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Knowledge & Skills for Success

As part of the Early Career Framework, it is expected that early career teachers learn that explicitly teaching pupils the knowledge and skills they need to succeed within particular subject areas is beneficial.

Can students write an essay without knowing how to write an essay?

The most probable answer to this question is "no". Therefore, it is vital as an educator to ensure that you are teaching your students the skills they need to be able to apply their knowledge to a given context. Be that a coursework task or an an exam question. If you know what "success" looks like and you have the skills to be able to apply your knowledge in order to achieve that success, learning is easier - right?

Knowledge can be defined as specific facts or truth components. A knowledge statement will often contain substantive, declarative or explicit knowledge.

Skill can be defined as the use and application of composite knowledge. A skill statement will often contain implicit, procedural and disciplinary knowledge.

Knowledge and skills are intertwined, need to be sequenced properly and are mutually beneficial. Research indicates that children become more proficient learners when they develop metacognitive and cognitive strategies, such as being able to retrieve and connect their knowledge (Muijs, 2020; Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, 2014). Likewise, when children develop the skill of reading, they can access and build a wider knowledge base.

Therefore, a curriculum that values and finds a balance between both skills and knowledge is the goal. Prioritising one over the other can create significant gaps in children’s learning. In fact, as Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s Deputy Director for Schools, says, to pitch one approach over the other creates a ‘false dichotomy’.

Muijs D (2020) Cognition, learning and educational research from Issue 8 of Impact magazine, The Chartered College of Teaching

Brown PC, Roediger III HL and McDaniel MA (2014) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. London: Harvard University Press.

Much research has been conducted in the UK by the EEF that suggests that teaching metacognitive skills has the highest impact on learning (+7 months of progress) for the lowest cost (Teaching and Learning Toolkit)). The term metacognition refers to an individual’s ability to plan, monitor, evaluate, and make changes to their own learning behaviours in order to confront challenges more effectively. You might have heard it defined as ‘thinking about thinking’, but the elements of active monitoring and modifying of thought processes make it much more than this. It is also a form of self-regulation, involving self-awareness, critical analysis skills, and the ability to problem-solve.

For students, having metacognitive skills means that they are able to recognise their own cognitive abilities, direct their own learning, evaluate their performance, understand what caused their successes or failures, and learn new strategies. It can also help them learn how to revise. This is because it optimises their basic cognitive processes, including memory, attention, activation of prior knowledge, and being able to solve or complete a task. It makes them learn more efficiently and more effectively, and so they are able to make more progress.

The potential benefits of metacognition in learning are as follows:

  • Higher achievement levels for the students. Metacognitive practices can also compensate for any cognitive limitations that a student might have, according to research such as this.

  • Increased ability to learn independently. Being able to monitor their own progress lets them take control of their own learning, inside and outside the classroom.

  • Improved resilience. Identifying their successes and failures, and which strategies work best for them – or which have failed – increases students’ perseverance in getting better at their work.

  • It aids disadvantaged students. According to this report, and research by the EEF, teaching in a way that supports metacognition is beneficial for students who are at a disadvantage to their peers. This is becoming increasingly important, as the performance gap has widened once again due to COVID-19.

  • Cost-effectiveness. This method of teaching does not require specialist equipment, nor any other large purchases – it only requires teachers to be trained in the method effectively.

  • Transferable knowledge. Metacognition helps students to transmit their knowledge and understanding across tasks and contexts, including reading comprehension, writing, mathematics, memorising, reasoning, and problem-solving.

  • Effective for all ages of students. Research has looked at both primary and secondary students – and even those who have not yet started school – and found benefits in all cases.

  • Emotional and social growth. Gaining awareness of their own mental states allows students to think about how to be happy, respected, and confident in themselves. They are also better able to understand other people’s perspectives.

Thoughtful Learning suggest that the 21st century learning skills are often called the 4 C’s: critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating are vital to success in school and beyond. In their blog post, they discuss these in detail and provide strategies for delivering these in the classroom.

