Are school interventions causing cognitive overload?

Sometimes, intervention activities aren’t designed with cognitive load in mind. Creating a barrier for students due to layout, contents or language.

Let’s look at how to reduce cognitive demand when delivering interventions.

Picture this, you attend a training course, and the presenter begins to describe to you how the moon orbits the Earth. Without any physical resources, just auditory explanation alone. You are then asked to complete a task summarising this process.

You can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t be accurate or effective. Why? Complex learning process.

Without a globe and a moon diagram, video representation, or even an image to attach the knowledge to, you will likely experience cognitive overload.

How does cognitive overload impact interventions?

Have you ever wondered why a child who regularly receives intervention is still not making progress? Obviously, it could be down to a number of factors, but have you considered the structure of the intervention itself? Cognitive overload can slow down or even halt learning and lead to:

  • Missing information
  • Misconceptions
  • Lower engagement levels
  • Zoning out
  • Frustration

How to avoid cognitive overload when delivering primary school interventions.

Effective intervention programmes should be created with cognitive load in mind. They should be:

1. Focused. By targeting one specific learning objective at a time, demands on children’s memory will be reduced.

2. Structured. Present new material in small steps. If learners are presented with information in small chunks, their working memory will not suffer from overload. Use succinct lesson plans, that support staff who are out of year group.

3. Timed. When a child starts to yawn or daydream, we know we have lost them. The ideal length of time for an intervention is 15-30 minutes. Make it short and concise to keep them on task and prevent them from burning out.

4. Interactive. Ask a variety of questions. This is one of the most powerful tools we as teachers hold as it helps to ensure the information sticks. Make connections between ideas and build on existing knowledge to reduce cognitive overload.