The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

High quality teaching for all: two essential strategies

Gareth D Morewood explores the power of dual coding and retrieval practice in improving learning outcomes for all children and young people.

I’ve written previously about creating a calm, consistent, positive learning environment that benefits everyone; once established and supported by constant consistency within the setting, the next step to improving outcomes for all is high quality teaching within those environments.

It is important to get the conditions for learning right so that ‘high-impact’ strategies can have maximum effect. I want to highlight two key strategies that the evidence suggests have strong grounds for improving outcomes and that from my own experience really benefit young people in striving for aspirational results, whatever programmes of study they are following.

An important distinction

It is important to be clear that however individuals feel they learn best, assessing that ‘learning style’ and matching teaching exclusively to that way of working will not improve outcomes. It is possible to prefer visual materials, for example, but that does not mean that only accessing material that way is best.

Trying to identify and then focus on a perceived preference for ‘learning style’ actually limits opportunity significantly (20 years ago I was guilty of this myself). To increase opportunity, especially for those who struggle due to being marginalised, excluded, or not catered for because of additional learning needs or disabilities, we need to understand and implement what the evidence suggests is a good investment in learning. A good SEND strategy is a good strategy for all.

Dual coding

A while ago I wrote a post asking if a picture was truly worth a thousand words. In essence dual coding is about the combination of verbal materials with visual materials.

This can be done in several ways, such as using diagrams, comic strips, timelines and so on. Practically, getting information in a dual format – combining visuals with text or words, video with audio, video with text or words, for example – provides two ways of remembering the information later on. This is a good strategy for learners of any age.

Note that just using words and pictures isn’t enough – we need to make the connection between them in order to support long-term memory: ‘even when instruction involves both words and pictures, our results show that presenting verbal and visual explanations without connecting them is much less helpful that coordinating verbal narration simultaneously with animation’ (Mayer & Anderson, 1991).

A handy app for supporting routines and giving structure to the day is MyPicturePath (read this review for more detail). While it was developed to support young people and families with a digital visual timeline, I can see great applications for this with regards to learning as well.

OurBoards also provides physical solutions that can be developed to support this way of working; previously we wrote about the application of this in supporting deployment of teaching assistants and I can again see great possibilities with regard to the transferability of these ideas and practical applications.

Retrieval practice

A handy (and dual coded!) summary of retrieval practice can be seen in the excellent short film by the Learning Scientists.

Retrieval practice is about recovering information you have learned in the past. When teaching new content, students don’t just need to understand it – they also need to be able to access it when required.

Without building in learning strategies like retrieval practice, you may recall things from the last lesson very well, but struggle with things from a few months ago.

Actively teaching and practicing retrieval (as with pretty much anything) helps the processes become habitual and therefore gives you a better chance of remembering things when you need to. There are some excellent materials available to help understand what these techniques might look like.

One that resonates with me (having seen it used regularly in lessons) is the challenge grid. Building in regular, low stakes quizzing and using tools like the challenge grid provides a clear way of supporting retrieval of information; trying to remember stuff that you were taught months ago and haven’t revisited since is much harder. After all, a good strategy for improving outcomes supported by calm, purposeful environments gives everyone a better opportunity.

Evidence suggests that we should actively teach the best learning strategies (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006) as often we would choose ineffective ones if not supported in understanding better methods.  The evidence is quite strong around the realisation that learning isn’t about doing well in tests, but that tests and quizzes should be something that helps people learn more effectively.


I don’t claim to have any great expertise in how best to ensure good recall and memory; however, I do think that establishing positive routines as part of how we teach is a massive support for young people with additional needs and most certainly doesn’t harm or hinder others – in fact quite the opposite.

Building upon the previous blogs, hopefully this gives a taste of how establishing constant consistency as part of school culture, supporting calm and positive classroom environments and using high-impact learning strategies, can make a significant difference to the outcomes of young people with additional needs and, as ever, really benefit all – so why wouldn’t you?

SEND Leadership

Delivered digitally over two modules in February 2021, this conference will explore lessons learned from the disruption to SEND provision and how we can better adapt our collective approach moving forward to create the best outcomes for children throughout their school lives. Sessions include SENCO wellbeing, empowerment for classroom teachers and leading SEND with autonomy and confidence.

View the full programme

Further reading and resources

A collection of retrieval practice research and resources – Kate Jones, Love to Teach
How retrieval practice can help pupils remember and understand – Dr Megan Smith
Learn How to Study Using... Dual Coding – The Learning Scientists
Learn How to Study Using... Retrieval Practice – The Learning Scientists
Six Strategies for Effective Learning: Materials for Teachers and Students – The Learning Scientists
Dual Coding and Common Coding Theories of Memory – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The Science of Learning: 77 Studies That Every Teacher Needs to Know – Bradley Busch and Edward Watson


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