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Knowledge-based curriculum and teaching approaches

We have recently adapted our approach to the teaching of foundation subjects at Friar’s Grove. We have introduced the use of Knowledge Organisers to ensure that children have a secure understanding of the knowledge that they need to understand by the end of each unit. Teachers regularly lead children in retrieval practice activities so that children are able to embed their learning and build a bank of knowledge. As this knowledge grows, teachers introduce activities that enable children to practice what they have learnt and apply their learning. At the end of each unit, children complete an independent assessment activity to enable the teacher to gain a clear view of the knowledge that the child has learned and how well they have mastered that knowledge (i.e. how well they can apply it on their own terms). Examples of independent assessment activities include:

  • Children describe how to sail from point A to point B on a blank world map using locational and directional language, compass directions and the names of continents and oceans. Children to work in pairs to record using iPads.(Year 2 Geography, Explorers)
  • Debate and balanced argument – ‘Was Queen Victoria the most influential figure during The Victorian era?’  (Year 6 History, Victorians) 

Cognitive Load Theory

These changes have been the result of research into Cognitive Science. Teaching staff have recently been trained in Cognitive Load Theory and how this impacts on learning. Cognitive Load Theory is based around the idea that our working memory – the part of our mind that processes what we are currently doing – can only deal with a limited amount of information at one time. 

The theory identifies three different forms of cognitive load: 

  1. Intrinsic load: how difficult the material is, which can be influenced by prior knowledge of the topic. The more information a child holds in their Long Term Memory, the more free the Working Memory will be and the easier the learning task will be.
  2. Extraneous load: the load generated by the way the material is presented. Is it clear? Is the working environment (displays, classroom behaviour etc) busy or calm?   
  3. Germane load: the load that help us to process information and help us to develop schemas (links to other information). One way to think of it is when the mind goes, “Oh I get it, that’s like…” and links the new information to some past knowledge. 

CLT suggests that if the cognitive load exceeds our processing capacity, we will struggle to complete the activity successfully. Teachers aim to decrease intrinsic load and extraneous load and increase germane load.