The Science of Learning – What you need to know.

This morning Bradley Busch ran a CPD session at my college. Usually with CPD events it falls under one of these categories: loads of ideas that never actually become reality, some ideas that you have already been doing for years, fads or an opportunity to write your to-do lists whilst you wait for it to finish! Today was very different.

For me, Bradley Busch is the best speaker I have come across since Dylan William. Maybe the reason for this is that he is not a teacher by trade but a psychologist. Maybe it is because he worked with athletes for years rather than teachers. Maybe it is because he focuses upon educational research rather than teaching ideas. At the end of the day it is the research that helps us formulate new ideas, since we are all professionals in our fields after all. So here are the highlights:

Busch started the morning by presenting the question: “why do some students learn20191002_091200.jpg faster and more effectively than others?” Is it ability, motivation, resilience, hard work or is it the way they are storing their learning? He represented the research using a grid that questions: Am I aware of it (the learning)? and Do I really know it? Students who don’t know and are not aware are just ‘clueless’. Students who know the answer but not how they know it are working from ‘gut feeling’. Students that are aware and are confident with their answers sometimes leads to ‘blind spots'(over familiarity). We need students to fall into the final box = Deep Knowledge. Testing the confidence leading to ‘blind spots’, rocking the boat of familiarity and moving the learning into deep knowledge.

So how do we do this? The answers lie in the memory and what works…

Look at these images which two do you think work best in helping us store information:


Research from Dunlosky et al (2013) found that (unsurprisingly) the auto pilot of re-reading does not lead to learning and with highlighting students just hear ‘colouring in.’ Instead retrieval practice (continuous cycle of re-visiting concepts and ideas) and testing are the ways for students to develop their memory. Basically “thinking hard about stuff in order to remember it.”

Building memory through retrieval practice:20191002_092127-1947592685-1570021436768.jpg

A study by Roediger and Karpicke (2006) found that students that did reading, reading, reading and reading (red) said that it helped their learning the most but actually did worst in the final exam. Students who did the reading, reading, reading and test (green) didn’t like it as much but did better in the final exam and students who did the reading then test, test, test (blue) disliked the process but did the best in the final test. Conclusion from this: “the test IS the revision”! You don’t revise to pass the test, using testing helps the revision towards the final end point (and students aren’t always going to like it either!!).

Busch then explored four ways to enhance the retrieval of information:

Pre-Questions–  Ask a question before covering an idea or topic to arouse curiosity. Students remain more focused as they want to find out the answer (they might be waiting a long time in Philosophy to find out ‘the answer’!).

Elaborative Questioning– Asking ‘why’ – don’t give the answers or back story, let the students do the thinking.


Production Method– 13% improvement when students read things aloud because they see it, say it and hear it – processing the information in three different ways. This can be done through peer teaching, recording themselves or simply reading aloud part of their own work.

Dual coding– (maybe my favourite) using pictures with words. Now this is something I have advocated for years. This is why a lot of my power points have little images, activities such as those that ask students to link an image to a theory and the creation of the coveralls with boxes to follow the power points with, all focus on linking images to words. We often think in pictures.


The final section of our morning focused upon building resilience in students. Developing resilience is especially important in an environment that includes a lot of testing and reliance on students to ‘think’.  Students might have the best intentions to do20191002_105922.jpg work or have high aspirations of themselves but this does not always translate into behaviour. Students sometimes struggle to convey intentions into practice.

So to improve resilience is all about the environment you create between challenge and support. If there is no challenge or support then learning just becomes stagnant. If there is lots of support but little challenge this then creates a comfortable environment. If there is too much challenge and not enough support this leads to burn out and finally if the challenge is high but the support is also in place then this lead to resilience. Where do you fall?

Establishing this resilience depends on differentiation. This does not mean creating three different tasks within a classroom (hard, intermediate, easy) because the weakest students will then never have the opportunity to achieve higher and will just be comfortable in their learning. Instead having the high expectations and growth mindset that all students can achieve the top, it is then about providing the support to the students that need it. Start from the top then stagger down if needed.

Final gems of the morning:

  1. Mobile phones: 20% drop in grades with phones even on tables. 14% increase in weakest students when full phone ban.
  2. Working with music: Silence (61% correct answers) or music with no lyrics (55%) vs disliked music (38%) and liked music (37%).
  3. Sleep: teenagers need a lot of it and unfortunately don’t seem to be getting it! Research says around 9.5hrs for 16 year olds. If you are sleep deprived then there is a 40% reduction in what you can remember and what you can remember is often the negative information.

20191002_114819.jpg     20191002_114929

What am I going to do?: (these are all really obvious but sometimes we just need reminding)

  1. On my glossary tables add a column for students to add a picture for each key word
  2. One minute teach your partner about… (back to the basics again)
  3. Kahoot quiz (not really tried these before so I am a bit behind the times) at the end of every half term questioning what has been studied.
  4. More quick quizzes in lessons (obviously I know this one but when you are on a tight schedule and have a massive spec to cover sometimes you forget the simplest activities are sometimes the best!)
  5. At the start of the lesson students write down everything they can remember from previous lesson/s (rather than me doing the recap)
  6. Students write 5 questions nearing the end of the lesson – ask partner.

Thank you very much to Bradley Busch – highly recommended! Check out his books:


This is not the first time I have actually seen Bradley Busch present. At the end of last teaching year he was speaking at an event and this inspired the Consolidation lessons which included a blank sheet summary (check out: Revision Must-Do: Blank Sheet Summary) key knowledge test and then essay practice. I created a Consolidation Pack to pilot this year with my students to really focus on moving their learning from short to long term memory. So far so good but I will keep you posted …


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