The Big Six: A Grand Summary

Much of the time, this blog digs into a specific example of a specific teaching practice.

Within the last two weeks, I’ve written about spacing and interleaving in math instruction, a “big challenging book” strategy for struggling readers, and the potential benefits of cold calling.

At times, however, it’s helpful to zoom the camera back and look at THE BIG PICTURE.

What does cognitive science tell us about learning?

Today’s Grand Summary

Regular readers know that The Learning Scientists do a GREAT job explaining…well…the science of learning.

In particular, they focus on “six strategies of effective learning”:



Retrieval Practice

Concrete Examples


Dual Coding

In a recent post, Dr. Megan Sumeracki does a typically helpful job giving a thoughtful overview of those strategies. Rather than summarize her summary, I’m encouraging you to give her post a quick read. It will help put the pieces together for you.

Wise Caveats

Sumeracki introduces her summary with this helpful note:

Before digging into the specifics of each strategy, it is important to note that they are very flexible. This is a good thing, in that it means they can be used in a lot of different situations.

However, this also means that there really isn’t a specific prescription we can provide that will “always work.”

Instead, understanding the strategies and how they work can help instructors and students. [Emphasis added.]

In other words — as you often read on this blog — “don’t just do this thing; instead, think this way.”

Cognitive science really cannot provide a script for teachers to read verbatim. Instead, it offers principles that we must adapt to our own specific classrooms and students.

So, if you increase spacing and retrieval practice, your students will — almost certainly — remember more over the long term. But: exactly how to do that will differ from classroom to classroom, grade to grade, culture to culture.

In other words: teachers should draw on scientific understanding of minds and brains to shape our work. But: teaching itself isn’t a science. It’s a craft, a passion, a profession.

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