Teaching with an understanding of cognitive architecture

Rethinking Teaching for Learning Article Series

Teaching with an understanding of cognitive architecture

Author: Hayley Dean, Treasurer, ACHPER NSW.

In education we talk about learning and what it looks like every day. But what does ‘learning’ actually mean, and how can we use this understanding to guide our teaching practices?

This article is part of a series that will focus on teaching for enhanced learning, motivation, engagement and achievement. Each part will include a resource for PDHPE Stage 6, which will support practical application of the theory discussed. This part will focus on evidence-based teaching and assessment strategies to maximise learning.

What does the research tell us about how we learn?

Learning occurs when information is successfully transferred from working memory to long-term memory. Without this transfer, nothing has been learned.

Our cognitive architecture refers to how cognitive structures are organised. This includes the sensory memory, the working memory (previously known as the short-term memory), long-term memory and how knowledge is stored in the long-term memory via schemas. It is this organisation that enables learning.

The sensory memory interacts with the incoming stimuli and decides what is important enough to dedicate attention to. The working memory is responsible for receiving and processing information and solving problems. Its capacity is limited with estimates that no more than four units or ‘chunks of information’ can be actively processed simultaneously. In addition, the working memory is able to deal with “information for no more than a few seconds and almost all information is lost after about 20 seconds unless it is refreshed by rehearsal”.

schema of information encoding from working memory to long term memory

What does this look like in practice?

A student is learning about the principles of training for the first time. The student is trying to learn with a noisy classroom next door and construction work taking place outside the window. Motivated by the student’s respect for the teacher and her desire to do well in the course, the sensory memory filters out information unrelated to learning about the principles of training (e.g. auditory-noisy classroom and visual-construction work). When learning about the principles of training in Core 2, a student must know about the types of training and training methods to be able to understand how the principles of training can be applied.

We know the working memory can only handle about four chunks of information at a time, and it only last for up to about 20 seconds before it is forgotten. This is where elaborative rehearsal strategies, attaching meaning to the concept and content comes into place. After learning about each principle, the student could use the mnemonic SPORTVW (specificity, progressive overload, reversibility, training thresholds, variety and warm-up and cool-down) and apply this concept to athlete case studies using resistance and aerobic training types.

The opportunity for teaching lies in the finding that working memory has no known limitations when using information retrieved from the long-term memory. So what does this mean for teaching, and in particular, what does this look like in a Stage 6 classroom when the intermediate goal is the HSC? This means that our teaching should focus on strategies that support the processes of encoding newly learned information, transferring information and retrieving information.

After encoding the principles of training into the long-term memory using the mnemonic, the student is asked to ‘explain how the principles of training can be applied to a sample resistance training program’. To do this, the encoded information about the types of training and training methods, and the principles of training must be retrieved from the long-term memory for the student to form a response.

By structuring your learning sequences to promote encoding of new information followed by rehearsal activities requiring retrieval of that information students will in time, become more efficient at retrieving information learnt.

Elaborative rehearsal strategies can support memory to maximise learning in PDHPE. This type of rehearsal is effective for transferring information into long-term memory. It involves thinking about the meaning of the information and connecting it to other information already stored in the memory. For example, when students are learning about the principles of training, links can be made to the types of training and training methods through retrieval strategies and this will support the encoding and storage of information about the principles of training in the long-term memory, supporting future retrieval for assessment. A diverse range of examples of rehearsal strategies are provided in the table that follows.

According to Craik & Lockhart (1972) this type of rehearsal works because of the depth of processing required. An effective way to promote elaborative rehearsal is to engage with the information in more than one way. These strategies will include both teaching and assessment strategies, incorporating self-assessment, peer-assessment and teacher assessment. The resource that follows demonstrates how each strategy for memory retention or long-term memory gain can be used in Year 11 and 12 PDHPE.

Teaching-with-an-understanding-of-cognitive-architecture-strategies overview
 We would love to hear about and showcase on the ACHPER NSW website, the strategies that you use with your students to maximise their learning in Stage 6 PDHPE. Please share these by emailing Professional Learning Officer, Janice Atkin.


References and further reading

Baddeley, A., & Longman, D. (1978). The influence of length and frequency of training sessions on the rate of learning to type. Ergonomics, 21, 627-635.

