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Module 2: How Pupils Learn

Introduction to Module 2:

This module consists of 6 weeks of learning:

Week 1: Understanding how pupils learn.

Week 2: Prior knowledge, misconceptions and introducing new content

Week 3: Cognitive Load Theory

Week 4: Teaching complex materials

Week 5: Literacy and learning

Week 6: Consolidation of learning and practice

The Learn that... and Learn how to statements covered within this module are captured on the ECF Induction Programme mapping document. 

Week 1: Understanding How Pupils Learn

This week will focus on exploring how our pupils learn.  Rosehshine's Principles of Instruction will be introduced here, although not fully explored. We will look at the importance of both the working and long term memory and the impact that this has upon successful and sustainable learning.

Teachers' Standards:

Evidence and Research:

Over the next few modules we will draw on the 10 Principles of Instruction (Rosenshine, 2010).  

Barak Rosenshine was a Professor of Education, University if Illinois.  Along with his colleague, Robert Stevens, he explored what the teaching and learning and identified the strategies and approaches of the teachers who were most successful.  Along with the observations Rosenshine and Stevens drew upon cognitive science and cognitive supports and scaffolds to develop the principles of instruction (FutureLearn, no date).

Click on the image below to read about these. In this module we will focus mainly on Principle 2: New Material in Small Steps.

Screenshot 2023-10-09 at 13.20.41.png

How Children Learn

Learning is “a process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of experience and increases the potential for improved performance and future learning” (Ambrose et al, 2010, p.3).

Read p6-8 of the Chapter 'What is Learning' that defines learning.

Screenshot 2023-10-21 at 14.24.09.png


Memory plays a key part in learning, providing a framework through which an individual can make sense of the present and the future.  There are three key processes involved in how the memory works: encoding, storage and retrieval. (Harvard University, n.d).  The diagram below summarises the characteristics of the memory process:

(Harvard University, no date)

What is working memory?

Working memory can be simply defined as "holding short-term (i.e. temporary) information in your mind whilst using that information to accomplish a task" (University of Cambridge, n.d).

Watch the short video below that explores working memory and how it impacts learning.

Screenshot 2023-10-21 at 15.04.09.png

You may want to read through this factsheet that accompanies the video above:

Screenshot 2023-10-21 at 15.13.43.png

You may also benefit from listening to this EEF podcast

What is Long-Term Memory?

"Long-term memory stores information for long periods of time, or even indefinitely. Any information that can be recalled from a few hours ago, months ago or even years ago is labelled as long-term memory.


Decision making is often influenced by long-term memory primarily, and with a combination of Working memory. There are a few characteristics of long-term memory;


  • Explicit memory: Explicit memory is retrieved or consciously accessed.

  • Implicit memory: Implicit memory is unconsciously accessed.

  • Frequently accessed memory: Long-term memory that is frequently accessed, such as the Happy Birthday song is stronger than less frequently accessed memories. The later tend to require prompts of reminders

  • Life events: Traumatic experiences in childhood, adolescence or adulthood."  (Stafford Global, 2021)

How are Working and Long-Term Memory Related?

Now let's have a look at how the two forms of memory are related.

Application and Exploration of Practice and Setting:

Consider your own practice.  Reflect upon the different pedagogical approaches you employ that support the development of working and long-term memory.

Observe a segment on another teacher's lesson.  IDentify the different approaches they are using to support the development of memory.

Reflection and Discussion

Based upon this week's learning, reflect upon how you may adapt and develop your practice to support the development of working and long-term memory for the pupils in your class.

Note some ideas down to discuss with your mentor.


Baddeley, A. (2011) How are long-term and working memory related? Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8Bgs8EarR0

EEF (2019) Working Memory Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/trialled-and-tested-podcast-working-memory

FutureLearn (no date) Rosenshine's Principles of Instruction Available at: https://www.futurelearn.com/info/courses/early-career-teachers/0/steps/164331

Harvard University (no date) How Memory Works Available at: https://bokcenter.harvard.edu/how-memory-works#:~:text=Memory%20also%20gives%20individuals%20a,and%20retrieval%20(or%20recall).

Nagel, M. & Scholes, L. (2016) Understanding Development and Learning. Melbourne. OU Press.

