’, which provide a system for organising and storing knowledge.
If a student’s working memory is overloaded, there is a risk that they will not understand the content being taught and that their learning will be slow and/or ineffective.
With extensive practice, information can be automatically recalled from long-term memory with minimal conscious effort. This ‘automation’ reduces the burden on working memory, because when information can be accessed automatically, the working memory is freed up to learn new information.

Cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction.
Cognitive load theory is supported by a significant number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs). This large body of evidence indicates that instruction is most effective when it is designed according to the limitations of working memory.

Cognitive load theory indicates that when teaching students new content and skills, teachers are more effective when they provide explicit guidance accompanied by practice and feedback, not when they require students to discover for themselves many aspects of what they must learn.

Research from cognitive load theory has produced a number of instructional techniques that are directly transferable to the classroom.
These include the ‘worked example effect’, which is the widely replicated finding that novice learners who are given worked examples to study perform better on subsequent tests than learners who are required to solve the equivalent problems themselves.
Another finding is the 'expertise reversal effect', which shows that as students become more proficient at solving a particular type of problem, they should gradually be given more opportunities for independent problem solving.

More information

CESE has recently released a professional learning course based on this literature review, which will contribute 1.5 hours of registered professional learning for teachers.

 

 

Evidence summary poster for school staffrooms

To help share the evidence, Cognitive load theory is available as a summary poster (PDF, 119kB). 

What does the poster say?

About cognitive load theory

Dylan Wiliam has described cognitive load theory as ‘the single most important thing for teachers to know’. Grounded in a robust evidence base, cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction. The CESE literature review ‘Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand’ explains the principles behind cognitive load theory and how it assists the human brain to learn and store knowledge.

Main findings

  • The human brain can only deal with a small amount of new information at once, but it can hold a very large amount of stored information.
  • Cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction.
  • Research from cognitive load theory has produced a number of instructional techniques that are directly transferable to the classroom.

How memory works 

  • Small amounts of short term information are processed in the working memory. 

The average person can only hold about four ‘chunks’ of information in their working memory at once.

  • Large amounts of information are stored semi-permanently in the long-term memory.

Information is stored in ‘schemas’ which provide a system for organising and storing knowledge.

  • Working memory can become overloaded.

If a student’s working memory is overloaded, they may not understand the content being taught.

  • Memory overload can be prevented.

With practice, and strategies to minimise cognitive load, information can be automatically recalled from long-term memory, freeing up the working memory to learn new information.

Published in Research report

How schools can improve literacy and numeracy performance (PDF, 1MB)

 

How schools can improve literacy and numeracy performance (PDF, 1MB)

How schools can improve literacy and numeracy performance myPL course

 

Background

This paper examines evidence-based practices that can be implemented by schools to enhance literacy and numeracy performance. Educating students in literacy and numeracy is a key responsibility of schools as literacy and numeracy are ‘foundational skills’ that underpin the subsequent development of more complex skills. Literacy and numeracy skills also underpin workforce participation, productivity and the broader economy, and can impact on social and health outcomes. Individuals without these skills are at risk of not being able to participate in the workforce or engage fully in social and civic life.

 

Main findings

Intervene early and maintain the focus
Research shows that access to quality early childhood education programs makes a significant and long-term difference to children’s development in many areas, including their cognitive development. Early intervention needs to be followed by continued high quality learning experiences to maintain efficacy. The first three years of school are a peak window within which children develop the literacy and numeracy skills that they will carry into upper primary and secondary school.
Know what students can do and target teaching accordingly
There is a wide range of learning achievement amongst students in Australian schools. Targeted teaching can lift the performance of students who are many years behind and also challenge students who are already well ahead of year-level expectations. In order to implement targeted teaching effectively, teachers need accurate information about what students know and are ready to learn next. This information can be acquired through the use of formative assessment which has been shown to have a significant effect on learning across the spectrum.