Board of Studies NSW. (2009). Personal Development, Health and Physical Education Stage 6 Syllabus.

Cowan, N. (2010). The magical mystery four: How is working memory capacity limited, and why? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 51-57. http://doi.org/10.1177/0963721409359277

Craik, F.I.M., & Lockhart, R.S. (1972). Levels of processing: A Framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, 11(6), 671.

Farrand, P., Hussain, F., & Hennessy, E. (2002). The efficacy of the “mind map” study technique. Medical Education, 36, 426-431.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning; a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge:NY. NY.

Johnson, R., Ginsberg, S & Wilks-Smith, N. (2020). Enhancing memory for learning: Teachers’ journeys of implementing memory strategies in their classrooms, Scan 39(1).

Kirschner, P.A., Sweller, J. & Clark, R.E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41, 75-86.

Landauer, T., & Bjork, R. (1978). Optimum rehearsal patterns and name learning. In M. Grneberg, P.Morris & R. Sykes (Eds.), Practical aspects of memory, 625-632. London: Academic Press.

Mayer, R.E., & Morreno, R. (2010). Techniques that reduce extraneous cognitive load and manage intrinsic cognitive load during multimedia learning. In J. L. Plass, R. Moreno, & R. Brunken (Eds.), Cognitive load theory (pp.131-152). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Merrienboer, J.J., & Sweller, J. (2010). Cognitive Load theory in health professional education: design principles and strategies, 85-93. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2923.2009.03498.x

Palinscar, A.S (2013). Reciprocal Teaching. In J. Hattie & E.M. Anderson (Eds.), International Guide to Achievement (pp.369-371), Taylor and Francis.

Pashler, H., Rohrer, D., Cepeda, N., & Carpenter, S. (2007). Enhancing learning and retarding forgetting: Choices and consequences. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 14, 187-193.

RMIT University. (2019). Sans Forgetica wins prestigious design award. https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2019/jul/sans-forgetica-award

Schacter, D. (1992). Priming and multiple memory systems: Perceptual mechanisms of implicit memory. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 4, 244-256.

Sweller, J. (2012). Human cognitive architecture: Why some instructional procedures work and others do not. In K. Harris, S. Graham & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA Educational Psychology Handbook. American Psychological Association. Washington.

Sweller, J. (2002). Visualisation and Instructional Design. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d041/c7df26d2d212a6e37204f8615119aff56eed.pdf?_ga=2.6319218.1365109857.1586994562-350032250.1586994562

Wang, A., & Thomas, M. (2000). Looking for long-term mnemonic effects on serial recall: The Legacy of Simonides. American Journal of Psychology, 113, 331-340.

Whitaker, L. (2019). What are some elaborate rehearsal strategies that will transfer learning into long-term memory? https://meteoreducation.com/long-term-memory-2/


 How to cite this article – Dean, H. (2020, May). Teaching with an understanding of cognitive architecture. Rethinking Teaching for Learning Article Series (1). (https://www.achpernsw.com.au/teaching-with-an-understanding-of-cognitive-architecture/)



Reflections on my professional learning journey – Sophie Skeers

The ACHPER NSW Professional Learning Scholarship for 2019 provided the students at Tumbarumba High School with the opportunity to offer Community and Family Studies (CAFS) as a Stage 6 subject this year. This is the first time Tumbarumba High School has had the opportunity to offer CAFS. This would not have been possible without the ACHPER scholarship which allowed me to be upskilled in attending the ‘Teaching Stage 6 CAFS for the first time’ workshop. Attending professional learning has proved to have its challenges, due to being in a rural area. ACHPER provided the subsidy of travel and accommodation which has had a positive impact on increasing my content knowledge and increased the variety of teaching strategies, therefore having a positive impact on students at Tumbarumba High School.

The Effective Assessment Practices in K-10 PDHPE workshop allowed me to further develop my understanding of the K-10 PDHPE syllabus and especially improve the assessment practices at our school. This has placed more value on developing skills such as critical thinking for students in PDHPE. At school we have been focusing on preparing students for Stage 6 PDHPE. This development of new assessment activities has reduced the gap between Stage 5 and Stage 6 PDHPE with the intention to develop all learning outcomes.

