How do students exactly learn something?
For being able to answer this question we take a look at the Information Processing Theory (IPT) (Feden and Vogel, 2003).
The biggest ideas in this theory are:
* Stimuli from the environment enter our senses, our sensory memory in particular
* What we recognise of these stimuli and pay attention to moves on to our short-time memory
* What we neither recognise and pay attention to gets forgotten
* Once in working memory, we rehearse information to maintain it long enough to decide whether or not we want to process if further, or more deeply. The short-time memory can only held information for 15 to 30 seconds and only five to nine bits of information. We are required to do something with the information, otherwise it soon will be forgotten.
* The information we further process is encoded into long-term memory through various forms of elaborative rehearsal and practice with feedback
* That which we do not process further is often sooner or later forgotten
* Information in long-term memory is then available to be retrieved, when necessary, in order for us to make a cognitive response
What we often experience by students (think about Ms. Moore) is that much of what has been memorized is either soon forgotten or if it is retained somehow in long-term memory but disconnected from all other knowledge. Information will be hard to retrieve when needed to perform higher-level cognitive tasks and will result in poor performance. The important idea is that new knowledge must be connected to prior knowledge. That results in networks of knowledge or mental maps. The use of images or other visual representations make those networks or maps even stronger.

How can we use the Information Processing Theory in practice?

To COVER information (Feden and Vogel, 2003)
* Connect

Sometimes students have to learn things that are arbitrary (like the names of the lakes in the country or the planets in terms from distance to the sun), they have no inherent meaning as they have no underlying concept that is involved. There exist some techniques that can be used for remembering facts by the students. Mnemonic devices is one of the most common techniques. For example for remembering the order of the planets from furthest to closest from the sun a mnemonic can be: My very elderly mother just served us nine pizzas (Mars, Venus, Earth, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto). The order of the planets that is arbitrary in itself is now connected to an underlying concept with a meaning. Although the underlying concept is artificial, that explains why we sometimes remember the mnemonic, but forget where the letters stand for. Nevertheless it can be used as a starting point for holding the information, until you have the chance to deeply process it.
* Organize

Organizing information is, according to the small capacity of the working memory and to find information back in your long-term memory, very important. The key idea is that new knowledge and prior knowledge and that similar kinds of information should be connected together in rich connections. What strategies of organization can be used by teachers and students? Advance organisers are an example of how that can be done. They shed a light on and show the relations between the subjects that will be studied. When we look at the information processing theory we see that an advanced organiser makes the connections in the long-term memory stronger. It prepares the mind for the effective instruction that will follow. Organisation must not always precede the teaching. Organizers as mind maps, concept maps and graphic organisers are all visual tools that help students to represent facts, ideas, concepts and the relation between them. These tools are only effective if they are used in an appropriate manner. Do they match the content the student is learning and does the student know how to handle these tools. *
*Visualize The organisational tools mentioned above are also visual tools, but not all visual tools use pictures or images. Although images are economical. They take less space in our working memory than a written text. To use them appropriate it is good to keep in mind the multimedia principles of Mayer. graphics.png

* Elaborate and Rehearse

Elaboration is a form of rehearsal. The form of rehearsal we all know is ‘cramming’. If we know we have a test on Wednesday, we start learning the information on Monday or even on Tuesday. If we have a good memory and the test is based on facts-knowledge, me might pass and say that we have learned the information. But what we do know is that in this situation our first goal is to pass a test, not to learn the information. We also know that after a short while the information will be forgotten, especially the details. The information that isn’t forgotten will be difficult to retrieve from our long-term memory, because is it disconnected from other knowledge. Elaboration rehearsal is different from this cramming rehearsal. When we elaborate, we add information. In practice teachers can encourage their students to use drawings, metaphors, analogies and to make a summary in their own words. These are all elaborating activities.

What we want as teachers in the end, is our students to COVER the information we gave them. By using the COVER strategies me try to empower students to cover knowledge in a deeper and richer way so we can overcome the results of ‘cramming’.

The power of practice and feedback
One can know what something is, without knowing how to do it. Likewise, a student can know how to do something without understanding it (for example putting numbers in formulas without understanding the mathematical thinking behind it). This makes clear that in school we have to stimulate both of it. Both forms of knowledge with we call declarative knowledge (what) and procedural knowledge (how) are important if we want to learn something (Valcke,2005). This takes us to the idea of practical activities, hand-on activities for students and the importance of giving feedback. If we have learned a theory, based on the COVER principles, we can make the connection in our long-term memory even stronger by putting that knowledge into practice. The powerful learning environment that by then has been created by the teacher can be reinforced by giving proper feedback to your students. That gives them the ability to improve themselves.

Putting these ideas in a model


For more information about the 4mat cycle of McCarthy you can visit the graphical tour on or the video tour on

The 4MAT system was designed to help teachers teach in new and different ways and to increase the chances for all students to learn. The circle is divided into four quadrants according to how we perceive and process information. The ‘R’ and ‘L’ on the cycle refer to the right and left sides of the brain. According to the 4MAT cycle education becomes less teacher-directed and more student-centered. If we follow the quadrants in the cycle we see that:

* In the first quadrant the teacher should create an experience for the students.
Why should my students learn this
* In the second quadrant the teacher teaches the content.
What should my students learn
* In the third quadrant students practice the content.
How will I have them practice it
* In the fourth quadrant teachers encourage students to make use of their learning.
If they know it, what else can they do with it

This 4MAT system is not just another theory added to what we already have said. If we look closely at the four quadrants we see that everything that has been mentioned before is connected is this cycle. We see in quadrant one the importance of preparing your students for the lesson that will come, gain their attention, encourage them to make connections with prior knowledge. Quadrant two shows us the way of teaching declarative knowledge by using the COVER strategy. Quadrant three is showing us the importance of procedural knowledge. It gives the students the opportunity of practicing the knowledge they have learned. Quadrant four is necessary for being able to see if the students really understand what they have learned, if they have ‘owned’ the information. General y speaking, this model can help teachers for planning their lesson plans. The cooperative learning strategies we discussed before can be used in every quadrant, depending on your objective.
We started this paper with our outcomes of the field visit. Every theory we took into account was within our objective to overcome to problems mentioned by the teachers. As a reflective exercise we go back to these problems and try to link the theory to it. How can we overcome these problems according to the topics ‘The Cell’ and 'The Magnetic effect of an electric current’ in practice?