: Cognitive Science – not just for the kids! Kate Alliston, Director of Essex RS, reflects on how her school used metacognition to get the most out of their PD day.

Cognitive Science – not just for the kids!

Kate Alliston, Director of Essex RS, reflects on how her school used metacognition to get the most out of their PD day.

by Essex Research School at Lyons Hall Primary
on the


Terms such as cognitive load, dual-coding and schemas have become part of our professional dialogue and practice in the last few years but very often we find ourselves sitting in training looking at multiple slides thinking, I can’t retain all this information.” or Slow down. I need time to process this.”

Time together as a staff is precious, and on a PD day, the temptation is to try and get across as much information as possible to make the most of the time.

The EEF’s Effective Professional Development’ guidance report states: As any teacher would with their own class, PD facilitators must pay close attention to how they structure and build the knowledge taught through the programme. When presenting new information careful thought should be applied to managing the cognitive load of participants.

Recently, the staff at Lyons Hall Primary had a PD day and it was decided that because of changes in staff and other areas taking priority of late, that we should revisit AFL strategies that were once habitual throughout the school.

We know metacognitive strategies are beneficial for our pupils, but we need to practice what we preach so we applied these strategies in our training:

* Managing cognitive load e.g. through task design’
* Multimedia learning – in particular, using spatial components
* Retrieval practice

Cognitive load theory

The key to the success of the training was to ensure that the extraneous load (how content was presented) was limited. Task design was key but narrowing the focus was tricky. Everything we planned must come back to a key outcome. We decided on this:

We want as many children as possible to reach ARE. This can only be achieved by knowing where all the children are in their learning, and in order to know this, all children have to participate fully in different AFL strategies.

The Metacognition and self-regulation’ guidance report is centred on learners in the classroom but on a PD day our staff are the learners. We need to make sure that learning activities don’t overburden working memory; we need to teach strategies to cope with demanding tasks — for example, using diagrams, notes, talking through the problem out loud, or breaking the task down into simpler steps.

Golden Nugget’ sheet:

* Space for post-it notes to capture key ideas, strategies and learning, therefore reducing cognitive load
* Post-it notes can be moved, prioritised, and referred to
* Serve as a visual prompt for retrieval
* A personal action plan can be formed from priorities identified on the note

Golden nuggets
Golden Nuggets

Knowledge was built up slowly. First by working independently, then in small groups and then as a staff together. Revisiting the key aim was vital. After every piece of direct input, staff were asked to reflect on AFL in their classroom.

Multi-media learning

Multi-media learning also played a big part during the day. See the EEF’s Cognitive Science Approaches In The Classroom: A review of the evidence.

This is more than just dual-coding’ or adding some fancy graphics to a slide. In fact, during the whole day, we used only 6 slides. Content was conveyed and learning was captured on flipcharts with paper and pen. Memory has both visual, spatial and auditory components so when presenting the content of the PD we ensured that the different AFL strategies and their benefits were presented in multiple formats.

* Stand up, hand up, pair up’ activity.
This began with staff having thinking time on their own to answer a question. It was interesting to watch the staff-many of whom were experienced teachers- being put into the position of learners. They then were out of their seats, high- fiving each other and sharing their ideas together.

Stand up
Stand up, hand up, pair up activity
Stand up 2
Sharing their responses

* Modelled use of mini-whiteboards-
– agreed a response and show me format
– answered questions using whiteboards
– explored the impact of thinking time on quality of responses

Retrieval practice

Cognitive science informs us that memory has a strength’. When content is studied and recalled, both types of memory strength increase, meaning that information is more easily accessible and that this accessibility is more durable
. p21Cognitive Science Approaches In The Classroom: A review of the evidence.

At the end of the day, the staff recalled their learning and presented this in any way that they liked. There was a story, a poem, drama and pictures.

IMG 6248 004
Dingbats - retrieval technique using visual prompts

A week later, the staff were asked to review their learning and what they had put into place in classrooms.

Impact 2024 03 18 105029 tttg
An example of a group of teachers reviewing the impact of the training

One Early Years teacher said: I liked that the day was chunked’. There was not too much information at a time which allowed us to process it and think of ideas to take back to the classroom.’

Consider the next PD you will be delivering:

How are you going to manage participants’ cognitive load?
How can you use multi-media learning?
Have you built in time to revisit learning in the future?

More from the Essex Research School at Lyons Hall Primary

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more