Category Archives: Uncategorized

Using Curriculum Analysis Taxonomy in instructional design for schema development

Adey, P and Shayer M (1994) Really Raising Standards, Routledge, London discussed  the development and success of the often forgotten and misunderstood programme C.A.S.E. The work they did on the Curriculum Analysis Taxonomy allowed for the development of a series of lessons deeply anchored in domain specific vocabulary, experiences and concepts. The instructional design was in modern parlance to reduce extraneous cognitive load, map and match the intrinsic load and use strongly teacher led activities and discussions to make a range of germane loads available. The goal was to activate the emerging thinking schema needed for successful learning into more abstract objectives. Preparing the mind for new learning. This is why many studies have shown the long and far transfer effects.

Curriculum analysis taxonomy by Shayer and Adey


Michael Shayer and the late Philip Adey published Towards a Science of Science Teaching Cognitive development and curriculum demand in 1981.

Available here

 This was a seminal work for my practice as a young teacher and Head of Science in Leeds in the eighties. Perhaps in a similar way that Cognitive Load Theory is influencing many teachers now.

Some of it is available on the web at this site

The taxonomy was rigorously tested and rated details are to be found in Towards a Science of Science Teaching pages 84-115. This subsequently led the development of the CASE and CAME programmes. The whole body of work could best be described as Applied Cognitive Readiness and Demand Theory. Readers, of course, will have to get beyond the trigger words Piaget and constructivism which often lead off into unfruitful debates about discovery and minimal guidance. I think that this taxonomy gives a very large scale map and guide of how to match lessons and how teachers can strongly lead their sub episodes. It is also very compatible with the principles of cognitive science as outlined by and the principles outlined by Rosenshine (2012)

Rosenshine (2012) article, “Principles of Effective Instruction: Research-Based Strategies that All Teachers Should Know”







Assessment for Learning and Cognitive acceleration

Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black (2009) discuss the need for a good theory or theoretical framework to support formative assessment which has mutated to Assessment for Learning. They remark that the pedagogical principles behind cognitive acceleration programmes such as C.A.S.E and C.A.M.E . (these are now the  Let’s Think interventions) are a good candidate for this.

“The emphasis paid to creating cognitive conflict rather than giving answers, to the importance of dialogue to serve the social construction of knowledge, and to metacognition involving learners’ reflection on their own learning, makes it clear that formative assessment practices are an essential feature of these programmes. Indeed, the training process that forms part of the programmes is essential because their adoption requires teachers to engage in such practices, practices which many will find unfamiliar and challenging. Thus, whilst the programme of instruction is distinctive, formative assessment principles lie at the core of  its implementation. In SRL terms, the purpose is to change one vital element of the conditions, i.e. the reasoning resources that a learner might bring to any future task.”


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1), 5-31.

Effects of a one year Let’s Think in English intervention in an International School

Our action research on the effect of Let’s Think English (LTE) was carried out for a whole school year with grade 5 and 6 classes. We were all trained in the methodology by Michael Walsh, the co-Author of the LTE programmes. The lessons Michael  wrote, their delivery  and the associated training were all derived from the  Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (C.A.S.E)  and Cognitive Acceleration through Mathematics Education (C.A.M.E.)  programmes. All three programmes are now called Let’s Think. They are still based on the original methodology  but many of the materials have been updated.  There is a large active community involved in the further development of materials and training for all 3 programmes across all primary and secondary school ages up to 16.

The training we received was highly challenging, interactive and totally consistent with the pedagogy of LTE. It led to a highly pronounced culture of collaborative planning and in depth co-observation, feedback  and team teaching. One memorable experience was when Michael demonstrated and then later debriefed the concept of teacher mediation of student reasoning. This was a breakthrough point for Teachers who already considered themselves experienced and fairly expert in developing thinking with their students. This is where the conceptual clarity of the aims of cognitive acceleration programmes gives the most subtle but transformative guidance. The reasoning patterns behind the lessons are the magnetic force that brings the compass of the teacher back to the important direction the discussions should take.

An outstanding result of this enhanced awareness of the craft, art and science of teaching was the training day where we applied our understanding to create a Let’s Think lesson.  The way all the teachers worked together on the development of a lesson based on a short video called “Feathers”  was inspirational. This lesson has been taught in our school many times and constructively commented upon by all the teachers involved in the project. We had the pleasure of presenting this lesson at a LTE  Teachers network in Kings College last year. Michael facilitated a series of discussions with teachers spanning the primary age phases on how this lesson could be further adapted.

