Posted in Cognitive Load Theory, Education, Pedagogy, Video

Sherlock and Cognitive Load Theory

Why doesn’t Sherlock need to know the planets in the solar system?

Why for that matter does Mark Zuckerberg wear the same t-shirt and jeans to work everyday?

Why did Steve Jobs choose to wear just black turtlenecks, jeans and trainers? President Barack Obama would wear either a blue or grey suit and also simplified decisions about what to eat as well as not making new friends.

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Vanity Fair

Cognitive Load Theory.

These people and characters chose to make the best use of their cognitive load. Cognitive load denotes the amount of information the working memory can store at once. Most people can handle a cognitive load of between 3 and 7 separate pieces of information. Working memory has a limited capacity compared to unlimited long term memory.

John Sweller, an Australian educational psychologist and academic, published his research on Cognitive Load. Cognitive Load During Problem Solving: Effects on Learning (1988)  
John Sweller’s cognitive load theory suggests that people learn in a better way if “instructional design” does not overload short term memory, instead it should match the way our thinking processes work. This means that the teaching should align with our human cognitive architecture.
Additional activities that don’t directly contribute to learning commonly overload working memory.

What are Schemas?

The contents of long term memory are “sophisticated structures that permit us to perceive, think, and solve problems,” rather than a group of rote learned facts. These structures, called schema, allow us to treat multiple elements as one.  They are the cognitive structures that make up the knowledge base (Sweller, 1988). We acquire them through a lifetime of learning. Schema may even have other schema contained within them. Schemas are a very big part of cognitive load theory.

When a learner encounter new information, their brain gives it a label and stores it in the long term memory, this classification is known as schemas. A bit like furniture in Sherlock Holme’s attic.

Schemas are like files in your memory where you keep similar information. You might have a folder for all things to do with clothes, another for recipes, and so on. You also have behavioural schemas. These store your activities, everything related to driving a car, making a cup of tea, or riding a bicycle.

The more you use these schemas the easier the retrieval of the knowledge. Practice makes perfect.

Illustration of three types of cognitive load.
Three types of Cognitive Load

What are the 3 Types of Cognitive Load?

Cognitive load theory differentiates the types of cognitive load into 3 types; Intrinsic, Extraneous and Germane.

Intrinsic Cognitive Load.

Intrinsic cognitive load refers to how hard the task is. The more difficult the task, or the more unfamiliar the information to the learner, the higher the load. For example, it might be easier for students to compare their favourite chocolate bars, than to compare initiation practices in Islam and Christianity. Both tasks use similar processing skills. However, the former is more familiar than the latter. The second task is much harder due to the unfamiliar content.

We cannot avoid intrinsic load, as it is the information that needs to be learned. We can’t do much to reduce the complexity of the topic. However, we can break it down. Teachers can match the intrinsic load of a topic to the experience of the learner. A teacher aims to reduce the intrinsic cognitive load. So the subject content is broken down into smaller chunks, or steps, and these are taught individually in a coherent sequence, before explaining them together as a whole unit or schema.

SIMPLIFY - the complexity of new information. 

Extraneous Cognitive Load.

Teachers can control extraneous cognitive load. This load comes from the environment, materials and instructions that the learners receive. We should reduce distractions from the content to be learned. Poorly designed material, busy classroom environments, vague, incomplete instructions take up space in working memory and do not contribute to learning. This can lead to a split attention affect and impeded learning. Extrinsic load should be kept as low as possible. Extraneous cognitive load is where teachers have the most control.

It is crucial to reduce the materials and information down to only contain the elements that are required. Decorative images with no relevance, distracting sounds or animations or even fonts that are difficult to read, a monotone voice and complicated vocabulary all add to the extraneous load. (My reference to Sherlock might count as extraneous load, if you leave here remembering that he didn’t think it necessary to know the order of the planets, but haven’t learnt about cognitive load theory – then it just serves as a distraction).

