As a teacher, it’s a well-known fact that our brains are often just as overworked and overwhelmed as our students’. And while we may not suffer from the same kind of “overflow” as our students, cognitive overload is still a real problem that we need to address. Read on to find out how we can mitigate cognitive overload in the classroom, But, before we dive into classroom strategies, let’s first define our problem.
Cognitive overload occurs when the brain is presented with too much information at once and is unable to process it efficiently. It’s like trying to pour a gallon of water into a pint glass. This can result in difficulties with attention, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making. In today’s digital age, with an abundance of information at our fingertips, cognitive overload is becoming an increasingly relevant issue.
In the classroom, cognitive overload can manifest in a variety of ways such as disengagement, difficulty following instructions, increased frustration, and confusion. It is not just limited to students, but it can also affect teachers in their ability to effectively deliver instruction.
According to Rosenshine (2012), effective instruction can help prevent cognitive overload, and one of the ways to do this is through “well-designed sequences of direct instruction, modelling, and guided practice, and independent practice.” But what other classroom strategies can we implement to mitigate cognitive overload?
One strategy is to break information down into small, manageable chunks and present them in a logical order. For example, instead of teaching an entire unit on fractions in one day, break it down into smaller concepts, such as understanding the meaning of fractions, identifying fractions, comparing fractions, etc.
“Scaffolding is like building a bridge to the student’s understanding. It’s the support they need to cross over to the other side of the learning gap.”Unknown
Another strategy is to build on prior knowledge and provide support for new information. For example, when teaching a new math concept, you can use manipulatives or pictures to help students understand it, or provide real-world examples of how the concept is used. As Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (2001) noted, “students learn best when new information is connected to what they already know.”
Teaching students to think about their own thinking, or metacognition, is another important strategy. Metacognition is the process of being aware of one’s own cognitive processes and being able to monitor, control, and regulate them. As Flavell (1976) pointed out, “metacognitive knowledge and strategies are essential for learning.”
While incorporating all of these strategies may seem daunting, even implementing a few can have a significant impact on reducing cognitive overload in the classroom. By addressing this issue, we can create a more effective and engaging learning environment that promotes student achievement and well-being.