Evidence-based pedagogies

Written by: Kate Mouncey | Published:
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With a focus on her school’s geography teaching, Kate Mouncey looks at the evidence-based strategies and pedagogy they have employed to meet the challenge of the new GCSE and A level courses and the move to terminal examinations

The new curriculum has thrown up many challenges for geography over the last couple of years.

At both GCSE and A level, the subject content has been made significantly more difficult in terms of both the level of understanding required and the volume of material covered.

The assessment of the subject at both levels has been drastically changed, including the reintroduction of non-examined assessment (coursework) at A level, while taking away the controlled assessment at GCSE.

Add to this the fact that both qualifications changed in exactly the same year for first assessment in 2018, and it becomes difficult to remember a more challenging time for geography teachers.

However, there is no doubt that this change has brought about many opportunities, including the chance to review and rethink teaching strategies as the new schemes of work and lessons have been constructed.

At the same time as the new curriculum has been introduced, there has been a real awakening in many schools to evidence-based education. The use of education research and evidence has enabled us to look at good starting points or “best bets” for teaching and learning.

In my school’s geography department, we have used some of the key recommendations from a variety of reliable sources to help teach the new specifications as successfully as possible.

The strategies that we are using are very much in development, but seem to be supporting our students to learn effectively and to make real progress in their education. The key areas that we are looking include the following.

Knowledge retention

Terminal exams with a wide range of very complex ideas and exhaustive content have led to the need for students to learn and retain a large amount of material.

The science of learning has been well documented and sources such as McCrae (2017) and Willingham (2010) have offered some excellent suggestions for maximising knowledge retention.

We are using quick knowledge quizzes in a lot of lessons, often asking five to 10 quick questions to test prior learning. We have moved away from multiple-choice quizzes and apps as they were not challenging enough.

There is a consideration of “cognitive load” in putting together resources and scaffolding is enabling students to focus only on the key learning at a specific time.


We are setting homework and specific tasks concerned with reviewing content. This includes preparing detailed flashcards for self-testing, knowledge organisers at the end of topics and mind maps.

Sandringham School’s Memory Clock is used as a framework to support students to undertake timed practice and checking after the review of material. This is itself based on Dunlosky’s work recognising the most effective revision strategies (2013).


This area has become a real focus since the publication of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) guidance report on metacognition and self-regulated learning (2018).

Our first work on this has involved an explicit sharing of the metacognition cycle with students, with a real focus on monitoring their actions and thoughts during task completion, such as an extended answer exam question.

We had often talked about planning for a task, and then reviewing it following feedback. However, we had not really thought about monitoring and so we have put together checklists for students to check on during a task so that successful habits and thoughts could become embedded over time.


Our whole-school feedback policy has been rewritten to base the core principles on the current evidence. We have used ideas from the University of Oxford and EEF’s report A Marked Improvement? (2016) and the work of Professor Dylan Wiliam (2011).

The focus is on closing the gap and empowering students to take on a very active role in responding to feedback. In geography, we are trialling whole-class feedback, with specific targets assigned to individual students.

We are also looking at verbal feedback, to move away from generic comments which can often take up a lot of time and can have a limited impact.

Passion for the subject

We must not overlook the critical need to inspire our students in the subject that we love. There is an even greater tension now to ensure that we do not lose this passion for study as we address the greater challenge posed by new qualifications.

The Geographical Association (GA) has a wealth of resources and ideas for lessons and curriculum planning which are very much rooted in a love for the subject. As one of the most active subject associations, its has fostered a highly respected and collaborative community for geography educators in all phases and I would encourage all to engage with their communications and activities.

The EEF also has an increasing number of resources which are hugely helpful. For example, Improving secondary science may be aimed at science, but the recommended strategies are almost all directly transferable to geography and other teaching and are all evidence-based.


As we approach the second round of reformed assessments, I am optimistic that all of these sources of support can offer geographers multiple strategies to both help students succeed and inspire them in the subject that we love.

  • Kate Mouncey is research lead at Sandringham Research School in St Alban’s, part of the Research Schools Network – a collaboration between the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). Visit https://researchschool.org.uk/sandringham & www.the-iee.org.uk

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