Evidence-Informed Ideas Every Teacher Should Know About.

I love the idea of ‘evidence-informed wisdom’. I honestly can’t remember where I first encountered this but, essentially, it’s the idea that, as teachers we are faced with making hundreds of decisions a day – largely about how to question, how to motivate and how to adjust explanations, feedback,  and the pace and depth of learning sequences.  To do this well, our best hope is that our decisions are well-informed by wisdom – the wisdom gained over years of experience combined with ideas from our training and from our engagement with the body of knowledge that is out there about learning theories, our subjects and the general principles of good teaching practice.   The better-informed we are, the more wisdom we accrue and the better our decisions are likely to be.

There is a LOT to absorb but I’m finding that, currently, there are a few key ideas that resonate particularly strongly with me on my travels.  This is not an exhaustive list by any means – before you all tell me the things I’ve missed off – but it is a list that might help cut to the chase, especially if you are just getting started with research engagement and the world of cognitive science.

Rather than attribute each idea, I’ll admit that the true original sources are sometimes quite difficult to pin down to specific documents as people cite other citations and so on.  I’ve only done this when it is obvious to me and I’ll happily add further links if people point me in the right direction.   However, you will find nearly all of this referenced in the documents in my collection of research papers here:  Teaching and Learning Research Summaries: A collection for easy access.

From the papers in that collection, I might just highlight three key resources for anyone wanting to get stuck in:

So, here are some key evidence-informed ideas, I think every teacher should know about:

Learning is about knowledge in long-term memory, not immediate performance

Memory is strengthened by retrieval practice.

Learning builds in schemas;  knowledge allows you to accrue more knowledge; you can’t build a house without foundations.

Direct instruction is most important with novice learners, especially those with weak prior knowledge and low confidence. 

We remember what we think about – memory is the residue of thought. (Willingham)

Responsive teaching – a two-way interactive process – is essential: more effective teachers ask more questions to more students, in more depth, checking for understanding, involving all learners. (Wiliam, Nuthall, Rosenshine) 

The optimal success rate for learning is high but not 100%: successful learning stems from early success; growth mindsets are reinforced by success through effort, not constant failure – and not a constant false confidence through under-challenge. 

Learning is most effective when cognitive load is optimized. 

Learning Styles are bunkum

Bloom’s Taxonomy was never a triangle with ‘regurgitating facts’ at the bottom and ‘creativity’ at the top.

Cooperative learning or group work can be extremely effective – but most often it is not because of how it is done. (Slavin)


As a follow-up I have now written a blog that  pulls some of this together  into what it might look like in a more integrated form:


I have also set up a youtube channel with a series of short videos exploring each of these ideas:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_WHYo5KULldZZ5UTWZEB3q265wO_T6Ko