The original research always used Piagetian Science Reasoning Tasks developed by King’s College London to measure changes in cogntive development. These are based on the original clinical interviews conducted by Piaget and his co-workers. They were developed as interactive group tasks  to track cognitive levels and subsequent  gains across a representative sample of the UK school population in 1976. The changes in cognitive levels are then triangulated and corroborated  by independent educational measures e.g G.C.S.E performance or SAT scores. We followed this design but used the ACER tests, as our students do not do SAT  or G.C.S.E.

1)The Growth in Piagetian mean reasoning levels shown by the red line in the graph represented a 0.8  effect size (Cohen’s d) N= 59  with a p value of <0.01 for treatment group compared with the mean change blue line shown by a sample of UK students. This sample of   N=11,000 was used for control measures in many cognitive acceleration studies.

2) We also used Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) tests.  These use the same scale and psychometric model as the PISA tests. Our students took Mathematical Literacy, Reading, Narrative writing and Expository writing. We used these tests to show the persistence of the cognitive gains and how they would have  transfer effects to other subjects or domains more than a year after the start of the intervention. Our students took these ACER test in October 2016 and again in October 2017. For a small sample N=35 (due to student leaving or arriving after the pre and post ACER tests)  we got these effect sizes compared to a very stringent control of the top 14 International Baccalaureate schools (N=865) performance on the same tests as reported by Tan and Bibby (2011).

The Expository writing had a p value <0.01 and Mathematical literacy had a p value of <0.10. (Ascertained by a twin tailed t-test)

Interestingly the growth shown by the lowest quartile of our research sample showed even higher effects  on the 4 ACER tests. This effect on the least cognitively developed students has been consistently measured in previous cognitive acceleration research.

Note: that these are effect size gains compared to a group that has also grown in the expected trajectory for these leading schools. So the 0.4 Hattie hinge point is not really relevant here as he assumes 0.4 is the result of natural maturation, we have accounted for that in our calculations. Our  results compare the  growth between the two groups in the 4 domains covered by the ACER results.

These promising results demonstrate that our intervention in English led to success across cognitive domains like Mathematical Literacy as well as English competences. This research needs further follow up and replication with a wider sample size. This is in planning for the coming years in other International schools.


Tan, Ling and Bibby, Yan, “Performance Comparison between IB School Students and Non-IB School Students on the International Schools’ Assessment (ISA) and on the Social and Emotional Wellbeing Questionnaire” (2011)

Truth claims for nobestwayoverall

As a Teacher of IB (Y12 and 13) Biology and Theory of Knowledge in Switzerland I have no dog in any Trad versus Prog fight. Is this just a media invention? I teach about the ideas that science tries to make sense of the Universal and Diverse.

I thought about writing a calm considered blog post about this but reading the #nobestwayoverall discussion made me impatient.

I am not accusing anyone of affiliation. But this propostiion reminded me of a logical equivalence to the Irreducable Complexity argument of the Intelligent Design criticism against Evolutionary Biology.

The claim that teaching and its efficacy is so unknowable because every learner is different and has a different genetic, social history and because every context is different etc would render our profession to be so obviously inferior to say Medicine which has similar individual and contextual historical problems.

They are steadily working on the concept of personalised medicine. This concept has many ethical and socio-political problems but not so few knowledge problems.

To claim that #nobestwayoverall is true because there is no evidence that says it is not true is no good argument.

Where things get difficult is where the human pursuit for understanding expresses itself though for instance philosophy, science, artistic expression, political debate and other forms of persuasion.

When it gets difficult we should think harder as Robert Coe asserts.

There are good arguments, evidence (from neuroscience, cognitive science and educational psychology). Many of these make coherent, pragmatic and consensus truth forming propositions that support claims that some teaching methods are better than others regardless of contextual variables.

Many philosophers of science have agreed on the idea that truth is best understood as the best explanation we have that is consistent with all of the available data we presently have.

The concept of nobestwayoverall I think was intended as very laudible alternative and antidote against any dogmatic claim but I reject it as unfalsifiable at worst and at best a barrier to debate.

I hope that if Educational knowledge can improve as many of our ways of knowing in the Arts, Sciences and Humanities have done so that the potentially pessimistic and relativistic conclusions that could be drawn from #nobestwayoverall could be replaced with

Scientific thinking about Intelligence, Piaget and Vygotsky.

Science and free speech has been recently  discussed by Steven Pinker. Do we have to be ashamed of discussing how we can increase the intelligence of our students without insult?

During the 1970’s Philip Adey and Michael Shayer launched a kind of “State of the Cognitive Union” in the UK. The details of this are to be found in Towards a Science to Science Teaching (1981).

