What is Powerful Knowledge, Powerful Pedagogy?

We are using this space to document what we learn about implementing a knowledge-rich curriculum in the primary years, and the professional development needed to support staff and leadership to do so successfully.

Our intent is to share analysis from several iterations of research conducted during the 2017-2018 school year. We will also share resources that develop our understandings of what teachers should know and be able to do in order to best support children’s learning.

We encourage you to participate by commenting on our posts and sharing your own resources.

Making Our PD Programme Public

Since the beginning of our work with the Powerful Knowledge, Powerful Pedagogy project, we’ve been committed to making our research and findings transparent. With recommendations from staff at Cottenham Primary School, the Headteacher, James Kilsby, made the decision to also share the school’s PD Programme publicly.

We invite you to review and use the materials within your school community, should they be of use to you. However, we ask that the materials be used only within the public domain, and not for profit.

We also encourage you to send us feedback as you review the materials, as well as any supplemental materials you believe will enhance our current offering.

‘Taking curriculum seriously’

In preparation for our Inset Day on 19th October, staff are being asked to read the article ‘Taking curriculum seriously,’ by Christine Counsell, as a way to continue our conversations around developing the knowledge-rich curriculum at CPS. In this vlog, I offer a synopsis, as well as commentary, on the article to support teachers reading it for the first time.

Counsell, C. (2018). Taking curriculum seriously. Impact, 4, 6-9.

Research Findings: Executive Summary 4

The findings from Executive Summary 4 highlights the successes and challenges of implementing the Knowledge Rich Curriculum, considers new initiatives such as the CPS Literature Spine and the CPS Vocabulary Pathway and the resources required to successfully implement them. Further, themes related to professional development are addressed.

As we move forward, we are discussing ways to assess and evaluate the curriculum, considering ways to resource new initiatives and how to support staff as they implement those initiatives.

Teaching Vocabulary Vlog, Part 2

The second vlog in a series on teaching vocabulary focuses on word selection, specifically planning for the teaching of Tier 3 words across primary subject areas.


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M. G., & Kucan, L. (2013). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary  instruction. New York: Guilford.

Graves, M.F., Baumann, J. F., Blachowicz, C. L., Manyak, P., Bates, A., Cieply, C., Davis, J.R., & Von Gunten, H. (2013). Words, words everywhere, but which ones do we teach? The Reading Teacher, 67(5), 333-346.

Research Findings: Executive Summary 3

The findings from Executive Summary 3 indicate that teachers are consistently implementing expectations for lesson architecture, as evidenced in Executive Summary 1. Next steps will be focused on the planning process and how High Quality Texts (HQTs) support the concept of reading as the vehicle to propel a Knowledge-Rich Curriculum. Further, we will continue to focus on Checking for Understanding (CFU) questions as the driver of planning, and ensuring TLAC techniques are utilised as intended (Lemov, 2015).




Lemov, D. (2015). Teach like a champion 2.0: 62 techniques that put students on the path to college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Research Findings: Executive Summary 2

Findings from our second round of data collection and analysis are now available. In this round, we continued classroom observations and engaged teachers in focus groups to discuss the Knowledge Rich Curriculum (KRC).

The focus groups were set around findings from Executive Summary 1, and included questions relating to:

  • Role of English and Maths in the KRC,
  • Type of professional development needed to sustain the implementation of KRC,
  • Role of high quality text in the KRC,
  • Ways to support TAs in the implementation of the KRC.

Executive Summary 2 offers findings related to these questions and potential next steps for the school to take in implementing the KRC.

Research Findings: Executive Summary 1

In an earlier post, we shared our research plan for the Powerful Knowledge, Powerful Pedagogy project. Following each round of data collection and analysis, the Senior Leadership Team receives an Executive Summary of the findings.

The Executive Summary includes a description of the research process, themes from the observations and interviews, strengths of the implementation, and recommendations for making further progress.

