Importantly, modern cognitive psychology has found that general skills cannot be readily transferred from one body of knowledge and applied to another – this implies that the basis of skills is domain specific knowledge (Willingham, 2010). A content-rich approach to teaching and learning that emphasises domain-specific knowledge drives high expectations for all students and deliberately builds students' knowledge and vocabulary – the foundation on which reading comprehension, critical thinking and a range of other skills depend (Hirsch, 2018; Knowledge Matters, n.d.). As one of the world's foremost authority on formative assessment, Dylan Wiliam states, “the big mistake we have made… is to assume that if we want students to be able to think, then our curriculum should give our students lots of practice in thinking. This is a mistake because what our students need is more to think with” (Wiliam, 2018).
According to cognitive load theory, knowledge is stored in the long-term memory in the form of schemas. A schema organises elements of information according to how they will be used (CESE, 2017). Effectively organising and sequencing the teaching of knowledge can support students to make connections, build meaning and support learning. Therefore, a good knowledge-rich curriculum should embrace ideas from cognitive science about memory, forgetting and the power of retrieval practice.
Effectively building students' knowledge relies on coherent sequencing. Educators must not only ask what to teach but also, why that and why then? (Turner, 2019). Our answers should outline how specific content contributes to the building of our children’s schemas and why introducing or revisiting content will support our students to deepen their knowledge and allow them to automatically create essential links between this knowledge.