Stafford Global (2021) Teaching to Build Long-Term Memory  Available at: https://www.staffordglobal.org/articles-and-blogs/education-articles-and-blogs/teaching-to-build-long-term-memory/#:~:text=Long%2Dterm%20memory%20stores%20information,a%20combination%20of%20Working%20memory.

Structural Learning (no date) Rosenshine's Principles: A teacher's guide. Available at: https://www.structural-learning.com/post/rosenshines-principles-a-teachers-guide 

University of Bristol (2015) Working Memory: What is working memory? Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQJlDEQ0Myo

University of Cambridge (no date) Introduction to working memory Available at:https://www.cne.psychol.cam.ac.uk/introduction-to-working-memory#:~:text=In%20simple%20terms%2C%20working%20memory,type%20them%20into%20your%20phone.

Week 2: Prior Knowledge, Misconceptions and Introducing New Content

This week will focus on building pupils' knowledge and learning through exploring how a pupil's prior knowledge enables them to access learning, how to plan for, identify and respond to misconceptions and how to introduce new content.

Teachers' Standards:

Evidence and Research:

Prior knowledge: what our pupils already know before we start to teach a new topic - watch the video below which explores prior knowledge 

Screenshot 2023-10-21 at 17.16.40.png

(Evidence Based Teachers Network, n.d)

Take a look at the diagram below, from the Evidence Based Teachers Network, that captures the learning cycling and the place of prior knowledge.

Screenshot 2023-10-21 at 17.14.08.png

Misconceptions: a view, opinion or assumed knowledge that is incorrect due to a lack of understanding, limited experiences or inaccurate previous knowledge.

It is common for pupils to have misconceptions.  It is a key role of the teacher to pre-empt, identify and address these in our teaching to ensure that the pupils do not continue to hold onto their misconceptions that will interfere with their ability to develop their knowledge and understanding.

Read this article to learn more about misconceptions.

Read this EEF blog which explores the evidence relating to prior knowledge and misconceptions.

Introducing New Content

The second of Rosenshine's principles is to introduce new content in small steps. 

Working memory is limited and, as such, cannot process a lot of new information all at once.  Learning needs to be delivered sequentially allowing for pupils to master one concept before moving onto the next.  Mastering a concept enables this to move from the pupils' working memory to their long-term memory.   Failing to do this will result in 'cognitive overload'  We will explore the theory of cognitive overload in more detail next week.

Reasons for introducing new learning in small steps:

  • Makes the task more manageable

  • Enables pupils to make steady progress

  • Allows pupils to make connections in and between their learning

  • Enables pupils to understand the importance of each step of their learning

  • Allows teachers to assess pupil progress more easily and quickly.

(InnerDrive, n.d)

Watch this video that exemplifies this principle using Tetris.

Application and Exploration of Practice and Setting:

Using the concepts and theory explored this week, think about a lesson where you are planning to introduce new material or content:

  • How will you assess prior learning?

  • What misconceptions might the pupils have about this topic/new learning? How will you address these?

  • How will you break the learning down into small steps?

You may want to note down your thinking or include this within a lesson plan.

Reflection and Discussion

Once you have taught the above lesson, reflect on this using a chosen reflective framework.  Share this reflection with your mentor in your weekly meeting.


Evidence Based Teachers Network (no date)  6 Steps Model Available at: https://ebtn.org.uk/prior-knowledge/

InnerDrive (no date) Rosenshine's Second Principle of Instruction: Present Material in Small Steps. Available at: https://blog.innerdrive.co.uk/rosenshine-second-principle-of-instruction#:~:text=Rosenshine's%20second%20principle%2C%20which%20is,material%20in%20small%20sequential%20steps.

Lucariello, J. and Naff, D (2010) updated (2015) How do I get my students over their alternative conceptions (misconceptions) for learning? American Psychological Association. Available at: https://www.apa.org/education-career/k12/misconceptions#:~:text=Student%20knowledge%2C%20however%2C%20can%20be,part%20of%20the%20learning%20process.

Madgwick, H. (2021) ECF: Exploring the Evidence: Prior Knowledge and Pupil Misconceptions. EEF. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/eef-blog-ecf-exploring-the-evidence-prior-knowledge-and-pupil-misconceptions

Teach for Life (2017) Prior Knowledge Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11IHE0qHh9A

Week 3: Cognitive Load Theory

This week will focus on exploring Cognitive Load Theory.  We will bring together the ideas of working and long-term memory and explore how we can avoid cognitive overload for our students.  We will exlore how developing metacognition can support autistic students manage cognitive overload.