Have clear and transparent learning goals
Research shows that having clear and transparent learning goals at both the school and classroom level leads to improvements in learning achievement. Evidence shows that students who experience explicit teaching practices perform better than students who do not. Explicit teaching practice involves teachers clearly showing students what to do and how to do it, rather than having students discover or construct this information for themselves. Well-defined learning continua or progressions support explicit teaching by enabling teachers to understand what is to be learned and to determine accurately students’ current learning achievement.
Focus on teacher professional learning that improves the teaching of literacy and numeracy
High-quality teaching is the greatest in-school influence on student engagement and outcomes. Quality professional learning increases teaching quality. Research indicates that professional learning is most effective if it deepens teachers’ content knowledge and knowledge about how students learn that content; is supported by the wider school community and is seen as part of achieving whole school goals; and is linked to clear and relevant goals that are related to student outcomes.

 

The information on this page is also available as a one-page summary (PDF, 162kB)

Published in Research report
Wednesday, 07 September 2016

What works best reflection guide

Our What works best report has had an update for 2020. For the latest report, go to What works best: 2020 update.

What works best reflection guide (PDF, 800kB) 

What works best reflection guide (PDF, 800kB) 

This reflection guide draws on evidence from our What works best paper. 

 


 

 

Introduction - Putting evidence into practice

What is the purpose of the reflection guide?

The What works best reflection guide is a practical resource for teachers and school executive staff. It gives schools explicit examples of what can be done to improve student engagement and achievement. Teachers can use this guide to reflect on their individual teaching strategies and to evaluate their own practice. The themes discussed can also be implemented through a whole-school approach. Drawing on the evidence presented in What works best: Evidence-based practices to help improve NSW student performance, Six effective practices in high growth schools, Student wellbeing and Tell Them From Me case studies; this guide assists school staff to reflect on what's working in their schools and what can be improved.

What is included?

The What Works Best Reflection Guide puts forward seven key themes:
1. High expectations
2. Explicit teaching
3. Effective feedback
4. Use of data to inform practice
5. Classroom management
6. Wellbeing
7. Collaboration

Each theme in this guide includes the evidence about why it is important and a section on what it looks like in practice. These themes align with the six effective practices of high growth schools, which we identified as part of our High Value Add evaluation. With this information in mind, staff are invited to reflect on what they do well, what they could do better and what they might do differently over the next year.

 

High expectations

What does the evidence say?

• High expectations are linked with higher performance for all students.

• The reverse can also be true. Some students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be achieving less than their full potential due to lower expectations of their ability.

• All students need to be appropriately challenged in order to learn – but many NSW students say they aren’t being challenged enough.

• A culture of high expectations needs to be supported by effective mechanisms and strategies that support every student’s learning needs. Curriculum differentiation is an effective means by which this can occur in every classroom.

What does this look like in practice?

 • Share work samples among teachers to ensure that assessment expectations are consistent and that a culture of high expectations is promoted across a school.

• Display explicit learning guides (for example, Literacy and Numeracy Continua) in classrooms to show students what performance benchmarks are and to encourage them to pursue higher levels of achievement.

• Have a common set of guidelines across a school that rewards positive behaviour and have a transparent set of procedures for responding to negative behaviours.

• Organise trips to a local university for students and parents to help raise their expectations about future academic study.

Reflection questions

• What do we do well?

• What could we do better?

• What could we do differently this year? 

 

Explicit teaching

What does the evidence say?

• Explicit teaching practices involve teachers clearly showing students what to and how to do it, rather than having students discover or construct information for themselves. 

• Explicit teaching recognises that learning is a cumulative and systematic process, starting with building strong foundations in core skills in literacy and numeracy.

• Effective teacher practices ensure that students have clear instruction on what is expected of them, and what they need to learn from tasks. It ensures that students are given time to engage with the learning process, ask questions and get clear feedback.

• Students who experience explicit teaching practices make greater learning gains than students who do not experience these practices.

What does this look like in practice?

• Show students exemplars of success (for example, sharing work samples that meet achievement benchmarks).

• Develop accessible teaching resources that include templates for how to differentiate lessons and assessments.

• Display explicit learning progressions (for example, Literacy and Numeracy Continua) in classrooms to show students what performance benchmarks are and to encourage them to pursue higher levels of achievement.

• Systematically deliver basic skills, and teach skills in the right sequence so that students master the building blocks of skills like literacy and numeracy.

• Ask students challenging questions, such as ‘why, why-not, how, what-if, how does X compare to Y, and what is the evidence for X?’

