Science Snippet 3: Worked Example Effect

This snippet will work well in the majority of subjects and has taken inspiration from several sources. The examples given are from my science lessons.

The Worked Example Effect

It first peaked my interest when I saw a maths example where problems were shown to pupils “in parallel” to help manage cognitive load by really upping the germane aspect. It was from either Craig Barton or Greg Ashman but I cannot remember which… they’ve probably both written something on it at some point!

Anyway, the worked example effect is, as described by Paul Ayres, below:

worked example provides a step-by-step solution to a problem or task. The worked example effect occurs when learning is enhanced by studying worked examples to problems rather than by trying to solve the original problems. It is a form of direct instruction.

The worked example effect is metacognition incarnate. You can model, explicitly, the thinking behind solving a problem for students to be able to replicate during guided practice. You can also whizz in ideas from variation theory (explored here by Craig Barton) to check the understanding of the pupils and to observe whether they can adapt to the changes which you make to the problems. As you guide pupils through the process, using whiteboards to check responses of all pupils, you can ask pupils to describe why they have responded that way; explaining the thinking behind the method for solving the problem.

This type of approach lends itself beautifully to content which is rich in maths. An example of this is shown below. You can also help support pupils’ cognition by using a fading structure, ultimately leading towards independent practice.

SLH fade

SLF fade 2


Writing and Cognitive Load

This blog post from Natalie Wexler explores the implications of our emerging understanding of cognitive load theory upon writing. A process which she describes as taking up a significant amount of working memory for a variety of reasons.

Even when producing a single sentence, inexperienced writers may be juggling things like letter formation, spelling, word choice, and sentence structure. When asked to write at length, they need to cope with the challenges of adhering to a topic, creating smooth transitions, avoiding repetition, and ensuring that the overall organization of the piece is coherent.

Within my setting we have large numbers of EAL pupils and a significant proportion of pupils have reading ages well below their actual age. Given that the process of reading, according to Wexler, is less demanding than writing it is imperative that we teach how to write within our own subject areas. As we are all coming to know (and love) direct instruction lends itself to best supporting students, especially disadvantaged ones,  in making the most efficient gains in knowledge.

Combining Ideas

I have elided the techniques of providing models of writing structures with the parallel problem type approach seen, typically in maths lessons, above. An example is shown below which featured in a previous blog of mine on the idea of Teaching by Contrast.

cog supp g1 and g7

I made the pupils completing this task split their page down the middle so the could see and replicate the structure of writing more easily. I have tried this out again using another of The Writing Revolution’s wonderful ideas as seen below.

bbs osmo act

By guiding pupils through the structure of the because, but, so on the left they were aided in completing the version on the right; supporting pupils through an intrinsically challenging task. Having the two contrasting processes, by which root hairs absorb essential substances, side by side highlights their differences more explicitly as well as giving pupils the opportunity to practise using their knowledge.

Offering cognitive support to tasks with high intrinsic load is essential for pupils to be successful if you are aiming to close the gap in attainment and help facilitate social and cultural mobility. The worked example effect, as part of explicit instruction, is a highly effective weapon in the arsenal of the teacher.

Please do follow me on Twitter for more! @MrTSci409


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