Teachers' Standards:

Evidence and Research:

Watch this short video that summarises Cognitive Load Theory.

Take some time to read this article published by The Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, New South Wales Government (2017).  The article explores Cognitive Load Theory in greater depth.  You may want to take notes or highlight the document to aid your understanding.

Within the article,  three types of cognitive load are identified and these are captured below - being aware of these will support and help you develop your practice with regards to the introduction of new material for students.

Screenshot 2023-11-04 at 11.46.00.png

Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, NSW Government, 2017)

This short video explains each type of cognitive load

A recent article written for The Chartered College of Teaching explores Cognitive Load and its application in the classroom.  Read the article and as you do, consider your own classroom practice. 

Cognitive Load and Autism:

Understanding and applying the principles of metacognition can support the management of cognitive load for students with autism and enable students to overcome learning challenges (InclusiveTeach, 2023).

The EEF have produced a report and effective summary on metacognition.  Take a look at the summary below.  You can read the full report here.

Screenshot 2023-11-04 at 11.58.50.png

(EEF, 2021)

Cognitive Load can occur more frequently for learners with autism due to difficulties in social communication, sensory processing and executive functioning experienced by such learners (American Psychiatric Association, 2013 in Inclusive Teach, 2023).  


Such challenges can lead to increased Intrinsic and Extraneous Load and reduced ability to access Germane Load.

Inclusive Teach (2023) summarise the 6 stages of metacognition and autism (below).  We will explore pedagogical approaches to support the development of metacognition in Module 3.

Screenshot 2023-11-04 at 12.14.46.png

(InclusiveTeach.com, 2023)

Application and Exploration of Practice and Setting:

When planning a learning activity for this week, draw upon your learning about Cognitive Load Theory and Metacognition.


How you break down the learning into small steps to avoid cognitive overload.

How you will minimise distractions within your learning environment and within the learning resources.

How you will engage the students' prior knowledge

How learning tasks will be planned strategically to enable students to organise their thoughts.

Teach this learning activity.

Reflection and Discussion

Having taught the planned activity:

Consider how you adapted your practice as you monitored progress within the lesson.

Reflect upon the lesson - what adaptations would you make for future teaching?

What were the strengths of this lesson?

What are the key areas for further development?

Be prepared to discussion your learning and reflection in your weekly mentor meeting.


EEF (2012) Metacognition and self-regulated learning. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/guidance-reports/metacognition

Inclusive Teach (2023) Metacognition and Autism: : Cognitive Load and Metacognitive Strategies. Available at: https://inclusiveteach.com/2023/05/21/metacognition-autism-cognitive-load-metacognitive-strategies/#:~:text=Cognitive%20Load%20Theory%20and%20Autism&text=In%20the%20context%20of%20autism,American%20Psychiatric%20Association%2C%202013).

NSW Government, Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (2017) Cognitive Load Theory: Research that teachers really need to understand. Sydney. NSW Government Publication.

McGraw Hill (2019) Teaching Strategies: Cognitive Load Theory. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpA6RdE0aYo

Shibli, D. & West, R. (2018) Cognitive Load Theory and its application in the classroom. Available at: https://my.chartered.college/impact_article/cognitive-load-theory-and-its-application-in-the-classroom/

3 Minute Ed Theory (2018) Cognitive Load Theory 3: intrinsic, extraneous and germane. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkH0EGYqWO0&t=158s

Week 4: Teaching Complex Material and Content

This week will focus on supporting students to engage with and understand more complex learning material and content.  We will identify the importance of breaking down complex content and explore strategies to support the teaching of such knowledge, skills and concepts.

Teachers' Standards:

Evidence and Research:

When teaching complex material or content or providing your students with a complex task, it is important to manage their cognitive overload.  Think back to last week's learning around Cognitive Load Theory.

When introducing new or complex content or tasks it is important that we break down this content into simple steps. Rosenshine's second principle of learning is exactly this - break new material into small steps as our working memory requires this.

