What I Learned from the Learning Scientists

2 October 2017

Author: Rachel Garbett, Maths teacher and Huntington Research School Associate

After attending a workshop by Dr. Yana Weinstein at ResearchEd MatSci last year I was intrigued by the work of the Learning Scientists, so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to her again, with Megan Smith, to learn more about their work.

The Learning Scientists are cognitive psychologists who ask why things work and want to help motivate students to study, make research on learning more accessible to teachers, whilst promoting evidence-based learning and teaching strategies.

In their fantastic presentation they explained about spaced learning and how students should revisit topics with a gap between which could be a day, week or month. It has been proven that if they revise with gaps then tested, their results are better than those without a space. The difference between ‘cramming’ and spacing out study is one of the keystones of the Learning Scientists ‘six strategies for effective learning‘.

The next session was on interleaving which is when you mix up the topics and revise them in a different order, so they don’t study the same thing all in a mass. Students feel less confident whilst they are working on it, but it has been shown that testing them a day later, they remember the work better than those not interleaving. Counterintuitive insights into learning like this offer a significant change for most students.

The third strategy was retrieval practice (another great website on this strategy is here). This is whenever students are bringing information to mind which aids learning, even without feedback. When they re-review the information, it is more powerful than simply showing the information again. This is a powerful way to learn and it is also really useful to make students see that taking a test is not only an assessment, but that it is an opportunity to learn using retrieval practice!

Dual coding was discussed towards the end of the day, and we learnt that there are two pathways to memory: verbal and visual. We all have both channels as options for remembering. If you have a picture and words, you may remember the picture and it may trigger the words.

You can bring together dual coding, retrieval, interleaving and spaced learning when teaching and revising topics to magnify their effects.


On the Learning Scientists website you will find free posters and a short film which is very clear and my groups have been very attentive when watching it. One takeaway for me is to help students to create a schedule with brief periods spread out over the week. The students record when are they are studying, but must be honest! You can then discuss in class what are the challenges and what is realistic. Then you can help them adjust the schedule and get rid of things that clash with other commitments.

One other technique I will use is to plan my starters in order to encourage retrieval practice. I will have 6 questions at the beginning of each lesson. Questions 1-3 from this week’s work, question 4 from a week ago, question 5 from a month ago, and question 6 to make a link between some of these ideas.

I have been teaching 27 years and I feel that the research on memory and learning, and the subsequent changes I have made to my teaching practice, has proven the most significant training I have had since my PGCE.


Rachel Garbett, Maths teacher and Huntington Research School Associate, @RjGarbett

Posted on 2 October 2017
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