REDUCE distractions.
Present instructions clearly without using too many sources of information at the same time.

Germane Cognitive Load.

Germane load is what we actually want to happen, it is the capacity of the working memory to link new ideas with information in the long term memory. Germane cognitive load is a deep process. Germane cognitive load needs to be maximised as much as possible. As Daniel T. Willingham says “Memory is the residue of thought”. This is that lightbulb moment, when the mind goes “Oh I get it, that’s like…” and links the new information to some past knowledge. That “Aha!” is the moment when you have learned something.

The more prior knowledge a student has, the more effective the germane loading stage. This is where learners are aware of their thinking processes and able to adapt new information accordingly (metacognition). Here we get the Matthew effect. The more you build up your schemas, the more you have to build upon. “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.”  Matthew 25:29

MAXIMISEthe deep processing of new information by integrating it with prior learning

Cognitive Load Theory demands that a simple message delivered in a clear way without distractions while building on previous knowledge.

Further Reading:

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has difficulty laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” [Dr. Watson] protested.

“What of the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

Posted in Education

Back to basics or why I’m blogging again?

I have a few other blogs with an Orthodox Christian focus. This was always a holding blog, with the occasional consumer gripe.

However, as I have not got my educational mojo back and have a bit more freedom to explore pedagogy again, and my passion, Religious Education. I thought I’d use this space to reflect on my reading and research. This is mainly for my own benefit, as a kind of practitioner journal. I’m a learner rather than an expert.
If others find it useful, that’s just a plus.

Posted in Education, Union

Barnet NEU President’s Address

Image showing NEU logo and Government Slogan - Stay Alert - Control the Virus - Save Lives with an image of C19 cell
6th May 2021

The address that I gave as Barnet NEU President at the AGM on 6th May 2021

Unfortunately, as I have moved roles out of the District I will not continue in my elected position as President next year.

AGM May 6th 2021
Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives
What a year we’ve had! Who would have thought at our last AGM (two years ago) that we would be meeting on line, zoom gloom would set in, and we would all have transformed into digital earning experts and specialists in infection control overnight? Bubbles no longer meant a fun outdoor activity with washing up liquid and hoops but would be a Covid safety measure. Our hands would be raw with washing, and we’d be teaching from marked off “dugouts” with Secondary school pupils in masks.
It is also a time of sadness and reflection, many of us have lost loved ones, had bereavements, suffered from long Covid and dealt with the daily weariness of inconsistencies, rules and heightened anxieties brought on by a Government which seemed to make it up as they go along.

Stay Alert.
The NEU has stayed alert throughout. From the start the NEU insisted on following the science. Our members turned to us and trusted us. We looked at the science and insisted on measures that were consistent with all the measures needed to keep our schools and communities safe.
We were vigilant and alert making sure that we had adequate checklists to be used in schools to make sure that school leaders could follow the science. Not only to keep staff, and pupils safe, but also with the realisation that pupils would serve as vectors of transmission into the wider community.
Again, and again, the union has been proved right in its calls for lockdown last March, on the insistence that CEV and CV staff work from home. That relatives of CV staff have been protected.
We set up a WhatsApp network for our reps and ensured that support was provided to questions in this unprecedented time.

