PGDE Social Subjects - Newsletter 1

Cognitive Load Theory - an introduction by GCSEPod

In the late 1980s, John Sweller developed a theory about the demands placed on the human memory when we are learning something new. This he named Cognitive Load Theory. Dylan Wiliam subsequently commented that it was the ‘single most important thing that teachers should know’. 

The theory details three different types of cognitive load, one of which is ‘extraneous load’, that is how the learning is presented to the learner. Sweller suggested that there are ways of reducing the extraneous load, thereby increasing the likelihood of the learning being assimilated by the learner. 

Strategies such as reducing redundant text on a power point or using worked examples to aid learning, are now increasingly being used by teachers, and have themselves attracted further research into their efficacy. 

Text source: , images source:

Thinking in class

by Bruce Robertson, HT and Author

If asking questions to make all students think is something you would like to get better at, here are some techniques you might want to focus on building into your teaching, or developing further:

  1. Show-me boards. If you aren’t already using show-me boards as a matter of routine in (almost) every lesson,  start doing so. Show-me boards encourage all students to think and all students to commit to a specific answer. They also make the thinking of all students visible to the teacher, so we can respond to individuals or the class some point in the future. Show-me boards are a teacher’s best friend.
  2. Pause. If you can get into the habit of asking a question and pausing for a few seconds, embracing the silence, then it is more likely that more students will think about the questions you ask. To help with this, try getting into the habit of using phrases such as ‘Everyone think about that’ each time you ask a question.
  3. Bounce. When a student answers a question, the natural temptation is to give feedback – we want to tell them if they are right or wrong. However, if instead, you ‘bounce’ the same question to another student, you encourage more students to think.

Read more of Bruce’s thoughts in the original blog post on the Education Scotland website

Supporting Source work - resources by

Sometimes, the hardest part of teaching is helping your pupils understand the procedural aspects of the SQA courses. Helping your pupils get to grips with writing effective answers or evaluating sources is challenging because each student needs to internalise the answer structures as well as remember all their facts and figures.

Support Mats can be highly effective resources to support pupils building their skills and confidence in source analysis.

Below are two excellent examples from, designed to help students interpret sources. Your mats should use the language of the SQA (the example below is from an English school), such as authorship, omission and recall for instance. Also below, is a ‘wrap around’ - simply laminate to use as a see-through mat which pupils can lay on top of a source.


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PGDE Social Subjects - newsletter 3