How to Reduce Students’ Cognitive Demand During Lessons
Amazing is our active working memory. It is the location of thought. Your long-term memory is processed as new information is added to what is already there. Learning occurs when some of what you process is written back into your long-term memory.
However, our active working memory is also a significant obstacle to learning. It only holds three to five items for 10 to 20 seconds, according to research. Yikes. Mental burden alludes to the requests we put on our exceptionally restricted dynamic working memory.
Learning can be difficult or impossible if students are subjected to an excessive cognitive load. One possibility is that their working memory is unable to handle all of the new information at once (we’ve all experienced this at some point). Or, they might have enough space in their long-term memory to hold and process everything, but not enough “extra” space to write schema. This manifests as students being able to complete a task in class but not afterwards. It has not been learned if it has not been stored in long-term memory.
These two scenarios probably sound familiar to you as a classroom teacher. What can we therefore do about it? There are two straightforward starting points.
AREA 1: Reduce the load of extraneous cognition.
Extraneous cognitive load is anything that isn’t directly related to the learning task or helps students remember it in the long run. Always look for extraneous cognitive load and get rid of it where you find it. Here are some illustrations.
Improve assignments: Give clear instructions for homework and other assignments. Always ask yourself, “Could I be clearer?” even when you’re busy. If you have any doubts, edit for clarity. Keep in mind that you are an expert while your students are new to the subject. Keep these particulars in mind to assist with clarity and simplicity:
-Count each step.
– Make certain that each student has easy access to all necessary resources. If this isn’t the case, change your assignments.
– Verify that the necessary knowledge and abilities are already present. In that case, modify your assignments.
-Restrict how students can submit their work.
The quality of homework assignments, according to research, is significantly more important than the quantity. Instead of being an afterthought, integrate assignments well with class activities.
Enhance the working atmosphere: Keep class noise to a minimum. If you want to play music in class, choose when to do so carefully because some students will find it to be a significant additional cognitive burden.
-The research on music listening is fascinating and complex. Clearly, music adds extra cognitive load, but for some students doing certain tasks, this may be offset by positive effects on stress and attention. Engage students in ongoing discussions to assist them in discovering what truly works for them.
-Keep your classroom free of visual clutter. Design, rather than decorate, should be the focus of everything there. Reduce the number of exhibits at once and rotate them throughout the year. Can you think of three things you could get rid of to make your room better?
Improve your capacity to present information: When presenting slides, try adhering to Rich Mayer’s multimedia learning principles:
– Only give the learner the information they need. This typically entails straightforward text and straightforward images that are directly related to the subject being taught.
-Use humor sparingly and only when it reinforces the concept you are attempting to teach. Cartoons and funny images that transform into seductive details should be avoided. The key points are forgotten by students, but these are.
-Don’t make any assumptions; give students verbal cues about what they should be looking at.
-Wherever possible, reduce the amount of text. Avoid reading your slides aloud because narration combined with text to read causes cognitive overload. Students should be encouraged to read the text and given time to do so while you remain silent.
Encourage each student to feel like they belong: In your class, every student brings more than just their book bag. How much do you help verify identities? How much do you assist each student in developing a sense of security, of trust, and of the importance of their individual story in your class? How much effort do you put into reducing identity risk in all its manifestations? How much do you contribute to the development of each student’s sense of academic and social belonging?
-A lot of students may spend a lot of their active working memory on things that have nothing to do with the subject at hand in your class for a variety of reasons. There are numerous reasons why the work we do for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is important. Teachers must pay close attention to how it affects learning by affecting cognitive load and working memory.
-Invest time early on to establish a positive classroom culture and relationships to create routines and rituals that make your room a safe and predictable environment.
AREA 2: Reduce the demand on working memory by utilizing SCAFFOLDS.
Add supports: These assist students in writing down a portion of their thoughts, reducing the amount of “new stuff” they must retain simultaneously in their working memory. The first rule for scaffolds is that they should only be used for a short period of time and be phased out over time, though some students might need them back from time to time. Some examples include:
-When planning a piece of writing or laying out the steps of a math problem, use visual planning sheets to help you organize your thoughts. “By writing some of this down, you are freeing up some space in active working memory so that you can think more deeply,” you should explain to students.
-For the first essay of the year, give students a note card with quotes on it so they can concentrate on the essay’s structure. Give an explanation for your actions.
-Require students to create a temporary help sheet for a difficult Spanish verb tense.
-At the beginning of a physics unit, give students permission to use an equation sheet.
-In the “coming up with a plan” stage, during project check-ins, and at the end, use a one-column rubric.
-Rather than making assumptions or allowing this to happen by accident, deliberately plan brief activities at the beginning of a topic to help students “awaken” and connect their previous knowledge and experiences to the new topic.