Control the Virus
As well as safety measures for schools we have had meetings, some joint public meetings with other unions, and some for members, where we have invited Speakers from Barnet Public Health and Barnet Council to explain all the necessary measures to us, answer our questions about CEV staff, vaccinations, measures in school and the wider community. We have communicated continually with our members in schools to ensure that they are safe and we were ready to listen. Many teachers and school staff volunteered to help the vaccination program run smoothly. Our support staff and our Early Years teachers and nursery workers have particularly born the brunt of this virus. Again, and again the response to the virus has shown itself to be a class issue, where the lowest paid have had the least protection and the heaviest burden. Whilst maintained schools were locked down Early Years provisions remained open, many colleagues stepped up to look after key worker children and the vulnerable, especially our support staff. Supply staff have had their toughest year ever, with no work, no furlough and inconsistencies across schools in safety measures.
Aside from Covid19, the other virus we face is austerity, cuts to child welfare, cuts to education funding and we see the effects of so much provision being taken away, whether through CAMHS or youth provision or simple funding. Teachers and school workers did what they do best, kept children engaged in learning, looked out for their welfare, ensured that laptops and food was being provided long before this Government did. Yet, school staff have soldiered on. We see a virus in our schools where lack of funding leads some school leaders to make poor decisions about staffing and courses. We have even seen instances of union victimisation from the few bad apples attacking union reps simply for calling for safety measures in schools.
A further virus is our system of testing, accountability, grades awarded, as we saw with the mutant algorithm” based on social background and neighbourhood as much as ability and achievement. We see the “league tables” for what they really are. Of course, schools still need to be accountable, and we need to work hard so that the young people in our care go on to lead successful and fulfilling lives. It’s time to stop the virus of the Ofsted regime, of league tables, SATs and spurious data collection that does not give us better information about our students than what we know already. Even now with CAGs there has been the usual minimal and conflicting guidance, an unnecessary theatre of gathering evidence and yet more distrust of educators from this corrupt Government. We called at Conference to stop toxic testing.
As Mary Bousted said, “Teachers don’t mind working hard. The profession already works the most unpaid overtime of any profession, with working weeks regularly exceeding 50 hours. But teachers do mind – they mind very much – being told what to do and spending hours and hours of wasted time filling in forms, inputting data and marking. Teachers in England also come top of the marking league table. Other countries are investing far more in other forms of assessment, in addition to marking, and focusing on conversations between pupils and teachers which allow for much more detailed and focused feedback.”
The thanks that educators have got for their efforts is a doubling in workload, and an effective pay cut.

Save Lives.
The NEU’s calls to lockdown schools at the height of the pandemic ultimately saved lives. While the Government continually refused to get extra classroom space, funding for digital learning, or a plans moving forwards, we saw a rise in cases in Barnet. Eventually, many of you bravely issued Section 44 notices, at great personal risk, and this ultimately saved lives. SAGE estimates that had the NEU calls for schools to be included in the November national lockdown been listened to – a 7,000 lives would have been saved and case rates would have eased before Christmas. While the Prime Minister was prepared to let the bodies pile high, educators were doing everything they would to prevent loss of life. The Government, in its culture war against a trade union, did not mind counting the bodies. The war against unions continues. There is strength in the union.
We have also supported and show that Black Lives Matter. Our vice President Daniel Kebede introduced the Union’s Anti-Racism charter to Barnet members, and our Equalities group is more organised. Many schools in Barnet are now good examples with support groups for Black educators within schools, and curriculum reviews looking to decolonise the curriculum and improve children’s understanding of the achievements and impact of black people.
Again, talking about lives, our working lives, we know that the Government wants to take away safeguards on our working time. We move forward this year with our campaign on workload and directed time.
Thank you to every one of you who is has worked tirelessly and relentlessly through this most difficult year. Especially, to our reps.

And finally, hands, face, space.

Let’s have all hands on deck to make Barnet union stronger, more representative of those working in schools, colleges, nurseries and education settings every day. We have been asked to cover our faces, but as a union, it is time to show our face,
make our voice heard, unmask the corruption, and silence the voices that seek to damage education and children’s futures. We should show our face and call out policies that affect the lives of the children that we care for. We need to show our face and unmask those seeking to make private profit from public funds at the expense of our children.
Finally, space. Hopefully, next year we move back into our familiar spaces in school, but also that the union is a space where all education workers feel supported, welcomed and part of a wider network, where everybody has room to grow. A space that celebrates diversity and encourages our young people to flourish. After a year like this year, next year can only be better.

Posted in Uncategorized

Will the turkeys vote for Christmas?

more follows

So the choice is now clear: a Tory manifesto that is uncosted and promises at least another eight years of grim austerity – or a Labour alternative that is fully costed and offers us all hope.

