Load Limit Exceeded #sol17

work-load-limit-warning-sign-s2-0031Work Load Limit Exceeded

March 26, 2017  #sol26

Yesterday, I joined my husband at the tax accountant.  The accountant is a nice man who is obviously a whiz at taxes.  He pulled up the forms on his big monitor and was finished with both ours and our twenty something sons’ in short work.  He has completed our returns for the past six or so years. My husband commented that he could do this too, however it would take him so much longer.  I thought of how years earlier,  I had decided to have my husband’s shirt done at the dry cleaners rather than ironing them myself.  Again,  I could iron them, but it would be labor intensive and not as professional.

All of this consideration of reducing my personal work load and tax on my working memory allowed me to  consider reducing cognitive load for our students.    Friday,  I had a think session with a kindergarten teacher who is working on her instructional design.  We looked over photos of a classroom in New York that I had observed and discussed a playful stance in teaching. These ideas led us to consider reducing cognitive (over)load.  Considering brain theory and teaching:

In cognitive psychology, cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. Cognitive load theory was developed out of the study of problem solving by John Sweller in the late 1980s. Sweller argued that instructional design can be used to reduce cognitive load in learners.

Reducing cognitive load in teaching?  Basically,  humans only have so much room in working memory, room for the essential components of a task and then as teachers, we hope room for the generative load,  the integration of their prior knowledge and all the new learning.  So by design,  the less room they need for the essential components, the more room they will have for new learning.  Much like a grocery bag, brains can only hold so much at once. In practical terms,  if I keep the structure of lessons the same almost always, the students don’t have to think about navigating that.  For example, we always do… (routines).  If I keep the environment minimal with certain elements always in the same place,  I again free up cognitive space. For example, bulletin boards, things hanging, etc.   If I begin my lesson with a quick review of previous work and the connection of that work to our new work,  students are aided in making those prior knowledge connections and may move more quickly into our new thinking.

This also brings us back to lingering in lessons.  If I reduce the stair step from one idea to another, going from informational reading to informational poetry,  using story arcs from narrative writing/reading to explain narrative nonfiction/biography, comparing arcs in a simple picture book to arcs in a more complex novel,  I have given the students the opportunity to connect their ‘file drawers’.  Our mental file drawers can be messy,  by making connections and watching for understanding, reducing clutter, eliminating irrelevant materials/presentations,  we can enhance student learning.

For more background in reducing cognitive load,  see these resources.

Reducing Cognitive Load

Cognitive Load Theory


Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.

9 thoughts on “Load Limit Exceeded #sol17

  1. This is a super important post! I’m a coach at a school in Denver. The district adopted a new literacy curriculum, a new math curriculum, and a new ELD curriculum, not to mention several new ways of entering data. Teachers are on total cognitive overload. I’m going to spend spring break thinking about what I can do to help them!

  2. Let me just say, you have done me a service today! I have been thinking a lot about my student’s satisfaction and security in my classroom. One difficulty is that I see them twice a week for science, and each lesson is quite unique. I think it is engaging but also stressful. Now I have a framework for thinking about it and will add some routines, try to reduce their cognitive load. Thanks very much, and thanks for including the resources.

  3. Interesting. It fits with the idea of if they are learning a new skill, have them practice it in a familiar structure, but if they are learning a new structure, have them use it with a familiar skill.

  4. I need to really think about this…in terms of students, teachers, and even myself. We talk so much about rigor and cognitive engagement, but we haven’t talked much about cognitive overload.

  5. So much in this post – -we are thinking so much about this with the “buckets” and lesson design. This stuff needs to stay the same so they are cognitively available to learn the other stuff. Yes. Yes. and Yes. I love how you connected it to life – we need to remember our students are little humans. They need what we need! Thank you

  6. Excellent food for thought here. I’m digesting and considering ways to apply. I do believe some structures I use with an eye towards variety may be unintentionally saddling my students with too much load.

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