Ratio, Load and Difficulty – 3 Lesson Sliders

ratioloaddifficulty v3

In my mental lesson control booth, I have three sliders I try to get right.

Ratio

The first slider is ratio. I learnt this idea from Teach Like a Champion by @Doug_Lemov, who got it from Dave Levin from Kipp.

Ratio is the amount individual students spend actively thinking in class compared to the total lesson time. For example, in a teacher-to-one Q+A session, the ratio is low for every child who isn’t asked the question – most children don’t think much in those circumstances. You can increase the ratio by asking a question to the class and then getting them to answer it in pairs.

I used to worry that increasing ratio meant that direct instruction and teacher- modelling were low ratio. But pushing the ratio slider up a little in these activities means the teacher says what she needs to say as clearly and succinctly as possible, before the learners get active. That’s a good thing.

Load

By load, I mean cognitive load. I want to bring this as low as I can so that my students are thinking about the thing I want them to learn. I reduce all of the extraneous ‘noise’ – especially for novices.

This week I have been working on direct speech with my class. There are many loads on a novice with writing direct speech: paragraphs, capital letters, commas, question marks, inside the speech marks or out. Added to that, they wanted to write their own dialogue.

I pulled the load slider as low as I could – we used goal free to look at speech from a book. They wrote their dialogues as playscripts first before converting to direct speech. Each element was difficult, but I reduced the load.

Difficulty

When I first learnt about cognitive load, I thought it meant make the thinking easy. It doesn’t. Cognitive load theory simply says take out the extraneous thinking – the undesirable difficulties and make the thinking about the thing you want to achieve. And that thing can (and should) be difficult.

There is an optimum difficulty for tasks – Bjorn calls them desirable difficulties (see here). He makes a terribly important point – one that I missed for many years – performing well in class is not the same as learning well. The struggle is important.

So whenever you can:

  1. turn up the ratio
  2. turn down the load
  3. set the difficulty to desirable.

Ben

The single most important thing for teachers to know…

WIliam CLT

Dear Reader,

There is a lot being written about Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) and how important it is. I have written this blog to share my understanding – please send me corrections, recommendations and advice.

My own understanding has been developed through:

  • Hattie’s ‘The Science of How We Learn”
  • Willingham’s “Why Students Hate School”
  • Kellog’s “The Psychology of Writing”
  • Oliver Caviglioli’s summary of Sweller’s “Cognitive Load Theory”

My aim it to add something useful for teachers. I am a teacher, not a psychologist. Please send me corrections and recommendations so that I can improve this post.

Thank you for taking the time to read it. I hope it is useful.

Ben

Cognitive Load Theory, and How to Use It

Here is my explanation for how cognitive load theory works and how to use it.

CLT schematic (2)

A Model Of Cognitive Load Theory

Continue reading

How to Teach Problems…

Physics is all about the problems.

In my last post, I picked apart the knowledge I needed to solve this physics problem:

A bottle of water is suspended from a fixed point by a inextensible rope. The bottle is set in motion and the system swings as a pendulum. However, the bottle leaks and the water slowly flows out of the bottom of it. How does the period of the swinging motion change as the water is lost?

200 Puzzling Physics Problems (with hints and solutions) by Gnadig, Honyek and Riley (2001)

The Role of Problems in Physics 1

The knowledge included:

  • knowledge about pendulums
  • knowledge about how physics questions are asked
  • knowledge of useful strategies to use
  • knowledge about what makes an acceptable answer in physics.

But I didn’t go into how you teach someone to solve problems. This post is about teaching problems. Continue reading