It’s all in the font: fortune favours the bold (and the italicised).

As teachers we spend a lot of our time considering how we can improve the retention of the information that we are providing our learners with.  Many take this consideration down to the level of the font used for a hand-out or on powerpoints.  I remember as a trainee teacher I was told that comic sans was ‘the best’ font to use and can especially aid those with dyslexia (the British Dyslexia Association actually list it with five other fonts that are recommended).

Diemand-Yauman et al. (2011) conducted two studies looking at the effect of ‘disfluent’ fonts suggesting that the additional cognitive processing required to assimilate the information will result in a greater memory trace of the information presented (as in Craig and Tulving’s (1975) Levels of Processing).  It is suggested that these aptly named “desirable difficulties” (such as using a disfluent font) capitalise on this by creating additional cognitive burdens that improve learning.

In the first experiment 28 participants had to recall a list of 21 items of abstract information – details of species of aliens. This task was meant to parallel taxonomic learning in a biology classroom; alien species were used in place of actual species to ensure participants had no prior knowledge of the domain. This informationScreen Shot 2013-07-21 at 15.35.24 was presented using three different types of font (Comic Sans, Bondoni MT and Arial). Results showed a significant difference in recall following a 15 minute delay (t(26) = 2.3, p < .05) with those participants who were presented with the disfluent fonts scoring 14% better on average on a recall test.  A second study was conducted in a naturalistic setting using 222 high school students as a follow up to the initial laboratory study and this supported the initial findings providing further evidence that using disfluent fonts aids recall.

This research would suggest that adding cognitive burden to a student during encoding is beneficial to their later recall.  There are several caveats to consider if / when implementing this.  Diemand-Yauman et al. recognise that it is important to ascertain the point at which material is no longer disfluent but illegible otherwise one would be hindering a student’s progress.  Further to this less motivated, less able, or those with specific statemented learning difficulties could find the fonts unaccessible.

The scope of disfluent interventions is wide and these are cost-effective and easily implemented.  Unless requested by a student with specific difficulties or instructed to by my learning support department I personally use either Arial or Calibri fonts and do not think that I will be changing this practice any time soon.  However, the underlying concepts of creating resources that require students to think and increase the cognitive processes rather than just giving it to them is an interesting on that I will be implementing in my next review of resources over the summer.

Would you consider action research on this? What are your feelings about utilising so-called ‘disfluent’ fonts in class or on worksheets? Your thoughts in the comments.


Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D.M., and Vaughan, E.B. (2011) Fortune favors the bold (and the italicized): effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118, 1, 111-115.

doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.012  (full text currently available online here)

Flipping Fantastic: a case study of blogs as a platform for flipped learning.

The Flipped Classroom

It is apparent that there are individual differences as to what motivates and does not motivate a learner (Jones, Valdez, Nowakowski, & Rasmussen, 1994). The empirical support for active learning, generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process, is extensive (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Further, there are increasing indications that learners’ expectations of technology, and, as a result, of learning, are not being met (BECTA, 2008). Following on from this research, I considered an implementation of a ‘flipped classroom’ where students are primed with knowledge prior to the session. Flipped learning is a form of blended learning that encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom.

In recent years, learner-centered pedagogy has received considerable attention (Pierce & Fox, 2012; Findlay-Thompson & Saint, 2014; Warter-Perez & Dong, 2012). A learner-centered approach to teaching incorporates teaching strategies that focus on the needs, preferences, and interests of the learner. This approach is desirable because it helps learners to become actively engaged in the learning process, take responsibility for their learning, and enhances their skills to learn how to learn (Keengwe, Onchwari & Onchwari, 2009). Active learning is grounded on the constructivist theory that emphasises hands-on, activity-based teaching and learning during which students develop their own frames of thought (Keengwe et al., 2009).

The ‘flipped classroom’ instructional model was developed by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams in 2007 to provide instruction to secondary students who were missing class and therefore missing instruction. Using videos to support students’ learning has attracted the attention of a large number of researchers (Young and Asensio, 2002) and a key concept within the idea of flipped learning is the use of new technologies to support learning; or as some would label: blended learning (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004). The ‘flipped learning’ method provides an opportunity for teachers to provide more personal feedback and assistance to students, but also to receive feedback from their students about the activities that they are undertaking and what they don’t yet understand (Wiley and Gardner, 2013).

