PISA in Practice - Cognitive Activation in Maths: How to use it in the classroom
PISA in Practice - Cognitive Activation in Maths: How to use it in the classroom

Bethan Burge, Jenny Lenkeit and Juliet Sizmur

Research Report, September 2015


This report is part of a series, commissioned by the Department for Education, which showcases some findings from PISA 2012 which teachers can use in the classroom.

This report focuses on the teaching practice of Cognitive Activation, and how this is related to achievement. It identifies short, medium and long-term strategies for using Cognitive Activation in the teaching of mathematics.

Cognitive Activation is, in essence, about teaching pupils strategies that encourage them to think more deeply in order to find solutions and to focus on the method they use to reach the answer rather than simply focusing on the answer itself. In PISA, Cognitive Activation is identified as one of several practices that support the development of mathematical literacy. This report uses data from PISA 2012 to explore the relationship between Cognitive Activation and achievement in England.

This research provides further evidence that teaching practices which challenge pupils to think and reflect upon given mathematical problems and give them the opportunity to choose their own procedures when faced with problems that have no obvious solution will foster pupils’ critical thinking about mathematics and have the potential to improve attainment.

Key Findings:
  • Cognitive Activation is significantly associated with higher mathematics achievement
  • In England, pupils report that their maths teacher asks them to use Cognitive Activation strategies to solve problems more often than is the case internationally
  • Pupils with low and medium socioeconomic status (SES) profit most from higher levels of Cognitive Activation in their maths lessons
  • Cognitive Activation is positively related to a number of pupil characteristics that are linked to achievement (motivation, self-efficacy and self-concept).

Further Information:
Format: PDF, 20pp, ISBN: 9781910008362
Sponsor(s): DfE


How to cite this publication:

Burge, B., Lenkeit, J. and Sizmur, J. (2015). PISA in Practice - Cognitive Activation in Maths: How to Use it in the Classroom. Slough: NFER.


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