#020 Greg Ashman – Cognitive Load Theory and Direct Instruction vs Inquiry-Based Learning

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On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, I spoke to Greg Ashman.

Greg is a maths and science teacher, originally from the UK but now based in sunny Australia. He is a prolific and influential blogger and is also working towards his PhD in Cognitive Load Theory, something which Dylan Wiliam recently tweeted was “the single most important thing for teachers to know”.

Now, if you enjoyed the educational research aspects of my interview with Dylan Wiliam, and the memory related discussion I had with Will Emeny, then you are going to love this. We dig deep into Cognitive Load Theory and in particular its implications for Direct or Explicit Instruction versus inquiry or discovery based learning in the classroom. And I will say from the outset – and discuss more in my Takeaway at the end of the show – reading Greg’s work and the research he cites has really changed the way I approach my own teaching 12 years into my career.

In a wide ranging interview we covered the following things and more:

  • How does Greg plan series of lessons, and what would a typical lesson look like?
  • Why is Greg such a big fan of joint planning within his department with an emphasis on refinement, and how do new ideas break through in this model?
  • Why does Greg believe behaviour management is not something you are born with, but something that can be learned like any other skill
  • And then we dive deep into Cognitive Load Theory, where Greg gives a lovely summary of the theory, looking at the role of working and long-term memory, the process of chunking and the dangers of means-end problems.
  • We then look at some key Cognitive Load Theory “effects” including The Worked Example Effect, the Redundancy Effect and the Expertise Reversal Effect, each time asking what are the implications for the classroom. The Redundancy Effect in particular has huge consequences for how we present information to students.
  • I then quiz Greg about implications for exam preparation, especially how to help students answer those tricky 5 mark questions that call upon a lot of different skills
  • Surely if students discover something they will remember it better? Not according to Greg, and he has an anecdote about beer to try to convince me!
  • What about the role of puzzles, real life maths, and the story structure of 3 Act Math lessons?
  • Finally Greg has some excellent book recommendations, and a wonderful Big 3 selection.

If, like me, you are interested in educational research, no matter how much you have looked into it, I really believe you will find this discussion of great interest. I have tried as much as possible to tease out the practical implications for the classroom – and that is the great advantage of having Greg as a guest. He is a working maths teacher who can put the ideas he reads into practice every single day.

On Twitter Greg is @greg_ashman
His excellent blog can be found at: gregashman.wordpress.com
Greg’s ebook, “Ouroboros”, is available to purchase here

Links to the research that Greg mentions, as well as all the research cited by my previouis guests, can be found here
The books Greg recommends, along with those recommended by my other guests, can be found here

Greg Ashman’s Big 3
1. American Educator
2. Education Echo Chamber 
3. Research Ed 

My usual plugs:

Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you enjoy the show!
Craig Barton

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