Breaking complex and new material into small steps has the following positive impacts for a student's learning:

  • Makes the task more manageable

  • It allows students to make steady progress

  • It allows students to make connections in their learning

  • It allows students to understand why each step is important

  • It allows teachers to assess student progress more quickly

(Inner Drive, N.d)

5 Reasons to Present Materials in Smaller Steps

There are 5 reasons why you should present information in smaller steps which are highlighted in the image below.  Clock on this image to take you to the article by Inner Drive that explains each of the steps.

Screenshot 2023-11-04 at 13.43.38.png

Implications for the Classroom

Here are 4 approaches to use within your teaching that help to break down new and complex content and activities and enable students to engage positively with their learning.

1. Worked Examples

Worked examples support you in reducing the pressure a students' working memory by modelling the steps you need to achieve a particular task or reach an answer. 


Often students focus on the answer rather than the learning process and then find it difficult to recall learning process applied to achieve a particular task or reach a certain answer (Inner Drive, n.d).

Read this EEF blog by Prtichard (2022), that explains how teachers can use worked examples to manage pupils' cognitive load effectively.

2. Completion Tasks

Completion tasks are worked examples which have gaps for the students to complete.  

Completion tasks are a form of scaffolding, which we will explore in greater detail in the next module.

These tasks support students who have a level of understanding but still require some support.

By including gaps, you, as the teacher, focus the students to where they need to practice and focus their learning.

3. Reduce the Amount of Information on your Slides.

Whilst we often like to create interesting handouts and PowerPoint slides thinking that we are gaining the students' attention or engaging them in their learning, quite the opposite is true.  Too many images, sounds and animations can in fact distract students and create cognitive overload.   Instead of remembering the important content of the lesson, students may end up remembering the images and animations, which is not what is important!

Also be sure not to overload the resources you use with too much information and content.  Break this down, ensuring only the key ideas and concepts are included.  Prioritise the learning for the students, allowing them to process and practice this new learning before being introduced to the next step.  This allows them to transfer the new learning from their working to long-term memory before additional information is received.

The video below, introduces the idea of 'redundant information'

4. Use clear instructions

Complex tasks can be simplified by providing students with step-by-step instructions.

These can be worked through with the students.  For example here is how instruction can be used to support students to summarise information in a paragraph:

Screenshot 2023-11-04 at 14.24.22.png

(Inner Drive, n.d)

Application and Exploration of Practice and Setting:

Consider how you will apply these principles to new and complex learning within your teaching.

You may find it useful to observe a colleague teaching new or complex content.  How do they approach this learning?  What strategies do they use?

Reflection and Discussion

Reflect on a recent lesson you have taught.  Look at the resources and any PowerPoint slides you produced for that lesson.

Critically evaluate your approach to teaching new or complex content using the learning from this week.

How would you change or adapt that lesson if you were to teach it again?


Inner Drive (no date) Cognitive Load Theory in Practice: Completion Tasks. Available at: https://blog.innerdrive.co.uk/cognitive-load-theory-completion-tasks#:~:text=By%20providing%20some%20key%20information,they%20should%20focus%20their%20thinking.

Inner Drive (no date) Rosenshine's Second Principle of Instruction: Present Material in Small Steps. Available at: https://blog.innerdrive.co.uk/rosenshine-second-principle-of-instruction

Inner Drive (no date) 5 Reasons Why You Should Present Information in Small Steps. Available at: https://blog.innerdrive.co.uk/5-reasons-to-present-in-small-steps#:~:text=Small%20steps%20lower%20cognitive%20load,to%20process%20all%20new%20information.

Inner Drive (2021) What is the Redundancy Effect? Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8_Vyaf5HCk&t=60s

Pritchard, B. (2022) Ways into Science: Making the Most of Worked Examples. EEF Blog. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/eef-blog-ways-into-science-making-the-most-of-worked-examples

Structural Learning (no date)  Rosenshine's Principles: A Teacher's Guide. Available at: https://www.structural-learning.com/post/rosenshines-principles-a-teachers-guide

Week 5: Literacy and Learning

This week will focus on the importance of develop literacy.  We will consider the importance of the acquisition of good literacy skills and consider how you can develop literacy beyond English lessons.  We will consider how literacy and reading can be supported for autistic learners and the approaches that are taken within your setting to support such development.

