At What Point Do Students Start Hearing the Charlie Brown Teacher When We are Teaching

As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, I have been transitioned into an entirely different role at my school (teacher to tech director).  Part of that transition has been an attempt to learn how the network works so that I can eventually keep it running and troubleshoot it on my own.  My tutor as I have previously mentioned is a 17 year old senior.

When I first started, he took me around and started showing me everything.  I distinctly remember a point where I was aware that he was talking and I knew that I should know what he was saying, but all I could hear was the Charlie Brown teacher (Whaa Whaa Whaa). I had never experienced that before; I thought he had broken my brain.  Fortunately, it started working again.  I think.

EQbrain optical stim enThis week in CEP 816 we are learning about the concept of Cognitive Load (cheat sheet:  it is the amount of effort we can accomplish within working memory so that it transitions effectively and accurately to long term memory).  I now have a name for my brain’s failure.  I had smashed right through my Cognitive Load and into Overload territory.  There may have been some steam coming out of my ears as my brain ground to a halt like an engine that you forgot to put oil into.
There are three aspects of Cognitive load (two positive and one not so positive).  The first is intrinsic load.  This is the natural difficulty of a learning task (at least for our purposes here). This is positive, since this relates directly with our goal of teaching students to do a specific task.

Infographic - Cognitive Load TheoryThe second is extraneous load.  Just like the word says, this is extra, superfluous stuff that makes the task harder than it should be.  The professor gave the example of having the vocabulary necessary to understand a text in a difficult to read location rather than right there with the text itself.  This type of load is negative, and it should be decreased as much as possible.

The third is germane.  This type of load is the actual process of categorizing and connecting the new information so that it can transition to long term memory.  This is positive as well.

The biggest problem is that our working memory which is the gateway to long-term memory is thimble sized (professor not me).  Working memory should not be exceeded by the combination of the three types of loads, because when it does, you get overload.  With this in mind, which of the three is it most important to decrease so that students can increase the opportunity to move things through working memory to long term memory?  Extraneous.

Now, I literally have just started learning about this (one fifteen minute lecture and a Wikipedia article in to be precise), so I am far from expert level.  However, this feels like something that every lesson plan should address.

How can we decrease the fluff and distractions so that the students only have what they need to process (kick extraneous load to the curb)?  How can we teach students schema that they can utilize with the germane load so that they can effectively process information with minimal errors into their long term memory?  How do we maximize the useful information for intrinsic load so that students can truly focus on what is most important? Are there ways that a classroom teacher can determine individual students’ working memory to tailor the required cognitive load to individual students?

All questions worth asking and exploring over the next few weeks.  Feel free to drop some knowledge in the comment section below.


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