Student perceptions of flipped learning were considered by Bower (2013) who stated that a teacher no longer needs to provide a synchronous lesson to his or her students. The flipped classroom offers those educators looking to reinvent their practice a way to move from being the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” (King, 1993). There are many examples of the use of a flipped classroom in contemporary classrooms (Pierce & Fox, 2012; Findlay-Thompson & Saint, 2014; Warter-Perez & Dong, 2012).

The fundamental idea behind flipping a classroom is that more classroom time should be dedicated to active learning where the teacher can provide immediate feedback and assistance. The learner completes a task outside of the classroom that will often involve watching a video clip, sometimes narrated by the instructor. This prepares the student with information that will be built upon in class. In relation to Bloom’s Taxonomy, the learners are developing their knowledge and understanding outside of the class which gives more time in class for the instructor to develop assessments, activities and tasks that build on this and develop the higher order skills (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956). Some educators have claimed that assessment-related activities used in the classroom convey important information about what is valued there, and hence have an influence on students’ achievement goals (Ames, 1992; Harlen & Crick, 2003).

Following on from this, the current action research considered an implementation of a ‘flipped classroom’ where students were primed with knowledge prior to sessions. Students completed a flipped task prior to the session that involved a reading task, watching a short clip, and completing an online quiz. The class resources and extension work was placed on the class flipped blog for use following the session. Therefore, embedding the technology into the session, both prior to, and following the session with the aim of creating a ‘blended’ learning environment. This method was sustained for a full term with students completing a flipped task each week prior to their first session.

Blogs as Flipped Classrooms

Initially the flipped classroom was developed on the WordPress platform using a ‘learning management’ plugin developed by Woothemes called Sensei. This flipped classroom (accessible at consisted of two areas: the weekly resource blog and the weekly flipped task. Each week I would place the classroom resources on the site for students to make use of, download and complete the extension tasks, which were optional. The flipped task was uploaded each week to be completed prior to the first session the next week. This task would always compromise of a reading task, a short (~10 minute) video clip and a selection of multiple-choice questions. These multiple-choice questions allowed me to monitor the completion of the task for each learner and provided me with scores to measure progress, but it also gave immediate feedback to the student allowing them to reflect on their responses.


Three classes of AS students taught by myself were selected to use the flipped learning approach. A comparison group of students who completed their AS course in the 2012-13 year were matched with the current students on sex and prior achievement for statistical comparison of value added scores. Qualitative responses from each of the current students were collected to contextualise any difference in progression over the course of the year and gain insight into the students preferred teaching style. Final measures of impact cannot be made until the terminal results of the AS examinations have been released in August 2014.

Some of the Impact

Students’ overall perceptions of flipped learning where measured through an online questionnaire that asked about student engagement with flipped learning, preferences for teaching style and feedback for future implementations of flipped learning. The results from the questions on perception of flipped learning over the first half-term of the year are shown in the table below (figure 1).

Table showing sub-set of results from a questionnaire on the impact and perception of flipped learning.

Figure 1: table showing sub-set of results from a questionnaire on the impact and perception of flipped learning.

The overall perception of flipped learning were positive and suggest that the students found it more engaging as a ‘homework’ task than more traditional methods as well as allowing them more time with the instructor to develop this knowledge in class. Qualitative feedback from the class on open questions about their preference for flipped learning suggested supported the responses to the quantitative questions with students stating that they ‘enjoyed’ flipped learning and ‘liked the ability to access the work anywhere’. One student even commented that ‘the flipped tasks have given me something to do when I’m bored on the bus home’.

Is Flipped Learning Flipping Fantastic?

Research related to the potential impact of the flipped model is focused on the effects of preparing learners with direct instruction outside of the classroom, prior to receiving in-class instruction. Research on the effects of priming on memory indicates that when learners are exposed to particular stimuli their memory of that stimulus is improved due to their previous experience (Bodie et al., 2006). By providing students with instruction outside of the classroom, learners are, in essence, ‘primed’ for the active learning tasks.

Teaching is not just about giving the students knowledge but also providing the learner with signposts to help develop their studentship skills and become a better learner in general (Dunlosky et al., 2013). Stretching and providing extension activities for all learners is a key theme that is embedded into any outstanding lesson, allowing students to move away from a restrictive activity and develop further awareness of an area or improve their skills. There is no doubt that Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives for the cognitive domain (Bloom et al., 1956) has had a considerable impact on educational thought and practice all over the world. If the taxonomy is embedded into the curriculum in the first weeks then students can use their meta-cognitive skills and consider with greater skill what a question is demanding of them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 10.25.31Using the flipped method has allowed me to signpost different skills within Bloom’s Taxonomy to them in a structured way. Learners are aware that the tasks that they complete as part of the flipped classroom give them a foundation of knowledge that will be built upon in class. The use of Bloom’s stages within the taxonomy are further embedded within class through the use of learning tasks that used as consolidation tasks on the flipped activities. Each lesson is developed to build upon the flipped task and work up through Bloom’s taxonomy using resources such as a ‘learning ladder’ (figure 2) of different tasks grouped into the six stages within the taxonomy (Russell, 2014).

