: Managing Cognitive Load When is it all just too much?


Managing Cognitive Load

When is it all just too much?

by Hampshire Research School at Front Lawn Primary
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We’ve all been there – a beautifully planned lesson packed with information we know our children will love to learn and yet, when we return to the topic the following lesson, no one seems to remember a thing you’ve taught! Managing cognitive overload in the classroom is a problem teachers tackle everyday, with so much to do and so little time, ensuring our pupils access only the most important information can be a real struggle.

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So, how can we streamline our lessons and focus on the core of what we want our children to learn? The EEF’s Cognitive Science Review may well have the answer.

When looking at our curriculum and how the Cognitive Science Review could benefit it we thought immediately of reading. The EEF Improving Literacy guidance confirmed for us that we had the right content to teach reading well, but once we read the Cognitive Science Review we asked ourselves – how can we refine our approach by managing cognitive load, and in turn, create fluent readers more quickly?

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The heart of the guidance on managing cognitive load centres around reducing unnecessary information and providing additional structure and support’ so we knew our no fluff’ phonics program already fit the bill. There are no puppets, actions or songs that distract from the learning, ensuring each child can focus on the sound alone. Engagement in this program comes from the quick progress children make and the joy they find in being able to read, rather than the games or songs involved in lessons. Implementing this phonics program has had a hugely positive impact on early reading at our school, with our phonics screening results consistently above national average.

In an effort to further reduce unnecessary information, and in line with our chosen phonics program, our reading cycle also focuses heavily on content. The key skills children will need to become fluent readers are revisited time and time again from Reception to Year 6 with increasing complexity.

These bookmarks are used by Year 4 to remind the children of the specific target set by their teacher during Silent Sustained Reading

We felt confident with our phonics and reading curriculum, but at Front Lawn we don’t just want our pupils reading- we want them to love reading. How could we use cognitive load reduction to support this?

First, we looked at opportunities to read. Every class practises silent sustained reading everyday. During this time the teacher offers specific, targeted scaffolding that is individual to each child. Children have these targets written on a bookmark and practise them daily. Each teacher carefully monitors pupils and gradually reduces scaffolding, reducing the risk of reliance on scaffolds developing.

Here we see a Year 6 example of explicit vocabulary teaching. This is then displayed in the classroom for pupils to refer to in future.

Something unexpected that arose from reading the Cognitive Science review was their recommendations on vocabulary. Does anyone know what X means?’ has slipped out of my mouth when a new word arose in my classroom more times than I can count. However, the EEF highlights how important it is to give explicit definitions. This erases the possibility of misconceptions and ensures children retain the correct information. As a result of this, we decided what vocabulary needed to be taught across every subject, in every year group, and provided teachers with a definition as part of our knowledge organisers. We then provided staff training that modelled how to correctly teach vocabulary and gave time for coaching and continued practice.

For more tips on how you can reduce cognitive load in your classroom you can read EEF Cognitive Science Approaches in the classroom: A review of the evidence here.

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