Teachers' Standards:

Evidence and Research:

Every teacher is a teacher of literacy

As you read this summary, consider your own pupils in your school.

You will also follow real-life examples from two other teachers:

  • Imogen teaches Year 3 in a primary school in Greater Manchester

  • Tom is a teacher for children with language and communication needs in a special school in north London


Children who have good written and spoken literacy skills are able to engage with their school’s curriculum and experience success as a result. For these reasons, developing pupils’ literacy is perhaps the most important aspect of education for schools to focus on.

The development of early literacy is especially important. This involves the development of two capabilities: word reading and language comprehension. Using systematic, synthetic phonics is the most effective way of developing decoding, which supports word reading. A wide range of approaches, including high quality discussion, will develop pupils’ language capabilities.

Once pupils have mastered phonics and are able to accurately decode, the emphasis should shift towards developing reading fluency. Pupils at this stage in their development can be identified by listening to them read. They will be able to read accurately, but they will be slow and their reading will not sound like speech and may sound disjointed. Developing reading fluency is usually a priority for pupils in KS2 and for a smaller number of pupils in KS3. Developing reading fluency requires extensive practice, but teachers can support this by modelling fluent reading, providing feedback on fluency and providing opportunities for repeated reading with a focus on developing fluency.

In the past, it has been argued that teaching literacy skills is limited to English lessons. This is false. All subjects and teachers have the opportunity and responsibility to develop pupils’ literacy capabilities. This does not mean teaching English during other subjects. Rather, it involves the development of disciplinary literacy, which is the development of reading, writing and oral language skills specific to each discipline.

To improve your pupils’ literacy, you should:

  • explicitly teach the reading, writing and oral language skills specific to the discipline or phase you work in (this includes writing in different genres, reading for interpretation, speaking collaboratively)

  • deliberately plan the teaching of unfamiliar vocabulary (e.g. by playing word games, matching words with definitions, displaying key vocabulary on the wall)

  • regularly expose your pupils to vocabulary which is high-utility and high-frequency and give them repeated practice (e.g. by using keyword tablemats and by modelling the vocabulary in your expositions)

  • model for your pupils how they can plan, draft and edit different types of writing specific to your subject or phase (e.g. by ‘live-writing’ a model answer on the whiteboard or using a visualiser to ‘live-model’ the editing process)

Reading comprehension is a complex process involving word reading and language understanding. Word reading involves decoding or breaking down parts of a word by phoneme and blending these together to read the whole word.


Reading comprehension means being able to read a section or an entire piece of text and understand its meaning. To make sense of a text, the reader draws on background knowledge, vocabulary, grammatical understanding and their ability to make inferences about meaning based on these.

To help you to develop your pupils’ reading comprehension, you should:

  • teach the skills of predicting, questioning, clarifying and summarising text (e.g. through live modelling or by allotting different ‘reading for...’ roles in group reading)

  • ‘think out loud’ when reading to help pupils to internalise strategies to help when reading independently

  • support pupil engagement and reading for pleasure (e.g. by reading with the whole class high-quality texts that you or they have chosen)

Case study 1: how Imogen teaches Year 3 reading comprehension

Imogen is working with a group of Year 3 pupils on reading comprehension, building on strategies she has previously introduced.

She has split the group into 4, each with a defined role.

Tahir is the questioner. He will generate comprehension questions from the page of text to ask to the rest of the group.

Poppy is the summariser. She will sum up each paragraph/page for the rest of the group précising the text.

Sam is the clarifier. He will identify any vocabulary that needs to be defined.

Sarika is the predictor. Her role is to predict the next action in the story.

The pupils are all familiar with their roles, as this is a strategy that has been modelled for them regularly and the roles are swapped around.

Imogen’s role is to listen and provide direction if they struggle with any aspects.


Today, Imogen is going to read the text aloud as the pupils take their roles. In this way, she will model how a fluent reader uses volume, tone, expression and modulation when they read, recognising that spoken language underpins the development of reading and writing.

This is likely to be effective because the pupils are familiar with this form of collaborative learning. Imogen has already spent time establishing and reinforcing routines, such as taking turns.

The lesson develops pupils’ capabilities in questioning, summarising, clarifying and predicting – collectively known as reading comprehension strategies. By allowing her pupils to practise these 4 strategies that good readers use automatically as they read and understand texts, Imogen supports pupils’ ability to comprehend texts independently in the future.