Hardly a difficult decision to make.

Yet if the opinion polls are to be believed, despite a surge in support for Labour, the Conservatives are still on course to win.

Theresa May clearly believes those polls. How else to explain the fact that she has decided to dump on pensioners, the one demographic that always votes and has therefore been largely protected from government cuts?

By removing the triple lock on pensions, means-testing the winter fuel allowance and leaving us all to fund our own care in the future – the “dementia tax” – she can at least make one truthful boast: we ARE now all in it together.

I say all, but I am…

View original post 823 more words

Posted in Culture

Packing Away Christmas –

“Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
“Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake.”
They will come, all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.”

This is from W.H. Auden’s “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratio,” written in 1941-42.

Posted in Customer Service

Currys Rude Voicemail

Making candidates dance at a job interview obviously gets you the talented staff you need.

I was expecting delivery of a washing machine from Currys this morning.
I was at work, but a retired family member waited in to take delivery and show them where it should be fitted. I explained this when I ordered the machine.

At 9.30am my mobile rang. It was the Currys’ driver.  I was at work. I’m a teacher, so cannot receive calls while I’m teaching (stating the obvious – one would hope). While I’m at work my phone remains in the staffroom on silent. Calls get an automated text message “I’m in class, call back later” and this is redirected to voicemail. Most people, who might call, know my job status so this is rarely an issue.

However, one can only congratulate the Currys driver on this particular bit of abuse left on my voicemail following on from the automated text.

I apologize for the profanity.

The washing machine was delivered and fitted five minutes after this call, without a problem.

The chap who left the message obviously had some great dance moves at interview, but no manners.
You can see why Currys get staff like this. It’s all in the interview technique. I bet this daft fellow had no trouble at all dancing to Daft Punk!

Posted in Uncategorized

West Mersea

westmerseaToday I discovered the pleasant beach side of West Mersea. The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling, and after a lovely day on the beach we had an excellent meal at the Victory by the Harbour. Next time, we are going to try the fresh oysters there. 


Posted in Customer Service

Amazon overpackaging!

Generally, Amazon are great! It explains why a substantial amount of my salary goes to them every month – as my preferred online store.
However, I may have to reconsider buying physical items from them simply due to the overpackaging! I have complained before about using enormous boxes, just to send a small item! In the weeks leading up to Christmas I have ordered several small items, all have arrived in oversized boxes! I now have a collection of them, and not enough room in my house or the recycling bin! Let alone, all the reams and reams of brown paper they want to add to it!

This is the latest – 3 rolls of sticky back plastic! In a box 8 times too wide and 3 times too deep!

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Posted in Customer Service

Bye bye iTunes … Apple you’ve lost me.

It may sound indulgent but I have two 120 GB iPod classics. One holds all my music and docs, the other I use for podcasts and sound recordings. But not anymore. That’s because Apple has got it wrong with its latest iTunes update. What’s more I have a viable alternative: Samsung Galaxy S 2.

The issue: 

I have had iTunes for years and just let it recommend updates and go through the process. Apple iTunes 10.5 comes along. I try to install it. It doesn’t work. I won’t bore you with all the details but I get numerous error messages. I spend a day fixing all the suggested issues. It still doesn’t install. Even worse, my old iTunes is also corrupted and inaccessible. So I uninstall everything Apple – some of it doesn’t go easily. I clear the lot and try to install … I still have the same error messages. After a second day trying and retrying. I could go further and reinstall Vista or Upgrade to Windows 7. But I don’t want to do either of those, because it will impact far too much on everything else I use on computer. Far too much hassle. All my music is backed up on an external hard drive – most is taken from my own CD collection. I figured I can live without iTunes and even my iPod (but these can be managed with other programs).

Also, Samsung Galaxy S II is actually quite nifty. (It replaces my old HTC desire and is streets ahead). I can upload and listen to my podcasts and music there, and have it playing in my car.