Angelo (1995) suggests that classroom learning improves when (a) students are personally invested and actively engaged, (b) they receive prompt and comprehensible feedback, and (c) they work cooperatively with their classmates and teachers. Students are actively engaged before they enter the classroom through the use of a flipped lesson. They know what they will be learning about, and bring an awareness of what the session is going to contain allowing them to interact with the starter activities immediately. Using the flipped method it gives more time in class to focus on activities, therefore, feedback is prompt and regular, from the embedding of consolidation tasks to the use of the AfL for whole class feedback and reflection. Finally, the students are able to work cooperatively, supporting each other from the initial task based on the flipped session to group work and discussion throughout, with extension work following the session.

One issue that must be raised is the access to technology and individual preferences for the use of it as a learning tool. Technology can be engaging for some learners, but it is important to recognise that students are more motivated by opportunities to progress; they are motivated by opportunities to ask and answer their own questions; and they are motivated by opportunities to learn together with like-minded peers (Tucker, 2012). Aware of this the flipped classroom was implemented for the first half-term, and only once a week to allow a range of other activities to be used.

Outstanding teaching techniques are based on the goal of “students becoming the agents of their own learning rather than the object of instruction” (Hamdan, McKnight, McKnight, & Artfstrom, 2013b, p. 4), and these techniques are designed to get at the deepest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). In a recent literature review, Hamdan et al. (2013b) recognised that teachers achieved increased student engagement, critical thinking, and better attitudes toward learning when active learning techniques, such as flipped learning were applied. This was reflected in the feedback from learners in my classes this year. The flipped classroom has given me more time in class to work with students rather than teach the entire class. This time has enabled me to differentiate between my learners better, give more one-to-one feedback to each learner and become aware of the strengths of each of my students. Flipping fantastic.



Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of educational psychology, 84(3), 261.

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Allyn & Bacon.

Angelo, T.A. (1995) Classroom assessment for critical thinking. Teaching of psychology, 22, 6-7.

BECTA (2008) Harnessing Technology: Next Generation Learning. Available:

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, F. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. Taxonomy of Educational Obiectives: The Classi?cation of Education Goals. New York: Longman.

Bodie, G.D., Powers, W.G., Fitch-Hauser, M., (2006). Chunking, Priming and Active Learning: Toward an innovative and blended approach to teaching communication-related skills. nteractive Learning Environments. 14 (2), 119 – 135.

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning. Creating Excitement in the.

Bower, M., Kenney, J., Dalgarno, B., Lee, M.J.W. & Kennedy, G.E. (2013). Blended synchronous learning: Patterns and principles for simultaneously engaging co-located and distributed learners. In H. Carter, M. Gosper and J. Hedberg (Eds.), Electric Dreams. Proceedings ascilite 2013 Sydney.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J., and Willingham, D.T. (2013) Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

Findlay-Thompson, S., & Mombourquette, P. (2014). Evaluation of a flipped classroom in an undergraduate business course. Business Education & Accreditation, 6(1).

Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The internet and higher education, 7(2), 95-105.

Hamdan, N., McKnight, P., McKnight, K., & Arfstrom, K. (2013). A review of flipped learning. Flipped Learning Network: Available http://www. flippedlearning. org/cms/lib07/VA01923112/Centricity/Domain/41/LitReview _FlippedLearning.pdf .

Harlen, W., & Deakin Crick, R. (2003). Testing and motivation for learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 10(2), 169-207.

Jones, B. F., & Valdez, G. (2008). Nowakowski, 1., & Rasmussen, C.(1994). Designing Learning and Technology for Educational Reform. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Keengwe, J., Onchwari, G., & OnChwari, J. (2009). Technology and student learning: Towards a learner-centered teaching model. AACE Journal, 17(1), 11-22.

King, A., (1993). From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.

Pierce, R., & Fox, J. (2012). Vodcasts and active-learning exercises in a “flipped classroom” model of a renal pharmacotherapy module. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 76(10).