Because this is a habitual part of Imogen’s teaching, her pupils are now familiar with all of the roles, although they may still find some harder than others. Modelling fluent reading also supports pupils’ comprehension of the texts.

Oral language skills (or classroom talk) refer to the use of vocabulary and the quality of discussion by pupils as well as teachers. Encouraging pupils to use specific vocabulary and terminology during discussion in class helps to normalise and embed new words and improve the development of deep understanding. It broadens pupils’ vocabularies and helps them to articulate high-level ideas.


Spoken language underpins both reading and writing development. Because modelling and requiring high-quality pupil talk underpins the development of reading and writing, it positively affects academic attainment across the curriculum and children’s social and emotional development.

To help develop quality oral language, you should:

  • carefully consider how ground rules and pupil reflection can help build a supportive environment for talk (e.g. circle time is a good opportunity for developing such rules) -- a useful rule to consider is the expectation that pupils respond in full sentences and use subject-specific vocabulary for certain activities

  • also improve your pupils’ skills in listening (e.g. by framing discussion where each person must respond to the previous speaker before making their own point)

Case study 2: Tom discusses teaching vocabulary in a special school

“Some of my pupils are at the earliest stages of learning to talk. It’s important for them to have basic vocabulary to get their needs met, such as being able to ask for ‘more’, or ‘help’, or ‘toilet’.

"At dinner time, when Charlie wants more food, he may try to reach across the table and take some from another plate. I try to pre-empt this and say, ‘Oh, Charlie wants more’, showing him the ‘more’ sign (Makaton). I help him make the sign with his hands and encourage him to say ’more’ before giving him another spoonful.

"For all children, learning to use words and signs to communicate is an important part of schooling. Certain key words, like those Tom mentioned, are prioritised to help pupils convey their wants and needs to others and reduce the need for them to use other behaviours to get what they want.

"It is important in any context that key words that relate to core concepts are reinforced in different situations with different members of staff so that children learn the meaning and power of these words and the importance of mastering them.


For many children, using a visual symbol or sign alongside a spoken word will be beneficial in reinforcing meaning and aiding understanding."

(UCL, n.d)

Literacy, Reading and Autism

To support autistic pupils towards literacy and reading there are 7 steps identified by the Autism Awareness Centre. 

Readead the full article here.

Application and Exploration of Practice and Setting:

Talk to a colleague about the approach/es to literacy teaching within the school.

Observe a colleague teaching literacy/reading.  Make a note of the strategies they use in their teaching.

Take some time to explore the Open University Reading for Pleasure website.  You may find some useful ideas on this site to support your practice and choice of reading materials.

Screenshot 2023-11-08 at 17.07.01.png

Reflection and Discussion

Reflect on the lessons you have taught this week.

Did you embed English teaching into other subject areas?  Which? What aspect of English did you embed?

Where you taught English or English within other subjects, what approaches did you use to support your teaching? How successful were these? How do you know?

What resources did you use to support learning?  E.g. word banks, gapped handouts...

How will you adapt your teaching in the future to include more English teaching across other subjects?

Be prepared to discuss your learning and reflections in your weekly mentor meeting.


Autism Awareness Centre (no date) Setting a Foundation for Literacy and Reading for Autistic Individuals: A Step by Step Guide. Available at: https://autismawarenesscentre.com/setting-foundation-literacy-skill-development/#:~:text=Children%20with%20autism%20often%20learn,teach%20are%20relevant%20and%20meaningful.

Open University (no date) Reading for Pleasure. Available at: https://ourfp.org/

UCL (no date) Research and Practice Summary: Every Teacher is a Teacher of Literacy. ECT Materials Available at:https://support-for-early-career-teachers.education.gov.uk/ucl/year-1-engaging-pupils-in-learning/autumn-week-3-ect-research-and-practice-summary/

Week 6: Consolidation of Learning and Practice

This week will focus on consolidating learning with a focus on retrieval practice.  Spaced practice will also be introduced and you will have the opportunity to trial some of these approaches within your own teaching.

Teachers' Standards:

Evidence and Research:


Consolidation refers to the process of strengthening or stabilising new memories by transferring new learning from short- to long-term memory storage.