We invite you to read the full Executive Summary and consider our findings in your own work of implementing a primary knowledge-rich curriculum. If you are interested in speaking with us about these findings, or how we reached this point in our work, please email us (cpspodproject@gmail.com).

In future blog posts, we will share how we are using the recommendations to make changes in our implementation.

Should we be ‘children’s entertainers’ while following a knowledge-rich curriculum?

Laura Sterne.jpg

Guest Blogger, Laura Sterne, joins us to discuss whether teachers should be children’s entertainers. Ms. Sterne is the Teaching and Learning Champion at Cottenham Primary School and a Year 6 Teacher. She serves on the school’s Senior Leadership Team.

What is entertainment? Entertainment can be defined as, ‘something affording pleasure, diversion or amusement’. As teachers, do we have the responsibility to ensure children are entertained in our lessons? Opinions of teachers and school staff in relation to this question appear to be split. However, in Why don’t children like school?, Willingham (2009) highlights findings from research and makes suggestions as to how we can interlink the ideas of eliciting pleasure, or entertaining children, while at the same time ensuring we are sharing essential knowledge and enabling children to remember this knowledge.

Some teachers think that if children are not ‘entertained’ in a lesson then they may not be engaged and therefore might ‘switch off’. This may well be true, but the key here is how we entertain the children. If we, as teachers, spend a great deal of time focussing on how we can ensure our lesson engages children with exciting ‘hooks’ and experiences, we face the danger of children remembering the lesson rather than the knowledge we hoped the children would gain. In other words, we activate episodic memory (memory of autobiographical events) rather than sematic memory (memory of facts, ideas, meaning and concepts) (see this blog for more information).

Over the last 10 years, research has pointed to the idea that learning is linked to pleasure. Neuroscientists believe that when we learn something new, or solve a problem, the brain may reward itself with the chemical, dopamine, which is known to be associated with the reward area in the brain (Schultz, 2007). Therefore, we can come to the conclusion that if problem solving elicits this response, they are being entertained. Willingham consequently highlights that children need to solve problems in order to keep engaged and motivated in lessons.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that as long as children are solving problems, that they are being entertained and therefore are engaged and motivated to continue learning. It is important to ensure the problem hits the ‘sweet spot of difficulty’, meaning children cannot find the problem too hard (leading to cognitive overload) or too easy (which would not result in the desired response). Furthermore, it is important to consider when to introduce the problem.

Willingham (2009) suggests that the ultimate aim of problem solving is to make children (or adults!) curious. Is it more beneficial to elicit curiosity before or after the basic concepts have been learnt? For example, science experiments frequently have the ‘wow’ factor (for example putting a burning piece of paper in a bottle and then putting a boiled egg over the opening of the bottle. When the paper has burnt, the egg is sucked into the bottle). Some teachers may opt to use these ‘wow moments’ at the start of the lesson in order to ‘hook’ the children and therefore keep them engaged in the lesson. However, Willingham offers that it might be more beneficial to display these experiments once the children have the key knowledge they need to be able to explain the principles behind experiments (with the egg experiment, this would be after they have the knowledge that warm air expands and cooling air contracts, possibly creating a vacuum). This would then potentially puzzle the students momentarily but would ultimately lead to the added benefit of the pleasure of problem solving.

After reading Willingham’s book, it has become clear that it is possible to follow the principles behind a knowledge-rich curriculum and be ‘entertaining’ and therefore engaging students at the same time. Entertainment elicits pleasure. There are many ways to elicit a pleasurable response and, conducting and following a knowledge-rich curriculum, alongside reasoning and problem solving, is one way to ensure children experience pleasure, are engaged, motivated and consequently on the road to becoming well-rounded effective learners.

Amusement. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/amusement?s=t

Schultz, W. (2007) Behavioural dopamine signals: A review of the role of dopamine, a neurochemical, in learning, problem solving, and reward. Trends in Neurosciences, 30, 203-210.

Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don’t students like school? A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.