GUEST POST: Putting the Learning Scientists’ Work into Practice (Part 1)

GUEST POST: Putting the Learning Scientists’ Work into Practice (Part 1)

By Naomi Hennah

Naomi Hennah is a Teacher of Science/Chemistry at Northampton School for Boys. You can find her on Twitter @MrsHennah.

We recently published a guest post in which RE teacher Dawn Cox described her school’s approach to integrating cognitive science into teaching. In this follow-up 2-part post, Chemistry teacher Naomi Hennah describes how she scaffolds her students to use the strategies.

I first became aware of this blog and website through Twitter. I was at once grabbed by the simplicity and usability of the six strategies for effective learning; the resources available on this website provide all the information students and teachers need to familiarize themselves with the strategies. I have found, however, that a little more direction is needed before teenagers confidently apply the strategies in their own learning. The purpose of this two-part blog post is to share the model I used with high school (GCSE and A level) Chemistry students to guide them towards independently applying the Learning Scientists’ methods throughout their studies.

How to use the six strategies for effective learning:

Spaced practice

To begin, you need to plan out an honest timetable of when your time is committed and when you are available to study. I have included an example to illustrate the idea for a two-week study cycle for a GCSE (age 15-16) student.

The time reserved for study has been divided between the subjects and a second study period for a subject that you find particularly challenging. I have used Chemistry to illustrate a challenging subject. Look at the plan carefully, notice that time has been reserved for other activities and that study is to end by 9pm. Study should never replace a good night’s sleep; it is counterproductive as a tired brain functions less effectively.

After school, have a break and relax by doing something you enjoy. Then, review what you have learned during that school day. You might read through the work and note any queries you may have, making sure to ask your teacher about them next time you see them. After this is done, complete the two study topics timetabled for that day.

Remember that this is a guide - you will have to make allowance for breaks and meals. You will find this process hard, but it will quickly become routine.

Older students in the UK have fewer individual subjects – 3 or sometimes 4. Let’s say a student is taking Maths, Chemistry, and History A-levels. Don’t write a timetable that just lists those 3 subjects – break the subjects down into topics or exams. Chemistry could be broken down into physical, organic, and inorganic chemistry for example and each one of these treated like a separate subject. Make room for topics you find difficult – they need more time.

For our resources on spaced practice, see here.


It is always tempting to try and completely master a topic before moving on, get it over and done with. “Tonight I will learn structure and bonding!” This is setting yourself up for failure. There is too much for anyone to take in during one study session.

You might start by breaking the topic down into ideas; 1 .ionic bonding, 2. ionic structures and properties, 3. metallic bonding and structure, 4. alloys structure and properties, 5. covalent bond, 6. simple covalent structures and properties including intermolecular forces, 7. giant covalent structures and properties, 8. allotropes of carbon and 9. nanotechnology. In this example, there are 9 ideas that can each be tackled independently, which should help reduce the confusion that can arise when we try to take on too much information at a time.

Having worked through all 9 ideas over a number of weeks, you will then revisit them at a later stage – that’s spaced practice. When you later revisit topics, try reviewing them in a different order so that you can make links between different topic. Don’t, for example, repeat the structure and bonding ideas as 1 to 9 rearrange the sequence.

Another example from chemistry might be: you are answering questions about the Periodic Table. Don’t just focus on alkali metals one day, then halogens on another day. Switch between these two categories, to make sure you learn which is which. Aim to be flexible with your knowledge; this demands understanding.

For our resources on interleaving, see here.

Retrieval Practice

Now that we’ve talked about when to study, let’s think about how you’re actually going to study. You are likely to use a revision (study) guide or book for your revision. Simply highlighting the tricky bits doesn’t help understand or learn them!

Close what you’re reading. Now think about what you have been reading, and try and write or draw what you’ve been trying to learn. I like mind maps (or concept maps) as they help me think about the different parts of a topic and how they link together.

Next, compare what you’ve produced to the information you were reading. What have you missed or got wrong? Which parts do you feel you need to learn more? Which parts do you need to talk to your teacher about to clarify your ideas? Don’t just pass over tricky bits – actively seek clarity. When you revisit the topic, you can try answering questions about it. Make flashcards with a question on one side and a detailed, well explained answer on the back. Then, try to recreate the answers from memory in your own words. Build up from notes and flashcards to using practice exam papers. To really learn something, it is imperative that you practice trying to recall the information, rather than just reading the answers.

Remember: this retrieval practice should be done in conjunction with the spaced practice plan outlined above.

For our resources on retrieval practice, see here.

In the second part of this guest post, we will explore in more detail the techniques you can use to fine-tune your study practice. Click here to read Part 2.