When a memory is created (or ‘encoded’), many aspects of that memory (including the context within which the learning occurred) are also stored.


Teachers can draw upon this ‘coding’ to help their pupils consolidate new learning as well as to recall learning stored in their long-term memory.

To help your pupils to consolidate their learning, you should:

  • give concrete worked examples and elaboration (e.g. explaining the new learning to someone else or showing models of ‘what good looks like’)

  • give plenty of opportunity for them to retrieve knowledge that they might have begun to forget (e.g. by spacing your initial teaching and revision and doing recall activities, such as low-stakes questioning)

  • establish ‘talk-partners’ within your class so that pupils establish the good habit of explaining things to one another. (UCL, n.d)

There are three steps in the consolidation process:

Screenshot 2023-11-10 at 14.45.21.png

Encoding is the initial learning of information.

Storage is the maintaining of information over time.

Retrieval is a practice that includes any strategy where a pupil is required to reconstruct knowledge by calling it to their mind from their long-term memory, so it can be recalled, manipulated or used.  Retrieval practice is highly effective in supporting pupils to consolidate recent learning and is much more effective than re-reading learning materials.  By being able to effectively retrieve information from their long-term memory, pupils put less of a load on their working memory.  Being able to do this allows pupils to solve problems more easily and to solve more challenging problems. (UCL, n.d)


This diagram, from Human-Memory.net summarises this process:

Screenshot 2023-11-10 at 14.59.20.png

(Human-Memory.net, 2023)

Watch this short video about retrieval practice

"To help your pupils to improve their recall, you should:

  • require them to retrieve information from memory (this can take the form of frequent, low-stakes testing or quizzing, or you could ask them to demonstrate a previously taught skill so you can see what they have retained)


  • try revisiting material from ‘last lesson, last week, last term’: lengthening the spacing increases the challenge and can strengthen recall, that is, spacing the practice" (UCL, n.d)

The following are suggested retrieval activities that are effective for learners with SEN:

Screenshot 2023-11-10 at 15.12.37.png

(Inclusive Teach, 2023)

Spaced Practice

"Spaced practice is a learning strategy whereby areas of the curriculum are broken up into short sessions, which are repeated over a longer period of time.


This can be contrasted with ‘blocking’, whereby learning material is visited in large blocks which are not repeated.


Spaced practice provides pupils with the time to form connections between the ideas and concepts so that knowledge can be built upon and easily recalled later.


By allowing a memory to be almost forgotten before it is next recalled, Ebbinghaus found the reactivation of the memory is more effortful, which strengthens neural pathways in the brain. When this process is repeated several times, the memory becomes stronger and much easier to remember.

To help with your pupils’ progress using spacing, you should:

  • discuss with a colleague how your curriculum is arranged and where the opportunities may be to introduce more spacing

  • make sure you enable your pupils to master foundational concepts first

  • combine with retrieval practice activities, such as low-stakes testing, to improve their recall" (UCL, n.d)

Watch the short video below that explores spaced practice.

(McGraw Hill, 2016)

Application and Exploration of Practice and Setting:

Choose a retrieval practice strategy from your learning this week and trial it within your lessons.

Set an out of class or homework activity this week to consolidate or extend pupils' learning.

Reflection and Discussion

Choose an appropriate reflective framework to review how your retrieval practice activity worked.

You will have your termly observation around this time.  You will reflect upon this observation within your weekly mentor meeting.  Be prepared to discuss how you are embedding the learning from this module in your teaching.


Inclusive Teach (2023) The Power of Retrieval Practice for SEN Pupils. Available at: https://inclusiveteach.com/2023/07/24/the-power-of-retrieval-practice-for-sen-pupils/

McGraw Hill (2016) Teaching Strategies: Spaced Practice. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ7HtVV2oo8

Retrieval Practice (2017) What is Retrieval Practice? Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZO8abw3DHxs

The Human Memory (2023) Memory Consolidation. Available at: https://human-memory.net/memory-consolidation/#:~:text=The%20consolidation%20process%20involves%20three,stored%20information%20after%20some%20time.

UCL (no date) Consolidation, coding, retrieval and spaced practice. Available at: https://support-for-early-career-teachers.education.gov.uk/ucl/year-1-engaging-pupils-in-learning/autumn-week-4-ect-research-and-practice-summary/

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