Based on a huge sample of school students (aprox. 11000) they found that there was a mismatch bewteen the levels of cognitive development shown in this population and the formal abstract demands of the curriculum.  As diligent scientists would do, Adey and Shayer explored how applied Psychology, Educational Research and teaching methodologies could ameliorate this problem. This led to the C.A.S.E, C.A.M.E  and now Let’s Think programmes being developed and evaluated in many different contexts.

Reading this and their other publications was life changing for me as a just starting Science teacher.  A key feature of the whole project of cognitive acceleration, and its replcations that are still thankfully alive, was that “Intelligence is not fixed” and good teaching could play a role. Adey expressed this, to me at an ASE continuing professional development workshop, as letting the “Cognitive Phenotype express the Genotype as Piaget had predicted in his work”.  Shayer and Adey , as well as Andreas Demetriou @apdemetriou ‏ , always found the Piagetian theory compelling but were prepared to do the scientific slog work of putting it to rigorous testing.

Adey and Shayer used the analogy of the early periodic table proposed by Mendeelev and the later developments,  as a pragmatic way of looking at Piaget’s theory. I find this much more fruitful and consistent with what Kuhn, Lakatos and others have outlined as the Nature of Science than the comments I have often have heard at, so called Educational 

Professional Development   ” Did not X…… falsify Piaget? ”

Vygotsky is of course now the modal, but often unread, point of reference. His concept of ZPD, also life changing for me as a teacher, I often cringe at how it is explained and applied. I often find the idea of scaffolding to be far more offensive than the idea of using teacher led strategies to increase the intelligence of students. I really enjoyed the analysis S.J Gould developed in The Mismeasure of Man and appreciate that bad intentioned racists appropriated the concept of intelligence for a good while and that various unjust forms of selection were loosely based on IQ.

However a new science based, epigenetic, concept of intelligence may help us open up a new debate.

Richard Haier  @rjhaier ‏ explicitly points out the stigma that the word “intelligence” has unfortunately gained.


PISA results analysis supports Teacher led Inquiry

This analysis of the PISA science results seems to give more support for the idea that inquiry based learning is highly problematic unless mediated by teacher leadership.

“Students who receive a blend of inquiry-based and teacher-directed instruction have the best outcomes”

“Given the strong support for inquiry-based pedagogy, these results may seem counterintuitive. We offer two hypotheses. First, students cannot progress to inquiry-based methods without a strong foundation of knowledge, gained through teacher-directed instruction. Second, inquiry-based teaching is inherently more challenging to deliver, and teachers who attempt it without sufficient training and support tend to struggle. Better teacher training, high-quality lesson plans, and school-based support can help. It’s also important to note that some kinds of inquiry-based teaching are better than others. For example, explaining how a science concept can be applied to a real-world situation appears to boost outcomes; having students design their own experiments seems to do the opposite.”

However on closer examination the blend seems to be strongly in favour of teacher led. What a surprise.

Let’s Think, Retrieval Practice, Elaboration and Dialogue

My recent experiences in the classroom, reading research literature  and hearing other ideas  in the twitter environment has made me think a lot about how I should go about trying to link Let’s Think, Dialogical Education for concept development and the messages coming from the Learning Scientists

My goal is to get clear about how to use Concrete preparation combined with Retrieval Practice and immediately use metacognition discussions at the start and end of a Let’s Think or Dialogical Education style lesson. For clarification Let’s Think lessons have the immediate goal of cognitive acceleration: They are not teaching concept or content learning, whereas the ideas of Dialogic Education use the principles developed by Philosophy for Children, amongst other ideas,  in a subject based concept devleopment.

Quoting Dylan William in

“Frequent testing has an additional benefit, which is that successfully retrieving something from memory increases storage strength, and the harder something is to retrieve, the greater the increase in storage strength. The best time to do practice testing is just as students are beginning to forget things.”

The Learning Scientists have made accessible the efficacy of Retrieval practice and Elaboration as key learning factors. I am understanding “testing” in terms of individual silent oral or written recall then followed by groups combining this recall and elaborating on each others ideas. This needs strong teacher led guidlines . Testing will happen at many time during a lesson and this of course will help the focus on epistemic check points.

These may be epistemic dialogues such as :

OK what do we all agree on at this stage?

Why do I think this is the best inference to explain these observations?

What are are main open questions we have not agreed  on?

Do we agree that we disagree on why this happens?

Do we see there are two main theories about this?

I think this is where the concept of Epistmic Inquiry really has great efficacy.  This is where personal engagement and meaning really start to happen. However this does not mean we as Teachers are passive or only Guide on the side during the development and answering of these questions .

