Research: quick summary

This page is intended to show all research, that we reference, in alphabetical order by first named researcher.

Each has either a summary by us (in regular text)

or a quote or quotes from the researchers (in this quote format)

and sometimes also

  • a link to where we talk about the reference within this, the Customer Knowledge Base

  • a link to a freely available copy of the article.

Agarwal et al 2016

The benefits from retrieval practice are greater for students with lower working memory capacity.

Agarwal, P.K., Finley, J.R., Rose, N.S., & Roediger H.R., Benefits from retrieval practice are greater for students with lower working memory capacity Memory 25(6):1-8 August 2016

See smaller working memory

Bjork 1992

  • Easy to recall? then practice won’t add much to storage strength in Long Term Memory

  • Hard to recall? then practice will significantly increase storage strength in Long Term Memory

They coined the phrase desirable difficulties.

Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (1992). A new theory of disuse and an old theory of stimulus fluctuation. In A. Healey, S. Kosslyn & R. Shriffin (Eds) From Learning processes to Cognitive Processes: essays in Honor of Willaim K Estes (Vol 2 pp 35-67) Hillside NJ: Erlbaum

See retrieval practice

Black 2001

"What is needed is a culture of success, backed by a belief that all can achieve. Formative assessment can be a powerful weapon here if it is communicated in the right way.”

"The formative assessment experiments produce typical effect sizes of between 0.4 and 0.7 : such effect sizes are larger than most of those found for educational interventions.  

• A gain of effect size 0.4 would improve performances of pupils in GCSE by between one and two grades.

• A gain of effect size 0.7, if realised in the recent international comparative studies in mathematics (TIMSS—Beaton et al., 1996), would raise England from the middle of the 41 countries involved to being one of the top 5.

Inside the Black Box Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam (2001)

See assessment for learning

Dunlosky et al 2013

Practice testing and distributed practice are the only 2 of the 10 techniques considered which are given their “high-utility” rating.

Dunlosky, D., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J., Willingham, D.T., Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, January 2013

See arguing for change

Ebbinghaus 1885

Did experiments to find out how we forget.He called a graph showing this die Vergessenskurve or in English the forgetting curve. It shows that as time goes on, memory fades. 

See retrieval practice and increasing interval retrieval practice

Education and Training Inspectorate 2016

With respect to low attainment and poor attendance:

While the correlation is evident, causation is more complex.

Part 1 Attendance in schools, DfE

EEF 2014

"Since the spacing effect was first discovered by Ebbinghaus in 1885, research has consistently shown that learning performance improves if multiple study sessions are separated in time (or “spaced”) rather than massed together.” (page 29-30)

They summarise that the “strength of evidence for educational effectiveness” of retrieval practice is high. (Page 10)

A Review of Educational Interventions and Approaches Informed by Neuroscience

El-Hage et al 2006

Learners living with trauma are likely to have a smaller working memory capacity than their peers.

El-Hage, W., Gaillard, P., isingrini, M., Belzung, C., Trauma-related deficits in working memory, February 2006, Cognitive Neuropsychiatry

Elliot 2010

When primary school teachers use strategies which reduce the working memory requirements of tasks, proved to be a predictor of the progress of learners with smaller working memory relative to their peers with smaller working memory capacity.

Elliott, J., Gathercole, S.E., Alloway, T.P., Holmes, J. & Kirkwood, H. An Evaluation of a Classroom-Based Intervention to Help Overcome Working Memory Difficulties and Improve Long-Term Academic Achievement. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 9, 227-250

See also smaller working memory

Farah et al 2006

Learners living with poverty are likely to have a smaller working memory capacity than their peers.

Farah M.J., Shera, D.M., Savage, J.H., Betancourt, L., Giannetta, J.M., Brodsky, N.L., Malmud, E.K., Hurt, H. Childhood poverty: Specific associations with neurocognitive development. Brain Res 1110 : 166 - 174

See also smaller working memory

Gathercole 2008

“The majority of children with poor working memory are slow to learn in the areas of reading, maths and science, across both primary and secondary school years”.

Learners with smaller working memories experience a double whammy of disadvantage - they are more reliant on chunks in long term memory to learn and yet are less likely to build these chunks in lessons. Learning difficulties arise because they

“are unable to meet the memory demands of many structured learning activities” and “as a consequence, their working memory becomes overloaded ... information that is needed to guide the ongoing learning activity ... is lost”.

