Getting the Load Right

Do you do it yourself or do you just like to watch? Blogging, I’m talking about. For a long time I’ve been on the outside, looking in…at bloggers. Some people take to it naturally (millennials probably). Not me though. I’m a reluctant blogger. My wife has been trying to persuade me to blog. Curtis (boss at Andrell Education) has been telling me to blog. My subconscious has been shouting at me to blog! But, my ‘conscious’ has been telling me to keep watching.

It’s a hard line to cross for some of us. Becoming a blogger is going to be a completely new way of life. A new identity. You feel this in a lot of my ‘first posts’. They start with ‘Here goes then!’ and a deep breath. Those around me were beginning to think that I’d never cross the line, and my subconscious was definitely supremely ticked off with me. Yet, here I am. What made me cross the line? Not my wife, nor Curtis, and not even that darn ‘subbo’ giving me a hard time as always. The only reason I’m here is because the world needs to know something. If there is ever any actual point to a blog, and if there is ever going to be a genuine intrinsic motivation to blog, then it’s because you feel with immense passion and conviction that you the world needs to know something. And I feel that passion. I feel that conviction. The world needs to know about Cognitive Load Theory, and I want to contribute to that!

I’m in love with CLT!
I’m in love with CLT! I’ve been working full time with CLT for over 10 years now, specifically in primary maths, gradually putting together a full primary maths curriculum that has only one objective; to help teachers ‘get the cognitive load right’ for their child mathematicians. With the drive, support and patience of my aforementioned boss, and a small but wonderfully talented team of dedicated professionals, we now have a digitally accessed full maths curriculum that has Cognitive Load Theory underpinning every step of learning from start to finish: The ‘big maths’ journey.

I’m not the only one who loves CLT; pedagogical living legend, Dylan Wilian, has described CLT as ‘the single most important thing for teachers to know’. We should take that statement seriously. Equally significant for me was this quote, ‘Under conditions of both underload and overload, learners may cease to learn’ (Wulf and Shea 2002). Hence the title for this blog, GETTING THE LOAD RIGHT!

So, what is CLT all about? In short, it’s about how the brain learns and therefore how we teach. CLT uses robust research evidence to back up what we already instinctively know, i.e. when we teach new content then we should break it down and make it simple enough for the brain’s working memory to cope, but when that new content is secure, in order to make the learner more expert, we should make it gradually more difficult and in doing so transfer the learning to the long term memory! Here’s the catch though; as soon as we drill down into the ‘make it simple’ bit or the ‘now make it more difficult’ bit – not to mention all the points in between – then we quickly discover a complexity beneath the simplicity. This blog is about seeing the simplicity of CLT, and then passing thoughtfully through the complexity, before finding and using the simplicity again.

For a straight forward breakdown of CLT see here.

Future Blogs
I don’t intend to focus solely on CLT, but do hope to help those of you kind enough to read my posts to understand in simple, friendly language what I have learnt about CLT and other research. My interest is in systemising and embedding CLT into whole-school primary/elementary mathematics teaching with the intention of simultaneously raising standards and reducing workload. Often those two don’t go together. I will signpost the research and the experts I have found most helpful. I will acknowledge those who have inspired me and, most importantly, the teachers and schools who have contributed to my thinking. This is my passion. I am fascinated by the degree to which we can make it simpler for children to learn, and easier for teachers to teach. If this blog is in anyway helpful in that regard then it is a case of ‘objective achieved’!

PS: To read about CLT more generally, and with an academic expert, who’s also a secondary/high school teacher then I recommend checking out Greg Ashman’s blog here. He’s my ‘go to’!

PPS: I also recommend grabbing a copy of Craig Barton’s book: ‘How I Wish I’d Taught Maths’. It’s as good as the reviews say it is!

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