Reflections on my professional learning journey – Rosemary Taekel

During 2018 I was fortunate enough to attend both the ACHPER NSW Aspiring Leaders Workshop and the Curriculum Leadership in PDHPE Workshop, as the recipient of the 2017 recipient of the ACHPER NSW Professional Learning Scholarship. Throughout the two days, I was able to network with leaders in education, particularly from the CAFS KLA. Individuals that had been through the process of leadership recruitment, be that on the head teacher or welfare journey. They provided invaluable insights into how to project yourself into those roles, to take chances and risks in order to achieve your goals whatever they be in Leadership.

I was afraid that I wouldn’t be ready for a course like this, being so early in my career, but there was so much that could be taken away from this course no matter where you were on your leadership journey. The Curriculum Leadership in PDHPE was such a well-rounded course that had elements that teachers were able to apply to their KLA. It didn’t matter if you weren’t based in PDHPE, the application of assessments for learning and curriculum development were applicable to all teachers and were a real benefit to the students in your classroom.

I am so grateful to ACHPER NSW for the opportunities that they have provided to me this year as the recipient of the scholarship, as there have been so many chances for me to network and broadened my skills and knowledge. This has …. that in turn is projected into my classroom and demonstrate in the teaching and learning strategies that I am able to use to extend my students learning. If it wasn’t for this scholarship, this wouldn’t have been possible.


20 ways to cut your grading time in half

“20 ways to cut your grading time in half” was an article that caught my eye, however it was the name of the blog that further piqued my curiosity, the “Cult of Pedagogy”.


Jennifer Gonzalez, the Editor in Chief of the Cult of Pedagogy is quick to point out that it isn’t actually a cult, but an online collection of blogs, podcasts, videos and resources, run by a team of people committed to “making you more awesome in the classroom”. Gonzalez started blogging in 2013 and has amassed a range of strategies and learning conversations to support teachers.


“20 ways to cut your grading time in half” is simply a collection of ideas to mix and match to help cut back on the time you spend grading student work. Some of the strategies will work more easily in the context of Years 7 -10 or primary school, which is Gonzalez’s background, however, many will work in any teaching context.


Research tells us that feedback is key to improving student learning. Gonzales suggests that providing only feedback on a task, instead of grading, is one way to reduce time.  She uses the example of a gymnast learning a new skill, and writes that they don’t receive a score from their coach each time they attempt the skill. The learning period is about trial and error, practise and feedback. Similarly, narrowing your focus when grading so as to only assess a few skills, for example grammar or terminology, is another way to reduce time.


Gonzales asks if we can find ways in which to use some kind of shorthand, teach our students how to interpret this, and in turn reducing repeated comment writing. Along with this, having a marking station in the corner of the room, where students can go and correct their own work or even just the simple ‘see three before me’ concept, can reduce the time a teacher spends correcting class tasks.


Whilst, we cannot remove the need to assess our student’s work, we can change our approach. This article is helpful in suggesting how we can work a little bit smarter and a little less harder, but still strive to improve student learning.


For further information: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/

What will physical literacy look like in the NEW K-10 PDHPE syllabus?

Remembering back to the last physical education lesson you taught; how motivated and engaged were all of your students? Did they have the opportunity to develop confidence and capacity? What were the outcomes of the lesson?

PDHPE should promote learning through movement experiences that are both challenging and enjoyable to improve student capacity to be creative, confident and competent movers within and across a variety of contexts. It promotes the value of movement and physical activity in student’s lives, now and in the future.

A focus on physical literacy encourages a more inclusive and holistic approach for our students through PDHPE.

Physical literacy is embedded throughout the current K-6 and 7-10 PDHPE syllabuses. Expect a feature focus on physical literacy in the new PDHPE K-10 syllabus as manifestation of the propositions which underpin teaching, learning and assessment.

What is physical literacy?

Physical literacy is defined as “the motivation, confidence, physical competence, understanding and knowledge to maintain physical activity at an individually appropriate level, throughout life” (Whitehead, 2006).

One common understanding of the term literacy is that it is a set of tangible skills – particularly the cognitive skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening – that are acquired by an individual and enable that person to access and use a variety of information sources to solve an information need, communicate effectively and to make sense of the world through literature. (UNESCO, 2006)

Therefore, we should consider that physical literacy refers to a set of tangible skills that are acquired by an individual and enable that person to access and make sense of the physical world. This is done through movement. Physical literacy also encompasses knowledge, understanding, attitudes and attributes such as motivation and confidence which enhance the development, refinement and application of these tangible skills.