Gathercole, S. Working memory in the classroom, Presidents’ Award Lecture at the Annual Conference of The British Psychological Society

See smaller working memory

Gobet 2005

“Use an ‘improving spiral’, where you come back to the same concepts and ideas and add increasingly more complex new information”

Deliberate practice of similar but different problems assists the learner in building chunks in long term memory, which enables learning to be retained. Chunks also provide perceptual cues or triggers, so that the expert (or in our case the low attaining learner) can quickly and easily decide which chunk or chunks are likely to be useful to help solve a given problem.

Gobet, F. (2005). Chunking models of expertise: Implications for education. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 183-204.

See chunk-based learning

Gobet 2012

A clear prediction of chunk-based theories is that individual differences play a large role in the early stages of learning

Chunk-based models actually warn us against any excess of optimism in the use of new technologies, as long as they do not help circumvent the key limiting constants of human cognition (i.e. attention, STM = working memory , and learning rates).

Gobet, F & Lane, P 2012, Chunking mechanisms and learning. in NM Seel (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, pp. 541-544.

See chunk-based learning

Hattie 2007

The most effective forms of feedback provide cues or reinforcement to learners; are in the form of video-, audio-, or computer-assisted instructional feedback; and/or relate to goals. 

The Power of Feedback REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH 2007 77: 81 DOI: 10.3102/003465430298487 John Hattie and Helen Timperley is behind a pay wall here is a summary

See feedback

Hattie 2013

The Goldilocks principle of challenge, not too hard and not too easy. Let learners deliberately practice and coach them to help learners reduce the gap between where they are and where they want to be.

see 10:30 know deeply what the learners know already and share what success looks like

Hogan 1997

8 top tips on scaffolding

Hogan, K., & Pressley, M. (Eds.). (1997). Scaffolding learner learning: Instructional approaches and issues. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

See scaffolding and fading scaffolding

Homes 2018

A small proportion of learners with smaller working memory capacities, don’t go on to become low attaining learners in maths, but most do.

Joni Holmes - Working memory and classroom learning, Cambridge University Press ELT 2018

Holmes 2010

Place holding problems, missing steps and giving up are clearly cited, as working memory overload symptoms. However, muddling methods (my 3rd sign of working memory overload for maths teachers) isn’t given.

Joni Holmes, Susan E. Gathercole, and Darren L. Dunning, Poor Working Memory: Impact and Interventions. In Joni Holmes, editor: Advances in Child Development and Behavior, Vol. 39, Burlington: Academic Press, 2010, pp. 1-43. ISBN: 978-0-12-374748-8

Kang 2016

When learners do repeated retrieval practice attainment is raised.

Kang, S.H.K. (2016) Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning: Policy Implications for Instruction. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3 (1), 12-19

See retrieval practice and increasing interval retrieval practice

Kang 2014

Expanding interval, as opposed to fixed-interval, retrieval practice is more efficient.

Retrieval practice over the long term: Should spacing be expanding or equal-interval? Kang, S.H.K., Lindsey, R.V., Mozer, M.C., and Pashler, H. Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

See retrieval practice and increasing interval retrieval practice

Kluger 1996

Feedback should be about how to improve the task and not ego involving

Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254-284. 

See feedback

Kornell 2009

The title says it all: Unsuccessful Retrieval Attempts Enhance Subsequent Learning

Kornell et al 2009 Nate Kornell, Matthew Jensen Hays, and Robert A. Bjork Journal of Experimental Psychology Vol. 35, No. 4, 989–998

Kulik 1990

When teachers hold back from teaching new learning until the learners have mastered all the pre-requisite skills, attainment is raised.

Effectiveness of mastery learning programs: A meta-analysis Kulik, C.C., Kulik, J.A., & Bangert-Drowns, R.L.

See mastery learning

Larkin 2001

Through interviewing teachers experienced in scaffolding, she gives 5 top tips. I’ve found these more useful than Hogan' s 8 top tips.

Larkin, M. J. (2001). Providing support for student independence through scaffolded instruction. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 34(1), 30-34.

See scaffolding and fading scaffolding

Mayfield 2002

For what we consider higher order skills, such as generalising and problem solving, research suggests, Mayfield & Chase (2002), that when students are using two different pieces of knowledge/skills/methods to learn a third, the students are most successful if both the two existing pieces of knowledge/skills/methods are more strongly embedded before the third is learned. 