• Review learning and explain how it contributes to related, and more complex skills.

Reflection questions

• What do we do well?

• What could we do better?

• What could we do differently this year? 

 

Effective feedback

What does the evidence say?

• Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on student achievement.

• Feedback that focuses on improving tasks, processes and student self-regulation usually has a positive effect.

• Rewards, as well as some kinds of praise, tend to be ineffective or at times have a negative effect.

What does this look like in practice?

Emphasise feedback that:

• is about a student’s process or effort. For example, ‘You must have tried hard’.

• encourages students’ self-regulation. For example, ‘You already know the key features of the opening of an argument. Check to see whether you have incorporated them in your first paragraph’.

Avoid feedback that:

• praises a student’s innate intelligence or talents. For example, ‘You are a great student’.

• is in the form of extrinsic rewards for work, such as stickers.

Reflection questions

• What do we do well?

• What could we do better?

• What could we do differently this year? 

 

Use of data to inform practice

What does the evidence say?

• Effective analysis of student data helps teachers identify areas in which students’ learning needs may require additional attention and development.

• Data can also help teachers see which students may be struggling to engage with particular learning areas, and understand which students respond better to different teaching approaches in their classroom.

• High-quality assessment practice is crucial for effective data analysis of student outcomes and wellbeing.

• Teachers need access to tools, skills and training to help them interpret and use this data effectively.

What does this look like in practice?

• Prioritise professional learning in effective use of data, and encourage evidence-based teaching practices across the school.

• Use student data (for example, NAPLAN, Literacy and Numeracy Continua) to identify students’ learning needs, develop learning targets and monitor progress.

• Design and implement good formative assessment in order to obtain useful data which can be used to adapt and inform teaching practice.

• Use data as the basis for professional discussions, including how assessment data helps identify and address students’ needs.

• Promote data based collaboration within and across schools.

Reflection questions

• What do we do well?

• What could we do better?

• What could we do differently this year? 

 

Classroom management

What does the evidence say?

• Effective classroom management is important for creating the conditions for learning.

• Data confirms a link between effective classroom management and student performance.

• Early career teachers are likely to benefit from explicit support in developing effective classroom management strategies.

• Classroom management strategies will be more effective if they are consistent with a school-wide strategy to manage student behaviour.

What does this look like in practice?

• Establish and teach school and classroom rules to communicate expectations for behaviour.

• Build structure and establish routines to help guide students in a wide variety of situations.

• Foster and maintain student engagement by including opportunities for active student participation in lessons.

• Reinforce positive behaviour.

• Consistently impose consequences for misbehaviour.

• Provide particular support in classroom organisation and management to new and trainee teachers.

Reflection questions

• What do we do well?

• What could we do better?

• What could we do differently this year? 

 

Wellbeing

What does the evidence say?

• There is an increasing focus on student wellbeing in education, in recognition that schooling can contribute to the development of the whole child, which in turn can drive academic outcomes.

• Higher levels of wellbeing are linked to higher academic achievement, Year 12 completion, better mental health and a more pro-social and responsible lifestyle.

• Survey data from NSW reveals that students’ social and emotional engagement is at its lowest in the middle years of high school.

What does this look like in practice?

• Increase sense of belonging through initiatives such as house systems, peer support groups and extra-curricular activities.

• Enhance connection through consultation and communication with the broader school community (including students, teachers and parents).

• Create a safe school that encompasses both physical safety (that is, free from risk, harm or injury to students), and emotional safety (that is, free from negative behaviours such as bullying).

• Introduce targeted social and emotional learning programs.

• Seek to objectively understand patterns in student wellbeing. This can be done through CESE’s Tell Them From Me survey.

Reflection questions

• What do we do well?

• What could we do better?

• What could we do differently this year? 

 

Collaboration

What does the evidence say?

• Great teachers don’t just ‘happen’; they are developed and keep on developing throughout their professional life.

• Effective collaboration is key to sharing successful and innovative teaching practices across the teaching profession.

• Not all collaboration is effective. Teachers need to engage in professionalised collaboration that explicitly aims to improve teacher practices and student outcomes.