Russell, C., (2014) Thinking Ladder. Available:

Tucker, B. (2012). The flipped classroom. Education Next, 12(1), 82-83.

Warter-Perez, N., & Dong, J., (2012). Flipping the classroom: How to embed inquiry and design projects into a digital engineering lecture. In Proceedings of the 2012 ASEE PSW Section Conference.

Willey, K., & Gardner, A. Flipping your classroom. Available:

Young, C., & Asensio, M. (2002, March). Looking through Three’I’s: the Pedagogic Use of Streaming Video. In Networked Learning (pp. 628-635).


No more highlighting – Improving learning with effective techniques.

Teaching is not just about giving the students knowledge but also providing the learner with signposts to help develop their studentship skills and become a better learner in general. A recent monograph has considered the relative benefits of a variety of revision and learning strategies that students utilise and reflected on the impact they have on both learning and retention of content.

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 11.32.48Some of the findings will not come as a surprise to you (highlighting and rereading are not effective strategies) but there is probably more to be gained by focusing on the top performing techniques that both us as teachers and also students themselves should be fostering. I know when students are ‘revising‘ many think that revisiting the course reader armed with a handful of multicoloured highlighters is an effective way — well at least there is something visible to show for the work!

In table 1 you can see a summary of the findings from Dunlosky’s review of research into ten different techniques often practiced by teachers and learners and their relative effectiveness.

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 11.25.52

Elements that seem to be key to improving retention are techniques that encourage the student to think about what they are reviewing and distributing their efforts over time.

The full article is quite a read at over 50 pages but it is possible to drop into it and review each of the ten techniques individually or just read the discussion of the article. I am planning on using the findings from this research in several ways from developing more elaborative questioning techniques to altering worksheets to encourage students to explain their answers to demonstrate their understanding (more on this here).

In class I am going to develop this as a critical thinking exercise. I am going to give a summary of this paper and the table above to students and ask them to develop their own revision strategies using a variety of the discussed techniques. Then I will ask them for a rationale for why it will be an effective method.

A technique called ‘Spaced Learning’ builds on many of the concepts that Dunlosky identify as ‘highly’ effective. This involved students completing their revision in stages, which each stage (about an hour) having four key components:

  1. Review of topic (about ~20 minutes) – this can take any form and is not prescriptive – it is about allowing the student to revisit their notes and build their knowledge base before completing the next tasks. Make sure that the topic is small – anything too large and it will be too much – this is about distributing topics over shorter, more effective revision periods.
  2. Transformation exercise (about ~20 minutes) – here students put their notes away and transform the knowledge into something else – this could be a mind map, a drawing, a song, a poem, flash cards etc. (There are some excellent ideas in this resource). The idea is that by transforming their knowledge they have to keep asking ‘why’ – why does that item link with another item on a mind map, why should that part be in the drawing …
  3. Practice testing (about 10 minutes) – with a friend, family member, study buddy – or just using the cover, write check method – quickly test yourself on the topic.
  4. Exam question (about 10 minutes) – complete an exam question on the topic / sub-topic you have completed and check this with a mark scheme.

Example of Spaced Learning I designed for my students mock revision.

Example of Spaced Learning I designed for my students mock revision.

This process takes place on a rolling timescale. On day 1 of revision students complete part 1 & 2. Then the next day return to the topic and complete part 3 & 4. On that second day the student does part 1 & 2 for their second topic as well … onwards over many days and weeks.

Spaced Learning

Are there any surprises in the articles? How might you change your practice, resources or classroom in light of this? Are the techniques ranked as you would imagine them?


Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J., and Willingham, D.T. (2013) Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

DOI: 10.1177/1529100612453266 (Full text article currently available here)

Why do we study the WEIRDest people in the world?

Psychologists are routinely publishing board claims about human behaviour that are based on biased and ethnocentric samples. Many of these samples are based on WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industralised, Rich and Democratic) societies and the conclusions assume that there is little variation across human populations and that the conclusions from social science research can be generalised to all.

I often give my students an article from ‘The Psychologist’ called ‘The use and abuse of students participants‘ to read to help them consider the implications, both methodologically and in the conclusions that are made, of using limited samples in psychological research. Helping students appreciate this is an important factor in improving their evaluative, synoptic and critical thinking skills.

Henrich et al. (2010) considered that there were many ‘certainties’ social science took for granted when explaining behaviour. They suggested that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could ?nd for generalising about humans and that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity (Henrich et al., 2010).

In his review he looks at measures of visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorisation, moral reasoning and IQ (among others) and his findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations a scientist could use for generalising about behaviour.