Physical literacy is a capability which can be applied in contexts broader than just PDHPE or School Sport. The outcome of all planned physical activity experiences, inside and outside the school, should be physical literacy.

The NSW Department of Education’s Physical Literacy continuum K-10 is a tool to support quality teaching, learning, assessment and reporting practices in PDHPE, with a particular focus on physical education.

Physical literacy in the new K-10 PDHPE syllabus

The continuum can be used across the school to value movement. The tool identifies the knowledge, understandings, skills and attitudes regarded as critical to success and lifelong involvement in physical activity. It maps how the four critical aspects of physical literacy develop through the years of schooling by describing key markers of expected student achievement. These critical aspects are interrelated. There is no hierarchy. These aspects and key markers can be mapped back to current and new NSW PDHPE curriculum, making the tool a useful tool to enhance practice. Use of the tool in many NSW schools has increased opportunities for physical activity through PDHPE and School Sport through increased teacher confidence, particularly in the primary school setting.

The Physical Literacy continuum K-10 does not replace syllabus documents, but when used together with syllabus documents and other support materials, the continuum can assist teachers to deliver quality teaching and learning programs through PDHPE.

The NSW Physical Literacy continuum K-10 promotes a strengths based approach. It can be used flexibly to allows teachers to assess for learning to identify strengths and areas for improvement with students and develop clear learning goals. Knowing and focusing on what students can do allows teachers to determine where to next when planning for student learning within and across classes, groups of learners and individual students. The continuum also assists when differentiating programs by identifying each student’s level of achievement across the critical aspects. This encourages personalised approaches to support making adjustments to programs in order to meet the individual needs of students. Students can track and monitor their own progress across the continuum in various physical activity contexts which builds a shared responsibility for student learning.

The NSW Physical Literacy continuum K-10 promotes and supports a focus on educative purpose in physical education. The continuum supports teachers to identify the learning intentions for movement and physical activity based learning experiences. The tool will support teachers to plan, deliver and evaluate learning experiences across the Movement Skill and Performance and Healthy, Safe and Active Lifestyle strands in the new K-10 PDHPE syllabus. The continuum identifies success criteria in planned physical activity across the stage of learning. It does this through its clusters of markers and example documents to show translations of what the markers could look like across different physical activity contexts.

Success criteria helps cultivate independent and confident learners, focus on what students can do through purposeful learning experiences, provide effective feedback to students and parents/ caregivers. The continuum and associated resources can also be used by teachers to develop assessment tools such as checklists and rubrics to assist in identifying where to next for the teaching and learning focus.

Using the tool will promote enhanced teaching, learning and assessment by:
• introducing high expectations
• increasing opportunities for meaningful development which engages students in their own learning
• moving away from assessment and reporting centred around ineffective and inequitable measures such as enjoyment, participation and competence.

How do I order copies?

The NSW Physical Literacy continuum K-10 includes an A1 learning progression poster, plus a range of supporting resources and professional learning.

  • NSW Public schools can access the Physical literacy website to order free copies of the NSW Physical Literacy continuum K-10 for their staff. One order per school.
  • Schools and agencies outside of the NSW Department of Education can order copies through the Caterpillar Print website. Costs cover printing and distribution. Additional costs exist for international mail.
    For more information, or to access support, resources or professional learning materials access the Department’s physical literacy website or contact the PDHPE Advisor at pdhpe.unit@det.nsw.edu.au.


Renee West

Department of Education

PDHPE Advisor 7-12


Is all learning quantifiable?

If anyone has ever seen an episode of The Office you would know that most scenes are steeped in many hilarious and rich interactions between colleagues, often within small confines such as around the water cooler or photocopier. Whilst the show offers an over the top view of the myriad of smaller discussions that consistently pepper our workplaces, it also offers pause for consideration into the simultaneous meanings and messages that can be found within these exchanges.

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Preparation is the key to good results

As #CAFS NSW students begin to think about preparing for their HSC trials, it is timely to discuss what they can do to give the exams their best shot.

1. Know the syllabus

This goes without saying. Knowing the syllabus intimately is a key component to achieving good results in CAFS (and for any other subject for that matter). Successful CAFS students demonstrate a strong interconnectedness between concepts and their application of knowledge in their exam responses. It is because of this interconnection that students, with the guidance of their teachers should examine the relationship between the ‘Learn about’ and ‘Learn to’ objectives.

