A brief summary of the current theories I use to inform classroom pedagogy.
- Category: Reading Science
The law of first principles recognizes the challenge of retraining individuals who have already learned a particular approach or method. I learnt this from talking to airline pilot instructors who explained that the hardest job is when aircraft or flight law procedures change, and they must retrain their crews. A problem further compounded by stress in the cockpit, which is the primary contributor to reversion to first principles - when you need it least. I realised this is what I find with students who have learnt reading and writing using other less effective strategies.
This long-term issue can affect readers for the rest of their lives if not addressed adequately in retraining. For example, I have worked with readers who occasionally jump to a word on seeing the first letter or who can read a word correctly many times but then inexplicably get it wrong because their brain has filled in a word their brain has suggested should come next instead of the word on the page. This is a classic symptom of someone who has been taught to look at the first letter, guess the word or look at the picture. Essentially, these are classic signs of 'whole word' reading strategies.
Fortunately, the in-built self-correction abilities of phonics-trained readers can go some way to help pupils overcome this knee-jerk reaction. Still, some lower-ability readers may not realise the mistake if the context makes sense or, in the case of lower vocabulary readers, they do not know the word they have read. The impact of this is that they do not realise there is a new word they need to learn, which compounds the problem of having a smaller vocabulary and affects their comprehension of the text.
The problem becomes more pronounced when pupils are reading books with pictures because they have become accustomed to using picture cues, so retraining pupils to adopt a phonics-based approach can be a demanding task as their early training muscle memory can take over if they are not consciously focused on the GPCs and ensure that they have checked the whole GPCs of the word before they say it.
One of the strategies I use is the "No-thinking allowed strategy, where I aim to override their previously learned behaviour by explaining that on first sight, the word goes "from eyes to mouth, no thinking allowed". This frees up the brain to be engaged with the content and meaning of the terms instead of consciously having to decode and then comprehend. I also encourage "Capital letter to full stop. No stopping." Read the whole sentence first and then, if required, break it down to gather meaning and context, which leads to comprehension.
Similarly, correcting improper pen-holding techniques presents its own set of challenges. Once individuals have learned to hold a pen incorrectly, whether due to poor instruction or personal habits, retraining them to hold it correctly can be difficult, incorrect pen-holding can lead to discomfort, fatigue, and inefficient writing. Retraining someone to hold a pen is probably the most challenging job I have ever undertaken.
Addressing this issue requires focusing on the fundamental principles of proper pen grip, hand posture, and wrist movement. Individuals must over-ride or unlearn their previous habits and develop muscle memory for the correct pen-holding technique. Breaking ingrained habits and establishing new ones.
Some people ask why holding a pen matters. And that children should be able to use whatever method they feel comfortable with, and I wonder if that strategy would work with the pilots I talked about previously. It matters. English and American education is heavily focused on essay writing to show comprehension of a subject. If pupils can't maintain sustained writing in their later lives, this can hold them back from fulfilling their potential in any subject.
There are also some effects in the early years. Firstly, correctly holding a pen makes writing and forming letters much easier, speeding up classroom learning. Secondly, and as a consequence of the former, and in my experience, some students are unhappy with the work they produce because they feel it looks untidy. Being able to produce high-quality writing encourages pupils to write more.
In both cases, the law of first principles highlights the challenges associated with retraining individuals who have already acquired a different approach or habit. It underscores the importance of initially teaching and reinforcing the correct methods to avoid the need for extensive retraining later on. By establishing strong foundational skills and principles from the outset, educators can minimize the need for extensive unlearning and retraining processes, leading to more efficient and effective learning outcomes.
- Category: Reading Science
Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is a prominent framework in educational psychology that sheds light on how the human brain processes information and allocates cognitive resources during learning. Developed by John Sweller and his colleagues, CLT provides valuable insights into the factors influencing learning efficiency and instructional design. This essay explores the key principles and implications of cognitive load theory in educational settings.
Understanding Cognitive Load: Cognitive load refers to the mental effort or resources required to complete a learning task. Working memory, which has limited capacity, is critical in processing information and transferring it to long-term memory. CLT recognizes three types of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous, and germane.
Intrinsic Cognitive Load: Intrinsic cognitive load represents the inherent complexity of the learning materials or task. Some topics or skills naturally demand more cognitive resources due to their intricate nature. For example, mastering complex mathematical equations or understanding intricate scientific theories can impose a higher intrinsic cognitive load. Effective instructional strategies should consider the difficulty level of the content and scaffold learning accordingly.
Extraneous Cognitive Load: Extraneous cognitive load refers to the unnecessary or irrelevant mental effort imposed by instructional design or presentation. This cognitive load hinders learning by diverting cognitive resources away from essential information. Distractions, poorly designed materials, or irrelevant information overload can contribute to extraneous cognitive load. To minimize this load, educators should create clear and coherent learning materials, remove unnecessary distractions, and provide focused guidance.
Germane Cognitive Load: Germane cognitive load refers to the cognitive effort required for meaningful learning and schema construction. When learners actively engage with the material, make connections, and reflect on their understanding, it enhances germane cognitive load. This cognitive load contributes to the development of mental schemas, allowing learners to organize and integrate knowledge effectively. Educators can facilitate germane load by encouraging deep processing, metacognitive strategies, and self-explanation.
Implications for Instructional Design: Cognitive Load Theory has profound implications for instructional design, offering strategies to optimize learning experiences and enhance knowledge retention:
Reducing Extraneous Cognitive Load: Instructional materials should be designed to minimize distractions and unnecessary cognitive demands. Clear and concise instructions, visually organized content, and well-structured learning activities can help learners focus their cognitive resources on essential information. Multimedia presentations and technology integration should be used judiciously to avoid cognitive overload.
Scaffolding and Guided Instruction: Providing appropriate guidance and support can help learners manage cognitive load effectively. Gradually increasing the complexity of tasks, offering work examples, and providing step-by-step guidance can assist learners in building their knowledge and skills. As learners gain proficiency, instructional support can be gradually reduced, allowing for greater independent problem-solving.
Promoting Active Learning and Reflection: Encouraging active engagement with the material and promoting metacognitive strategies can enhance germane cognitive load. This includes opportunities for meaningful practice, collaborative learning, and self-explanation. Activities such as summarizing, questioning, and reflecting on learning outcomes enable learners to process information deeply and construct robust mental schemas.
Individual Differences and Differentiation: Recognizing learners' varying cognitive capacities and prior knowledge is crucial. Differentiating instruction based on learners' needs and abilities can help manage cognitive load effectively. Offering additional support to struggling learners or challenging opportunities to advanced learners ensures that instruction aligns with individual cognitive capabilities.
Cognitive Load Theory provides valuable insights into the cognitive processes involved in learning and offers practical guidelines for optimizing instructional design. By understanding the interplay between intrinsic, extraneous, and germane cognitive load, educators can create learning environments that foster efficient information processing, reduce cognitive overload, and promote meaningful learning experiences. Applying the principles of cognitive load theory enhances students' ability to acquire, retain, and transfer knowledge, ultimately leading to improved learning outcomes.