Screen Shot 2013-08-17 at 11.46.18One example taken from the study is that of the visual illusion the ‘Muller-Lyer’ (see fig.1 from Henrich). He reviews Segall et al. (1966) who manipulated the length of the two lines in the Muller-Lyer illusion (Fig. 1) and estimated the magnitude of the illusion by determining the approxi- mate point at which the two lines were perceived as being of the same length. Figure 2 shows the results from 16 societies, including 14 small-scale societies. The vertical axis gives the “point of subjective equality” (PSE), which measures the extent to which segment “a” must be longer than segment “b” before the two segments are judged equal in length. PSE measures the strength of the illusion.

Screen Shot 2013-08-17 at 12.03.54The results show substantial differences among populations, with American undergraduates anchoring the extreme end of the distribution, followed by the South African-European sample from Johannesburg. On average, the undergraduates required that line “a” be about a fifth longer than line “b” before the two segments were perceived as equal. At the other end, the San foragers of the Kalahari were unaffected by the so-called illusion (it is not an illusion for them). While the San’s PSE value cannot be distinguished from zero, the American undergraduates’ PSE value is significantly different from all the other societies studied.

The full article, including the commentary is worth a read, and an excellent article to stretch top-end students who want to gain more depth of knowledge of the issues surrounding biases in samples and more sophisticated debates surrounding generalising results from studies.

Screen Shot 2013-08-17 at 12.09.29There is also a fun little infographic for your classroom wall or to give to students for them to consider these issues in a more accessible way and could act as a good starting point for discussion on populations in studies and the biases that these raise in generalising the results. Getting students considering issues like this must increase their awareness of the bigger debates and help them with synoptic elements of the course.

Do you have any activities that you use to raise awareness of biases in participant samples? Does it matter that a large proportion of research considers WEIRD participants?



Henrich, J., Heine, S.J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 61-135.   

DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152X (full article available here)

Teaching Generation Me

“The students never used to be like this…”. It’s a conversation that I am sure takes place in every staff room and work room across the spectrum of institutions each year with teachers who have only been in the profession for several years agreeing with the, lets say, more experienced colleagues.  Is there a generational gap between teachers and students, and is this being magnified by the rapid changes in technology, culture and expectations of our learners? Are learners at the moment really a ‘different bread’ of students than the generations previously?

Apparently so; Twenge (2013) writes that students are significantly different from previous generations being:

… [students] are overconfident, have high expectations, report higher narcissism, are lower in creativity, are less interested in civic issues, and are less inclined to read long passages of text. They are highly confident of their abilities and received higher grades in high school despite doing fewer hours of homework than previous generations. (pg. 66)


If this is the case, as teachers, we need to be prepared to review the strategies that we use to teach and develop techniques to help them be successful (or should we?).  Twenge recommends that teachers of todays generation should:

  • combat students believing their entitled to higher grades departments should ensure that course syllabi should be explicit about expectations for each grade boundary;
  • give frequent feedback using realistic assessments of performance and make use of peer assessment;
  • use class time for activities and collaborative learning and not using standard ‘lectures’ for long durations;

Reading this article as an A Level teacher in the UK, the suggestions are what I, and all of the ‘outstanding’ teachers that I have observed, do on a daily basis. Ensuring that lessons are centred around what the student is doing, not what the teaching is doing; making use of AFL and collaborative learning.

Of his conclusions there are some which I do subscribe to: standards for content and learning should remain the same and there should be a consistent approach to all learners. However, this article, to me, falls between giving students an excuse for poor studentship and allowing teachers to absolve some responsibility for the attitudes of learners back onto the learner rather than considering the expectations that one sets in their own classroom.

Overwhelmingly though, I find the article an insult to the learners that are in front of us each day.  Twenge concludes with:

Today’s students often need the purpose and meaning of activities spelled out for them. Previous generations had a sense of duty and would often do what they were told without asking why. Most young people no longer respond to appeals to duty; instead, they want to know exactly why they are doing something and want to know they are having a personal impact. (pg 68)

Yes, there are some students who fall into the category of what Twenge calls the ‘generation me’, but as psychologists should we not be aware of making sweeping over generalisations.

As teachers we do need to be aware of changes around us; from pedagogical advancements and specification changes to the more dynamic changes between cohorts, and even classes, responses to lessons.  What are your thoughts on the article?  Do you find it a useful commentary on students of today?


Twenge, J.M. (2013) Teaching Generation Me. Teaching of Psychology, 40(1), 66-69.