When it comes to ensuring students are gaining the knowledge required for success, again, much has been written about different strategies. The focus, rightly, remains on retrieval practice but TeachThought suggests the following 6 strategies and provides practical strategies to embed these into your teaching.

Larry Ferlazzo is a veteran teacher of English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He has written seven books on education. His most recent book “Building A Community Of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies To Help Students Thrive In School and Beyond ” published by Routledge, has been summarised by The Washington Post. The book discusses "Transfer of Learning" and how we develop learners who are able to transfer their knowledge and skills from one subject to another and then also beyond school.

It is useful, when teaching a topic to students to consider how they will need to apply that knowledge in order to be successful. What skill(s) do they need? If you are teaching an examined subject, take some time to really interrogate exam papers and markschemes and establish exactly what it is the exam board is wanting to see from students in terms of their answers for maximum success. Then you should consider how you will teach the skills required in order to be able to demonstrate that knowledge. Look at the assessment objectives of your specification. What do analysis, application and evaluation "look" like for your specification? How do you know your students know how to demonstrate this? Consider delivering lessons that specifically cover these skills and model the exam technique required. Show students what a good one looks like so they know.

Take, for example, this "extended writing" question seen in a GCSE Computer Science paper. Students are asked to "discuss" the "impact" of changes made to a computer. If they do not know what that discussion should look like or what an impact is, or even how to structure that answer, how can we expect them to be successful.

Below is an example of how I have modelled this to my own students, this is given to students alongside the markscheme with colour-coded sections included. Teaching students the explicit skills to be successful in these sorts of questions, along with the format/structure/formula - choose your word! - of the "shorter" answer questions has meant that our students have been more successful in their terminal examinations.

Consider how you could utilise something similar in your own subject.

Further reading recommendations are indicated with an asterisk.

Bailin, S., Case, R., Coombs, J. R., & Daniels, L. B. (1999) Common misconceptions of critical thinking. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 31(3), 269-283.

Ball, D. L., Thames, M. H., & Phelps, G. (2008) Content knowledge for teachers: What makes it special? Journal of Teacher Education, 2008 59: 389 DOI: 10.1177/0022487108324554 [Online] Accessible from:

Biesta, G. (2009) Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1).

*Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., & Major, L. E. (2014) What makes great teaching. Review of the underpinning research. Durham University: UK. Available at:

Cowan, N. (2008) What are the differences between long-term, short-term, and working memory? Progress in brain research, 169, 323-338.

Deans for Impact (2015) The Science of Learning [Online] Accessible from: [retrieved 10 October 2018].

Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Improving Secondary Science Guidance Report. [Online] Accessible from: [retrieved 10 October 2018].

Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Preparing for Literacy Guidance Report. [Online] Accessible from:

Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit: Accessible from: [retrieved 10 October 2018]

Guzzetti, B. J. (2000) Learning counter-intuitive science concepts: What have we learned from over a decade of research? Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 16, 89 –98.

Jerrim, J., & Vignoles, A. (2016) The link between East Asian "mastery" teaching methods and English children's mathematics skills. Economics of Education Review, 50, 29-44.

Machin, S., McNally, S., & Viarengo, M. (2018) Changing how literacy is taught: Evidence on synthetic phonics. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 10(2), 217–241.

Rich, P. R., Van Loon, M. H., Dunlosky, J., & Zaragoza, M. S. (2017) Belief in corrective feedback for common misconceptions: Implications for knowledge revision. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 43(3), 492-501.

*Rosenshine, B. (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. American Educator, 12–20.

Scott, C. E., McTigue, E. M., Miller, D. M., & Washburn, E. K. (2018) The what, when, and how of preservice teachers and literacy across the disciplines : A systematic literature review of nearly 50 years of research. Teaching and Teacher Education, 73, 1–13.

*Shanahan, T. (2005) The National Reading Panel Report: Practical Advice for Teachers. Accessible from:

Sweller, J., van Merrienboer, J. J. G., & Paas, F. G. W. C. (1998) Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design. Educational Psychology Review, 10(3), 251–296.

Willingham, D. T. (2002) Ask the Cognitive Scientist. Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to Expertise. American Educator, 26(4), 31-33. Accessible from: .

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