Worked Examples at #BrewEdLincs

Venue: Wig and Mitre in Lincoln on 21st Spetember 2019

The event was superbly organised for @EducatingLincs by Helena Brothwell and Mark Wilkinson and after being asked to present on worked examples following a moan (from me about a lack of exciting edugatherings in the north) on Twitter I got signed up! So pleased I did as it was a fantastic, thought-provoking and inspirational event.

title screen

This commentary is unlikely to be the same as my actual presentation; that’s a bit of a blur to be honest! That said, if anyone is thinking about presenting I would definitely recommend giving it a go. I’ve been on a Q&A panel at #CogSciSci, spoken about tracking the speaker at #BuffetEdNorth but this was my first “proper” presentation. I’m utilising the term “proper” because it had slides.

Having decided to take a risk in my inaugural presentation (questionable) I wanted to demonstrate the effect of worked examples in a tangible and enjoyable way. The most obvious idea was to ask for two volunteers to attempt to create a dog/face head  using the ancient Japanese art form of origami. Obvious, right?

As my volunteers were approaching the front, I checked that they have the prerequisite background knowledge to be able to take part in an effective way.

  1. Do you know what a dog looks like?
  2. Have you ever folded paper?

Happily both Ashley and Colette were perfectly placed. So I set a generous time limit of 45 seconds, provided a square piece of paper and a pencil each and off they went! (image below courtesy of Jake Bailey)

origami battle

After the gladiatorial contest had been concluded, using the old car horn sound, I inquired as to how they felt about completing the task.

The main themes were that “they didn’t really know what to do” and were “under pressure”. Despite having experience of recognising canine creatures and manipulating paper successfully in the past, the couldn’t transfer this knowledge easily to this new scenario.

Next I demonstrated how to make a simple origami dog face, describing each step as I did them. 28 seconds. Nailed it. Rapturous applause ensued.

model dog

So, back to Ashley and Colette. They weren’t working goal-free anymore. They had a clearer view (literally) of the end product and, as novices tend to do, they set about mimicking the process. I also had a set of integrated instructions to hand which Colette used though I fear these, combined with the time pressure, actually increased the extraneous load. 45 seconds later both of our bold volunteers had turned out a significantly improved version; Ashley’s was really good actually but I forgot to take a photo. Thankfully, Colette has provided evidence of her progress, from something resembling a fox with a crumpled nose to a pretty passable (sort of) dog, below. (image courtesy of Colette Duggan)

colette dog

Risky section of the talk over, now on to the nitty-gritty.

rosenshine bits

Making reference to Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, a bit of a standard reference these days, supported by @olicav images I briefly described how worked examples can fit into the categories shown. Pretty straight forward.


More olicav images on this slide as well to discuss that when we are teaching pupils material for the first time, they are definitely novices. They are unlikely to have the knowledge required to solve a particular problem so we, as teachers, are there to provide it. I referred back to my modelling of the origami and that if the process were practised then it would become more fluid and automatic as it became fully incorporated into the long term memory. Learned.


Through practice, novices can move towards becoming expert. The expert is able to be creative because they have automatic knowledge of the basics which frees their ability to think beyond those fundamental concepts. If I gave the integrated instructions to an origami master, they would probably be slowed down by them because their expertise trumps the support. I could ask an origami master to build something novel and while considering how to achieve it they would be relying on their schema of similar builds to inform their decisions. They might try and fail a few times but the expert would learn from their mistakes, probably more effectively than a novice would.

I also analogised this to the training programs of professional footballers. They will spend an incredible amount of time practising basic passing, dribbling, shooting so that these processes are automatic in the game situation meaning they can be more responsive to unpredictable changes by utilising creativity. Knowledge doesn’t suppress creativity, it supports it.

Then I shoved in a fancy quote.

The major instructional design implication of these studies is the need to adjust instructional methods and procedures as learners acquire more experience in a specific domain.

Kalyuga, S. & Renkl, A. Instr Sci (2010) 38: 209

I think I may have said some other poignant and breath-taking things around this point but, alas, I cannot recall them. Equally, I may  have just moved on…

science modelscience structure

Science example above (decent), English example below (maybe ok? because I made it).

character modelcharacter structure

“A greedy little duck”

Next I showed some examples I have made up which present worked examples parallel to similar problems with some variation in surface details. The beauty of this type of approach (magpied from Mr Barton maths) is that you can really focus on the deeper structure of a problem which, via guided practice, should lead to better retention and transfer to subsequent problems. In my own practice, this method has been a revelation.

Time for another pertinent quote. This time from Paul Kirschner’s blog.

As a practice method, worked examples can make learning more efficient through reducing extraneous load.

Worked examples enable learners to make more efficient use of their limited cognitive resources (Moreno, 2006), which allows for better schema construction and automation (Van Gog et al., 2008).

Finally, rounding it all off, is what I feel are the key takeaways and useful ideas for why we should use worked examples.

  • Encourage more metacognitive explanation.
  • Provide insight into the deep structure of problems improving near and far transfer of understanding.
  • Reduce the extraneous load being placed on the working memory by providing structural information.
  • Fade scaffolding as learners move away from being novices through guided practice.

If you were present at #BrewEdLincs, thank you so much for the welcome and positive feedback. I genuinely had a great time and would almost certainly do it again!

I can be found on twitter, peddling my views and sharing ideas as @MrTSci10


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s