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Staff meeting process for gathering feedback on the draft PDHPE syllabus

Last month saw the release of the draft K-10 PDHPE syllabus for consultation. The release provides an exciting opportunity for teachers to have input into the future directions of the PDHPE learning area.

ACHPER NSW and the PDHPE Teachers’ Association will be submitting formal feedback based on input from their members.

In order to support teachers to explore the draft K-10 PDHPE syllabus and provide us with your feedback on the draft syllabus, we have put together a step-by-step process with guided discussion questions. The process has been designed to be run in a staff meeting or faculty meeting and could be used on the upcoming staff development day.

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How SAAFE are your PE lessons?

Although the health benefits of participating in regular physical activity are extensive, the majority of young Australians are not sufficiently active. The pandemic of ‘physical inactivity’ is not only influencing our health, but also our hip pocket, with global estimates suggesting in excess of US$50 billion is being spent on health care related to inactivity. So how do we encourage our kids to become more active now and provide them with motivation, knowledge, skills and confidence to be active for life?

In February this year, the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition at the University of Newcastle, in collaboration with the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at Australian Catholic University and the Psychology of Exercise, Health and Physical Activity Laboratory at the University of British Columbia, published a research article (which can be found online here) describing the SAAFE (Supportive, Autonomous, Active, Fair, and Enjoyable) teaching principles.

The principles were designed to provide specialist and non-specialist PE teachers with an easy-to-follow framework for delivering high quality learning experiences in the physical domain. They are not ‘rocket science’, but they are based on international research that has explored strategies to increase young people’s motivation and activity levels in PE, community sport and after school programs.

The principles were originally developed for use in the SCORES (Supporting Children’s Outcomes using Rewards, Exercise and Skills) physical activity intervention for primary school children. The SCORES intervention successfully increased children’s physical activity, fitness and fundamental movement skills over a 12-month period. The SAAFE principles are now being used in the iPLAY program, which builds on the success of SCORES.

The SAAFE principles have also been used by secondary school teachers with adolescents. So far, about 200 teachers from across NSW have been provided with training to deliver the NEAT and ATLAS programs, which use the SAAFE principles to teach resistance training skills. In our next project, we will use the SAAFE principles to support the delivery of high intensity interval training (HIIT) with senior school students.

So, what is the secret to creating ‘SAAFE’ physical activity sessions? How can you ensure that every member of your class or team is active and engaged?

Image: Overview of the SAAFE teaching principles

1. Be SUPPORTIVE in your teaching. Take the perspective of the students, provide a rationale for what you are doing, create meaningful connections, use language that is not strict or controlling, and demonstrate emotional support or involvement. Examples: Provide individual skill specific feedback; provide praise on student effort and improvement.

2. Maximise opportunities for individuals to be physically ACTIVE by including high levels of physical activity and minimal transition time. Examples: Avoid elimination games; play multiple mini games to maximise student involvement.

3. Create an AUTONOMOUS environment by providing students with choice and offering graded tasks. Examples: Allow students to choose the music within the lesson; involve students in the modification of the activities/rules.

4. Design and deliver FAIR lessons by providing all students with opportunities to experience success in the physical domain. Examples: Ensure students are evenly matched in activities; encourage self-comparison rather than peer-comparison.

5. Provide an ENJOYABLE experience, as people tend to persist with activities they find intrinsically motivating. Examples: Start and conclude session with an enjoyable activity; do not use exercise as punishment.

Leading this conversation is Professor David Lubans, ARC Future Fellow and Theme Leader of the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Schools theme at the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition at the University of Newcastle. Professor Lubans is extremely passionate about re-engaging children and teens in physical education, through the design and delivery of innovative school-based programs and teacher education initiatives. He believes that the SAAFE principles are an essential component imbedded within the interventions he creates and delivers, and that all teachers should be provided with the knowledge and training to include these principles within their lessons.

Would you like to know more about the SAAFE Teaching Principles? Search for the “Health and Fitness for Teens Workshop” on MyPL. It is a one day, BOSTES accredited professional learning workshop delivered by the Department of Education in collaboration with Professor Lubans and his research team.