This group social construction will move into elaboration of the ideas covered so far again strongly teacher led. I am boring myself  and others maybe because many assume constructivism means something wishy washy. It is not and this is badly understood.

Social constructivism is strongly teacher led  and can combined many so called traditional teaching strategies.

For instance I can see also  many opportunities for dual coding in the bridging phases that LT suggest as a lesson flow. Group small whiteboard presentation, individual or group oral reporting back etc etc.

My overall  metacogniton questions are  about how to unify the vast insights that  Lipman, Piaget, Vygotsky, Mercer, Wegeriff and Phillipson  and the 6 principles that the Learning Scientists have given us. How do these suggest how they can be welded into lessons, units and curriculum structure that enhances all of the things we think we know about good learning?

Evidence for social constructivist pedagogy

Steven Cooke @SteveTeachPhys and I started a discussion after he tweeted 

“Some interesting blogs from Alex here, a constructivist antidote to the CLT that normally fills my timeline!”

Extracts of our discussion

“Hi Steven what do you mean by CLT. Piaget and Vygotsky got a lot of bad rap by being falsely appropriated by wishy washy stuff. Concluding that teacher led is bad because nonsense etc etc. Let’s Think (CASE and CAME as teacher led interventions have about the soundest evidence base as anything in education and they are through and through Piaget Vygotsky)”

“The failure of Let’s Think Science’s EEF trial rather dented CASE’s credentials don’t you think?”

“No but that this is a very long story of bad EEF design. Far and long transfer ignored as outcomes, control of Treatment compared to control lack of training etc etc”

“This needs to be an open discussion about whether RCT is the only way anyway”

“Yeah but the pre existing evidence was mostly generated by the original authors, failure to replicate – Popper would have us walk away”

“I think that there is a huge amount of evidence compared to EEF. As a follower of Philosophy of Science I would tip Kuhn over Popper lets get discussing.”


Is this replication or not? Original Authors or not?

Mary Oliver in Thinking Science Australia

In Chinese primary schools Philip  Adey and Weiping Hu developed a Learn to think curriculum they found far and long transfer in Maths and Chinese.

In Finland  Hautamäki, Kuusela and  Wikström (2002)  in one of the first Randomised Controlled Trials  ever done in Education, found large gains in Maths and Science.

Then there is all the CAME data especially in primary schools in Hammersmith, Fulham and Bournemouth U.K. Shayer and Adhami (20110), Ireland McCormack (2009),  Pakistan Iqbal and Shayer (2000) , Israel and in Tonga Finau et al (2016)  also replicated.


Finau, Teukava & Treagust, David & Won, Mihye & L. Chandrasegaran, A. (2016). Effects of a Mathematics Cognitive Acceleration Program on Student Achievement and Motivation. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education. . 10.1007/s10763-016-9763-5. 

Hautamäki, J., Kuusela, J., & Wikström, J. (2002). CASE and CAME in Finland: “The second wave”. Paper presented at 10th International Conference on thinking. Harrogate.

Hu, W., Adey, P., Jia, X., Liu, J., Zhang, L., Li, J., Dong, X., (2011)  Effects of a “Learn to Think” intervention programme on primary school students: Effects of “Learn to Think” intervention programme. British Journal of Educational Psychology 81, 531–557. doi:10.1348/2044-8279.002007

Iqbal,H and  Shayer, M (2000) Accelerating the Development of Formal Thinking in Pakistan Secondary School Students: Achievement Effects and Professional Development Issues

McCormack, Lorraine (2009) Cognitive acceleration across the primary-second level transition. PhD thesis, Dublin City University.

Shayer,M and Adhami,M (2010)Realising the cognitive potential of Children 5 to 7 with a mathematics focus:Effects of a two-year intervention, Piaget is dead, Vygotsky is still alive, or? Finnish Educational Research Associaition, Helsinki

The nature of School Science Knowledge

Some of the discussion going on in twitter started by Adam Boxer @adamboxer1 and Rosalind Walker @Rosalindphys and her very interesting blog at

The nature of school science knowledge…

Reminded me of research I did in Physics education 25 years ago on the nature of school science and how it effects learning of Ohm’s Law and its applications. Thomas Kuhn and his discussion of  f=ma as a law sketch in his  Structure of Scientific revolutions was a major influence on me then as it still is . What especially reminded me was the way Kuhn discusses how a student comes to understand the law sketch and its application with what Rosalind would call “shed loads of practice” of application in different problem situations. I also thought that this would be  hugely complimented by what Neil Phillipson @Phillipson70 and Rupert Weegerif explain in Dialogical Education. I think School Science can recreate the essential elements of what Kuhn calls “a group licensed tried and tested way of knowing”.