• A whole-of-school focus is needed to develop a culture of excellence. School leaders need to support teachers’ professional learning, take a central role in collaborative networks and work to identify the strengths and weaknesses of teaching at their school.

What does this look like in practice?

• Focus professional learning and development needs on student needs and improving learning outcomes.

• Open classrooms to one another and be prepared to discuss the effectiveness of different strategies, and support the broad aim of working together to improve the quality of teaching across the whole profession.

• Use external expertise to ensure that best practice models are identified through a process of critical validation and have a whole-school focus.

• Develop easily accessible platforms to share teaching resources (for example, shared drives).

Reflection questions

• What do we do well?

• What could we do better?

• What could we do differently this year? 

Published in Research report

Our What works best report has had an update for 2020. For the latest report, go to What works best: 2020 update.

What works best (PDF, 2MB)

Go to the reflection guide page

What works best (PDF, 2MB)

What works best reflection guide

What works best myPL course

Summary

This paper brings together seven themes from the growing bank of evidence we have for what works best to improve student educational outcomes. This is not an exhaustive list of effective practices, but it is a useful framework for teachers and school leaders to consider when deciding how to challenge the status quo and tackle student improvement. 

The seven themes identified as likely to make the biggest difference to our students are:

1. High expectations

Teachers can set high expectations in a number of ways, such as encouraging students to work hard, challenging them to do their best work, and to do their homework on time. High expectations are linked with higher performance for all students. The reverse can also be true. Students may achieve less than their full potential if expectations of their ability are low.

2. Explicit teaching 

Explicit teaching practices involve teachers clearly showing students what to do and how to do it, rather than having students discover or form information themselves. Students who experience explicit teaching practices make greater learning gains than students who do not experience these practices.

3. Effective feedback

Feedback is when teachers give information to students about aspects of their performance or understanding. Effective feedback is one of the most powerful influences on student achievement, and it is most effective when it focuses on improving tasks, processes, student self-regulation and effort.

4. Use of data to inform practice

The best education systems in the world use effective assessment data to drive improvement. Effective analysis of student data helps teachers identify areas where students’ learning needs may require additional attention and development; and understand which students have responded positively to the teaching approaches in their classroom.

5. Classroom management

Classroom management is an umbrella term that encompasses a broad range of strategies, approaches and actions taken by teachers to encourage a safe, positive and stimulating learning environment for their students. Effective classroom management is important for creating conditions that are conducive for learning.

6. Wellbeing

Creating a safe environment; ensuring connectedness; engaging students in learning; promoting social and emotional learning; and a whole-school approach have been identified as elements that affect student wellbeing. Higher levels of wellbeing are linked to better academic achievement; better mental health; and a more pro-social and responsible lifestyle. 

7. Collaboration 

Professional collaboration allows best practice to be identified and shared across classrooms. Effective collaboration explicitly aims to improve teacher practices and student outcomes. 

Published in Research report

Teach Learn Share 22 Successful Language Learners

 

Evaluator company/business: NSW Department of Education and Training, Catholic Education Commission of NSW

Year: 2011

URL or PDF: Download the Successful language learners report (PDF, 588kB).

Summary:  The Successful Language Learners Whole-school English as a Second Language and Literacy project aimed to improve the English language, literacy and numeracy performance of students learning English as a Second Language (ESL), including refugee students. To achieve this, a multifaceted, integrated approach based on research about what works in schools with high concentrations of ESL learners was used. Eleven NSW schools were involved in the two-year pilot program. The schools were ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse. Data from ESL Scales, SSL Assessment Banks and NAPLAN results were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies in the program. Significant improvements were made by students over the course of the project.

 

Published in Evaluation repository

Improving Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership

The Improving Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership (PDF, 2MB) publication outlines evidence-based approaches to lift the performance of students in literacy and numeracy, particularly for students who are falling behind and require extra support.

The partnership builds on the most successful strategies implemented in the previous National Partnership on Literacy and Numeracy, recognising the importance of:
• a whole-school approach to quality teaching
• inspirational leadership towards a culture of continuous school improvement
• using evidence and data to identify and address students' needs, using the most effective resources
• building capacity through professional learning
• collaboration and shared responsibility.

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