Mayfield & Chase (2002). The effects of cumulative practice on mathematics problem solving. Journal of applied behavioural analysis, 35, 105-123.  

See cumulative practice

Oakley and Sejnowski

Week 1: big thinking and small thinking can’t be done at the same time, try the 4 minute video (with adverts) or sign up to the course for free (see link below)

Week 2: chunking 48 minutes of videos on chunking


Pashler 2007

Giving feedback when the learner can’t retrieve (recall the learning) makes retrieval practice more effective. Feedback after a nights sleep is more effective than immediate feedback.

Pashler, Rohrer, Cepeda & Carpenter (2007). Enhancing learning and retarding forgetting: Choices and consequences. Pyschonomic Bulletin & Review 2007, 14 (2) 187-193

Overlearning, getting learners to practise more questions once the learners have “got the skill”, adds little durability to learning.

See feedback

Ramirez 2017

"Educators assume that students are motivated to retain what they are taught. Yet, students commonly report that they forget most of what they learn, especially in mathematics ... this proof-of-concept study suggests that children may deal with threatening classroom experiences by forgetting important course relevant knowledge."

Motivated Forgetting in Early Mathematics: A Proof-of-Concept Study Front Psychol. 2017; 8: 2087.

Published online 2017 Dec 4. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02087

See maths anxiety

Rohrer 2006

Overlearning, the most popular method for embedding learning in learners in maths lessons - doesn’t despite its great name - work very well. Even just one retrieval practice attempt makes significant improvements to the retention of maths learning.

Rohrer, D. & Taylor, K. (2006) The effects of overlearning and distributed practice on the retention of mathematics knowledge. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 1209-1224.

See overlearning

Rohrer 2009

When learners see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem [that's] like riding a bike with training wheels. [With mixed practice] each problem is different from the last one, which means kids must learn how to choose the appropriate procedure — just like they had to do on the test.

Rohrer, D. (2009). The effects of spacing and mixing practice problems. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 40, 4-17

See retrieval practice

Rohrer 2010

When practice problems are blocked, however, learners can successfully solve a set of practice problems without learning how to pair a problem with the skill. Indeed, because all of the problems relate to the topic—typically the one presented in the immediately preceding lesson—learners can choose the appropriate procedure for each practice problem before they read the problem. While this reduces the difficulty of the practice problems, learners are effectively relying on a crutch.

Taylor, K. & Rohrer, D. The Effects of Interleaved Practice. Appl. Cogn. Psychol. 24, 837-848, doi:10.1002/acp.1598 (2010). See especially the graph at the top of page 843

See interleaving

Schiefele 1995

Although culturally we believe motivation is the driver i.e. that motivation increases success, in fact the driver is success, success increases motivation.

Schiefele, U., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. Motivation and Ability as Factors in Mathematics Experience and Achievement, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Vol. 26, No. 2, (March 1995), pp 163-181

Sweller 1998

When teachers teach the “right grain size” attainment is raised.

“Schema construction has two functions: the storage and organization of information in long- term memory and a reduction of working memory load.”

People have very limited working memory capacities so attempting reasoning in working memory is inefficient and often error prone. Whereas prior problem solving, which helps us create schema, in turn helps us to automate future problem solving - giving us more working capacity for the unfamiliar parts of a problem. Even a very complex schema can be used by working memory as a single element. Building and using an increasing number of ever more complex schemas, by

“combining elements of lower level schemas in long term memory”

allows skilled performance to develop.

Sweller, J., van Merrienboer, J.J.G., & Paas, F.G.W.C. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational Psychology Review, 10, 251-296.

See chunk-based theory

van de Pohl 2010

Teachers should fade scaffolding after teaching. The duration over which the “fade” should occur is not quantified, but this writer thinks during the course of a single lesson is too fast for many low attaining learners.

van de Pohl, J., Volman, M. & Beishuizen, J. Educ Psychol Rev (2010) Scaffolding in Teacher- Student Interaction: A Decade of Research 22: 271

See scaffolding

Wiggins 2012

7 keys to effective feedback

See feedback

Wiliam 2009

When teachers find out what learners know before and during teaching and alter their teaching responsively to this information, attainment is raised.

Assessment for Learning: why, what and how, Dylan Wiliam, An Inaugural Professorial Lecture, 2009, Institute of Education, University of London

Wiliam 2013

Assessment to help learners learn at about double the rate

Wiliam 2016

How not to fly a plane

See assessment for learning