Kelly Richens

In my previous article we began a whistle-stop tour of the principles of cognitive science and how we embed them in ITT. We learned that working memory is finite and we need to be cognisant of the cognitive load new learning entails.

Next, I want you to recite in your head the words to your favourite poem, or song, or prayer. Easy huh? There are no limits to how much your long-term memory can store. Here is the basic premise which cognitive science informed pedagogy is based upon: that to remember something long term we need to practice it over and over again as you would have done your favourite prose above. Memory is the residue of thought. In other words, we can remember long term that which we think about many times.

In the context of trying to train an early career teacher, and how much information their working memory is trying to process, think how long it takes a trainee teacher to plan those first lessons as they try to get their head around the lexicons of teaching and learning. To get new information into the long-term memory needs Shed Loads of Practice (SLOP).

So what can you do for your trainees to reduce the cognitive load on them and help transfer their learning into their long-term memories? There is no right or wrong with the model to adopt. Some schools and providers, including mine, have chosen Rosenshine’s principles (Rosenshine, 2012); some use Making Every Lesson Count (Tharby, 2015) and others have chosen Teach Like a Champion (Lemov, 2015), or a combination of these.

Let’s look at a couple of principles they have in common: retrieval practice and modelling (you can find loads more reading, evidence and advice here). However, by gaining a clear understanding of what students (or in our case trainees) can recall from previous training you can adapt and differentiate for them as you would a class.


Invest in a mini-whiteboard and pens for all of your trainees so you can undertake retrieval practice with them, or if teaching them remotely check out

The absolute beauty of doing retrieval practice with trainees is that it captures another great teaching principle: modelling. By modelling how to conduct retrieval practice, giving the trainees SLOP of the information you are teaching them, they will experience what it is like to gain confidence and pass this in turn to their own students. Once you have modelled this, have the trainees reflect and break down what you have done with them so they have a deep understanding and are thinking about their thinking (metacognition).

Next, dual coding. Think of information entering your heads through a channel or stream. If we increase the number of streams, you are activating more neurons. Put simply, you should present information in small steps, building up a picture or visual at the same time as teaching. See here for a great model of dual coding in practice. If you again model this to your trainees, reflect and break down the process, they are more able to transfer these skills into the classroom for their own pupils.


Use a visualiser not a powerpoint to train your trainees. Show them the power of dual coding by modelling the process. You are then taking into account their cognitive load. You can do this in person or remotely and even record the sessions so they can refer back to them.

Modelling and presenting new material in small steps cannot be overstated in terms of its significance. Be aware of the volume of new information your new trainees are receiving and think about opportunities for them to articulate, practice and demonstrate their understanding.

Dr Kelly Richens is Director of Basingstoke Alliance SCITT. Her book in the Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers series, Using Cognitive Science in the Classroom, edited by NASBTT Executive Director Emma Hollis and published by Critical Publishing, will be out later this year.

Further reading

  • Willingham, D.T. (2010). Why don’t students like school?: a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. San Francisco, Ca: Jossey-Bass.
  • Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know. America Educator. Spring 2012 (1), 12-19.
  • Tharby, A. (2015). Making every lesson count – six principles to support great teaching and learning. Crown House Publishing.
  • Lemov, D. (2015). Teach like a champion 2.0 : 62 techniques that put students on the path to college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Ebbinghaus, H. (1885/1913). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology (Translated by H. A. Ruger and C. E. Bussenius). New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
  • Hare, L. O., Stark, P., McGuinness, C., & Biggart, A. (2017). Spaced Learning: The Design, Feasibility and Optimisation of SMART Spaces. Evaluation report and executive summary available here.

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