The purpose of the curriculum
The ambition of The Coleshill School is to provide a high quality education that transforms the life chances of our students through a ‘knowledge engaged’ curriculum.
Our framework of cognitive education enables children to think independently and contribute positively to society and the wider world.
What is cognitive science?
Cognitive science is really the understanding of how the brain works and how we learn. The idea is centered around the parts of our brains The Working Memory and the Long Term memory. The key ideas are illustrated in the diagram below.
When we encounter new learning it is first stored in the working memory. However the working memory has a limited capacity and can soon fill or become overloaded (like a sponge that becomes saturated.) If Working Memory is overloaded, there is a risk that you students will not understand the content being taught or that their learning will become slow and /or ineffective. This is known as cognitive overload. Fortunately Working Memory has a willing and able friend to help in the shape of the Long Term Memory. Effective learning takes place when we encourage the transfer of information from the working Memory to the Long Term memory. Once placed in the Long Term memory we need to regularly go back and retrieve the information in order to retain it.
The Intent of the curriculum at The Coleshill School recognises the importance of cognitive science and aims to produce effective learners by:
- Developing cultural capital to address social disadvantage and ensure equality of opportunity for all our students regardless of their socio-economic background
- Helping our students to understand how they learn and therefore become more effective learners. (Cognitive Science.)
- Delivering lessons that use cognitive science to help our students become more effective learners, foster curiosity and deepen students Interest and understanding
- Ensuring collaborative planning so to ensure a sequenced curriculum, that develops well-ordered schema (connections) in our students’ long term memory
- Building and applying knowledge
To realise this ambition the curriculum at The Coleshill School has been developed around four core principles of cognitive thinking strategies:
- Teaching the right knowledge
We aim to ensure that teachers only focus on teaching what students need to know to reduce cognitive load.
- Spaced practice
Learning is forgotten over time. To retain the knowledge in our Long term Memory we need to be retaught content three times. Our teachers ensure that they signpost and reteach content that links to new learning. For example in Geography, teachers would reteach how rain is formed in preparation for a new topic on the Tropical Rainforest.
- Retrieval practice
Recalling something that we have learnt in the past and bringing it back to mind is proven to have a more profound impact than rereading material. Low stake testing is a regular feature of the ‘Do-it-Now’ activities that start every lesson at The Coleshill School. Students are encouraged to recall topics taught ‘last week’, ‘last month’ and ‘way back’. Students are requested to self-assess low stake tests to ensure that they are aware of topics that need to be reviewed further in future. Low stakes testing also allows our teachers to check for understanding and pick up on areas which students may be struggling to understand.
- Application of knowledge
This simply means asking our students to take the information they have been taught and to do something with it-to think about it more deeply. How you think about what you are being taught determines what will end up in your Long Term Memory.
Therefore, giving our students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and understanding during their lessons will help them to understand what they are being taught more deeply and to learn it more effectively.
The use of Red Zone is a strategy to manage cognitive load.
- Red Zone gives students the chance to apply their knowledge against subject specific assessment objectives.
- Red Zones can be scaffolded to help students, especially when undertaking a task for the first time. Scaffolds can include a deconstructed model answer, lists of tier 2 and 3 academic words they need to know and sentence starters.
- As students become better at the task parts of the scaffold are removed. When they have become an expert they should be able to answer the question independently with no support. It’s a bit like riding a bike. At first we may need stabilisers to support us but as we get better we can ride without them until we can eventually discard them.
Knowledge organisers are increasingly being used at the Coleshill School to help our students to become more effective learners. 2019-2020 has seen knowledge organisers made compulsory in Year 9 across all subject areas. They can also be found in other years and are having a very real impact with Year 11. Knowledge Organisers can:
- Develop students as independent learners
- Develop a deeper subject knowledge and this in turn strengthens their vocabulary, which is key in academic success.
- Stretch and challenge students of all abilities
- Act as a powerful revision tool
- Foster parental engagement.
Below is an example of a knowledge organiser: