Birkbeck Primary School

Teaching approaches

At Birkbeck Primary school, our approaches to teaching are informed by extensive research, undertaken both internally and outside of the school's specific context. This means that parents and carers can be sure that children are receiving the very best in evidence informed teaching and instruction across the curriculum. 

We do not believe in giving our teaching staff pre-made schemes or scripts to follow. However, we do believe that children will learn best and most sustainably when the principles that teachers use to make their decisions about teaching approaches in a given context are consistent across the whole school. 

Underpinning our approach to teaching is Cognitive Load theory. Cognitive load is a theory developed by John Sweller (1988) and proposes that memory is made up of two principle parts - the working memory and the long term memory. While long term memory is essentially unlimited, it is sadly, less accessible than working memory. Working memory, however, is severely limited (general consensus is that working memory can hold up to seven new pieces of information at any given time.) Working memory becomes filled with information that children absorb from the environment they are in. This includes, of course, the teaching that they receive. One guiding principle of teaching instruction is to ensure that intrinsic cognitive load (that being the information that children are receiving that is relevant to the task) is optimised, making it easier to process and embed in long term memory. It is also important to ensure that extraneous cognitive load (information that is not relevant to the task) is minimised. The application of our principles of teaching is always done within the contextual consideration of cognitive load. 

Our principles of teaching are based on the belief that intelligence is not fixed and that it is the mission of teachers to help pupils make the journey from novice to expert in whichever domain they are teaching. We know that in the novice stage of learning, children learn best from studying the work of experts and being taught to deconstruct examples as apply the underpinning concepts in their own practise tasks. We also understand that as children move towards the expert end of the continuum in any given subject discipline or strand, they learn best from having time to independently apply their understanding in flexible and varied ways and in a range of different contexts. Teachers ensure that this can happen because they design activities which facilitate the kind of deep thought that children need to experience in order to further their understanding. When tasks are designed, it is the thinking which guides the design, not the outcome. 

Our principles of teaching and learning make up the acronym of EXPERT. They are: Examples and Models, eXplanation, Practise with spacing, Effective sequences, Re-teach and guided practise, Touching base and Checking for understanding. Feedback also runs through our approach to all six principles. You can read in detail about each of these principles and how they are commonly applied in classrooms in the attached Teaching and Learning handbook, which was written by our Teaching and Learning lead. 

teaching and learning handbook.pdf