Choose Texts Like A Cognitive Scientist

Choosing a text to use in science lessons can be tricky. If it is too hard, your students won’t learn much. If it is a straightforward text, the text might be useful as retrieval or spaced practice, but don’t forget to emphasise the other benefits to your learners. It may include useful concrete examples of a phenomenon. The text might explicitly link concepts across topics (elaboration). The diagram may support dual coding.  

Your learners won’t necessarily take from the text what you were hoping for, so ask questions designed to get them paying attention to whatever you’ve chosen to emphase

CogSci reading sheet

Retrieval Practice is highlighted, because it is the most important: if a reader doesn’t know most of the knowledge, she won’t be able to make sense of the text. Before learners read the text, it is worth assessing the knowledge the text relies on. You’d be better off reteaching insecure knowledge than expecting the learner to learn it through reading.  

The remaining strategies have all been shown to benefit learners. Your text doesn’t need to tick all of the boxes: just emphasise the strategies the text supports.

Next post – an example of this in practice…


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