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Cognitive Load Theory, John Sweller.
I’ve come to the conclusion Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory is the single most important thing for teachers to know https://t.co/MkJJLruR8g
— Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam) January 26, 2017
Wiliam then posted a link to Sweller’s article entitled ‘Story of a Research Program‘. The following excerpts are from that article.
It starts off biographically,
I was born in 1946 in Poland to parents who, apart from my older sister, were their families’ sole survivors of the Holocaust.
With touches of dry humour…
At school, I began as a mediocre student who slowly deteriorated to the status of a very poor student by the time I arrived at the University of Adelaide….
Initially, I enrolled in an undergraduate dentistry course but never managed to advance beyond the first year. While I am sure that was a relief to the Dental Faculty, it also should be a relief to Australian dental patients.
Given the physical proximity of the teeth and brain, I decided next to try my luck at psychology. It was a good choice because my grades immediately shot up from appalling back to mediocre, where they had been earlier in my academic career. I decided I wanted to be an academic.
Sweller eventually ended up at UNSW. Then he details the seminal experiment.
After several non-descript experiments, I saw some results that I thought might be important. I, along with research students Bob Mawer and Wally Howe, was running an experiment on problem solving, testing undergraduate students (Sweller, Mawer, & Howe, 1982). The problems required students to transform a given number into a goal number where the only two moves allowed were multiplying by 3 or subtracting 29.
Each problem had only one possible solution and that solution required an alternation of multiplying by 3 and subtracting 29 a specific number of times. For example, a given and goal number might require a 2-step solution requiring a single sequence of: x 3, – 29 to transform the given number into the goal number. Other, more difficult problems would require the same sequence consisting of the same two steps repeated a variable number of times.
My undergraduates found these problems relatively easy to solve with very few failures, but there was something strange about their solutions. While all problems had to be solved by this alternation sequence very few students discovered the rule, that is, the solution sequence of alternating the two possible moves. Whatever the problem solvers were doing to solve the problems, learning the alternating solution sequence rule did not play a part.
Cognitive load theory probably can be traced back to that experiment.
But this was an isolated case. Sweller needed to demonstrate it in an educational context. Research was taken to the fields of maths and physics education, and it did indeed show the effect. I’ll talk briefly about some of the Cognitive Load Effects in education, and we’ll save some more for the next two or three episodes of TOT.
The Goal Free Effect:
If working memory during problem solving was overloaded by attempts to reach the problem goal thus preventing learning, then eliminating the problem goal might allow working memory resources to be directed to learning useful move combinations rather than searching for a goal. Problem solvers could not reduce the distance between their current problem state and the goal using means-ends analysis if they did not have a specific goal state. Rather than asking learners to “find Angle X” in a geometry problem, it might be better to ask them to “find the value of as many angles as possible”.
— Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam) January 27, 2017
A couple of other effects are worth noting, these are the worked example effect, the split-attention effect.
Using Question Stems in the Classroom
Jennifer Gonzalez’s ‘Is Your Classroom Academically Safe?’
Gonzalez’s question stems to scaffold student questioning:
- This is what I do understand… (summarize up to the point of misunderstanding)
- Can you tell me if I’ve got this right? (paraphrasing current understanding)
- Can you please show another example?
- Could you explain that one more time?
- Is it ______ or _________? (identifying a point of confusion between two possibilities)
- What is ___ in the diagram
- Am I right in thinking that ___
- What’s the difference between ___ and ___
Would love more suggestions.
What Would it Take to Fix Education in Australia?
Full article here, but I’ll just talk briefly about two comments made in question time.
Larissa made an interesting point on the role of literacy. Following up on a question from Maxine McKew on the inclusion of Australian literature in Australian schools, she suggested that the literature studied in schools must represent the diversity of our Australian society. If we don’t do this then we’re effectively saying to vast swathes of our society ‘You do not have a place here’.
Glenn: There’s a misalignment between the locus of policy making and the locus of accountability in Australia. We’ve increasingly got federal bodies making decisions that have implications for education right across the country (locus of policy making), whereas the accountability to the impacts of these decisions actually falls not at the federal level but at the state levels. Fundamentally this is a broken feedback loop (my terminology) that undermines improvements and accountability right throughout the system.
Several times whilst I was listening to this very high level discussion on education a quote came to mind that I heard a couple of years ago, ‘If you change what happens in your classroom, you are changing the education system.’