Lesson planning is key when we aim at attaining positive student learning outcomes. However, teachers’ task of anticipating different situations while considering every student’s individual needs, the resources available in the classroom or online, as well as how to help students stay on task is an enormous challenge. In this scenario, the Science of Learning and the Engage, Build, Consolidate (EBC) Framework may offer a lot of insightful reflections into effective lesson planning. This blog explores this framework and its principles and gives you access to a lesson plan based on EBC.
Before we go any further, I would like to mention my professor Paul Howard-Jones at the University of Bristol and his collaborators who developed this framework. He would certainly want me to stress that the EBC Framework is not a fixed recipe for lesson planning. As a matter of fact, it is stated on the scienceoflearning-ebc.org website:
“The Science of Learning EBC framework does not provide any prescription for effective teaching. Instead, the framework is a set of concepts that can provide a fascinating insight into the processes that underlie classroom learning. The framework is designed as a tool to support teachers to talk about, reflect upon and develop their practice in relation to learning.”
I firmly believe there is no such prescriptive framework since teaching and learning form a complex system with many variables. It would be like trying to cook using a recipe book when your pans and ingredients have a life of their own. That being said, let us take a look at the framework and its principles.
The first step of the framework is to ENGAGE our students. Without engagement, there is no attention. Without attention, there is no memory. If there is no memory, learning did not take place. Here are some principles of ENGAGE that you can bear in mind when you plan and deliver your lessons:
- Every brain is unique
Remember to differentiate and personalize activities. What works for some, might not work for others. You can always add room for different activities with the same pedagogical purpose and encourage students to connect with things that are relevant to them.
2. Approach response
The brain reward’s system is activated in our students when we acknowledge their efforts with praise, when we offer them novel information, which taps into their curiosity, when they have choice and can share attention with us and their peers. Making the book topics more interesting by sharing curiosities about them as well as working in pairs or groups can make lessons more engaging
3. Reduce fearfulness and anxiety
When students feel intimidated or scared of exposure, they cannot use their conscious cognitive skills efficiently. This means that we must establish rapport with them and create a safe environment where mistakes and errors are welcome and part of the learning process. Humor and fun also play a central role in reducing fearfulness and anxiety. Keep that in mind.
4. The brain is plastic
That basically means that the brain can change its structure throughout our lifetime by making new connections. Learning is what the brain does and our students need to realize that we are not the only ones responsible for their learning. They should have agency and be proactive. We can help them understand these things by discussing how our brains learn and some basic principles of the Science of Learning in our lessons. We can talk about memory, attention, metacognition, self-efficacy, growth mindset, and motivation.
Now that your students are engaged, we must help them BUILD new knowledge and skills into their brain. This requires us to respect their limited working memory and try to avoid cognitive overload. The three principles of BUILD are:
- Prior knowledge
Imagine trying to build a wall without its foundation. It will not work. This is the same for our students. They will not be able to learn the Third Conditional effectively without first having learned Past Simple and Past Perfect. Teachers can help students activate prior knowledge so that the can start building new knowledge more effectively. This can be achieved by simply asking students to retrieve (try to remember) or by playing a game (a quiz for example).
2. Working memory
Our working memory system is quite limited and that means that too much information might quickly overload it. One way to avoid cognitive overload is to communicate clearly, without too much jargon and complex words, using analogies and scaffolding. We can also take a few brain breaks during the lesson to let our students’ brains “get some fresh air”
3. Mirror neuron system
Humans have the incredible ability to learn by observing others. We can also predict what others are feeling and thinking based on their body language. All of that is possible thanks to the mirror neuron system. That means we should use gestures to convey meaning and we should act enthusiastically to positively impact our students. Demonstrations with realia and gesticulation are great tools to help teachers reduce the risk of cognitive overload.
New memories can quickly decay if we do not rehearse them and apply. In other words, recently “learned” information will leave our brain unless we CONSOLIDATE it. Consolidation, however, takes time and benefits from multiple representations so that our cortex can form larger neuronal networks and facilitate retrieval. Below are the three principles of CONSOLIDATE.
When we are exposed to new information or skills for the very first time, that requires us to make a conscious effort to “hold” that in our memory. If we want to make them more automatic so that we can make less and less conscious effort, we need to practice. And practice means rehearsing, just like becoming a better driver the more we drive or getting better at speaking an additional language each time we use it. Teachers need to help their students rehearse freshly learned vocabulary, grammar, and skills throughout the lesson and beyond. Drilling and Concept Checking Questions are great ways to do that.
2. Applying knowledge
It is important for students to have the opportunity to enrich their mental models of new knowledge and skills they have learned. Students often use their new knowledge to fill in the gaps or discuss in pairs or groups in the classroom. Teachers need to provide them with the opportunity to create graphic organizers, mind maps, engage in debates and work on projects as well as teach their families so that they can expand those mental models and then have multiple access points to retrieve.
Memory consolidation occurs during our sleep. I understand that teachers have no control over their students’ sleeping patterns but teachers have control of when to assign homework and how often to ask students to revisit the content they are exposed to in their lessons. One of the easiest strategies that might work effectively to help memory consolidation is simply asking students to do their homework the next day after their lesson. This way they will have slept, consolidated some memories, and when they do the homework they will be forced to retrieve information, which goes hand in hand with the concept of spaced repetition.
Now that you understand the overall principles within the EBC Framework, you can click on this lesson plan I created for you to reflect on how each principle can be applied. I used Impact British English Unit 3 pages 48 and 49 which you can download here.
Bear in mind that this framework is meant to give you some insights during the planning, delivery, and reflection stages of your lesson. It does not need nor it should be looked at as a fixed step-by-step method for the perfect lesson just because it was based on the Science of Learning. Instead, think of it as a useful list of guidelines that will help you become a more metacognitive teacher and hopefully help your students achieve more effective learning outcomes.
You can watch Andre Hedlund’s full webinar on using the Engage, Build and Consolidate Framework HERE.