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What we learnt at the 2022 Festival of Education's Cognitive Science strand

What we learnt at the 2022 Festival of Education’s Cognitive Science strand

3 min read
  • The science of learning

Last week, the Festival of Education was back in person at Wellington College for the first time in two years – and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

We had an incredible two days meeting and hearing from some incredible educators. We were fortunate enough to have the privilege of curating a Cognitive Science strand at this year’s festival. It was a pleasure and an honour to have Dr Tom Perry, Yamina Bibi, Henry Sauntson, Sam Gibbs and Alex Reynolds share their knowledge with us, speaking alongside our very own Bradley Busch and Edward Watson.

Talks at the strand covered areas such as different questioning strategies in order to maximise retrieval, Rosenshine’s Principles, Spacing, Interleaving, Instructional Coaching, Metacognition, as well as the practicalities, opportunities and potential challenges in applying Cognitive Science.

Here are our four key takeaways from it…

Cognitive Science isn’t a tick-box exercise

The findings from research provide principles to build best practice upon. These include regularly revisiting material, not overloading students’ working memory, and prompting them to think hard and recall information from their long-term memory.

However, these strategies need to align with your goal and work within your specific context. Treating cognitive science as just a thing to do or a silver bullet paves the way for lethal mutations. Although it is an incredibly important factor, cognitive science isn’t the only thing that will affect your students’ learning – factors such as motivation, the curriculum or behaviour policy will play a big role too. 

Get everyone involved

We mean everyone: leaders, coaches, teachers, students, parents.

This will help create a common language around cognitive science for everyone, as well as a shared accountability and a strong support network. This allows for consistency, while still leaving room for autonomy to help teachers apply the key principles of cognitive science as they see fit, in a way that works for their own context.

Challenge and deep engagement are key

Strategies that are easy or that we prefer using are often not the most effective. Examples of this include:

  • Cold-calling over self-selection
  • Retrieval practice over re-reading
  • Spacing over cramming
  • Interleaving over blocking

Shifting towards what works instead of what you or your students prefer can take time, effort and a lot of energy, but it is absolutely worth it in the long term.

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Time is a key factor

Some of the desirable strategies take longer to start with, which can be frustrating.

For teachers, there is a time investment associated with becoming proficient in understanding cognitive science. However, over time, this can be a great time saver. Once you understand how your students learn and make these strategies a habit, this can be liberating, as it can free you from activities that are time-heavy but not that effective in terms of learning gains.

Special thanks to all those involved with the Cognitive Science strand

We would like to thank the event organisers for putting on an incredible two days. The range of topics and educators on show is a testament to the brilliant work being done in education up and down the country. We are also really grateful that they gave InnerDrive a platform to talk all things cognitive science.

We would also like to thank all the Cognitive Science strand speakers. They generously gave up their time to share their thoughts. If you would like to follow them on social media, you can find them here:

Next year’s dates have just been announced for 6th and 7th July 2023. So, mark your calendars: it’s such a great event, it is arguably pound for pound one of the best CPD events we can think of.

Hopefully, we’ll see you there then!