Home | In The Classroom | Chalk, talk, teach, write, read, achieve, repeat: part 3

Chalk, talk, teach, write, read, achieve, repeat: part 3

The final part in this series on advancing handwriting, narrative writing and critical thinking with chalk will now introduce the reader to:

Ineffective teaching practices that increase cognitive load

This method contrasts with ineffective teaching practices, which tend to increase cognitive load and, as such, reduce learning and understanding potential. If students are presented with information where they “are required to mentally integrate disparate sources of mutually referring information, such as separate text and diagrams... [s]uch split-source information” presentations, as alluded to above by Paul Chandler and John Sweller, is what leads to “a heavy cognitive load”.

This means a student’s thinking and their endeavour to understand the information being presented will be reduced. In colloquial terms, this means that ‘far too much information’ is being presented. Added to this one must also keep in mind not to present for lengthy periods of time. The ‘social body language' of a class should be used as a ‘rule-of-thumb’ indicator.

Classroom restlessness or a general ‘malaise of social disinterest’ should inform the teacher that the presenting period has been too lengthy, and/or the information needs to be amended in its academic presentation framing.

Click to read part 1 and part 2.

Effective teaching practices that decrease cognitive load

It is this process of presenting too much information (and the concomitant act of talking and/or presenting for far too long) that increases cognitive load. As such, and as noted, this process then leads to an increase in cognitive load and the related reduction of learning, knowledge, understanding and insight potential taking place.

As Ken Purnell points out: “when teaching, keep your presentation short, sharp and specific.” When this short, sharp and specific process takes place (especially when a first-time-at-school student is learning to write), the potential for advancing handwriting skills can take place. When this begins to develop, so too will the potential for narrative writing begin to develop. When this happens, this can then slowly help to develop higher-order thinking skills, higher levels of parallel narrative writing efficiencies, and critical thinking possibilities.

Higher-order thinking

When the action and art of compositional and creative narrative writing is transpiring, this is when the student will be able to reallocate their physical, visual and cognitive attention from a lower-order process (i.e. focusing only on the physical act of handwriting) to that of a higher-order thinking process. This higher-order thinking progression is where (as a result of being able to produce highly skilled handwriting automaticity and merged narrative writing efficiency), the writer will now be able to physically, visually, cognitively and intellectually focus on the composition of their narrative writing (relative to their age of course) that should now be taking place. This means the writer will no longer be focusing on the specific physical action of handwriting and letter formation; they will be able to start thinking creatively. This is when narrative writing should begin to emerge.

Parallel advancements

The research in this area informs that this change, from a lower-order physical handwriting focus to a higher-ordering thinking and creative thinking writing process, will also tend to lead to parallel advancements taking place in language, speech development, and the combined deeper understanding of the speech that is taking place. Further to this, the student will now also be able to use their time far more efficiently and effectively on their higher-order thinking tasks, such as being able to intellectually engage in planning, organising, writing and revising the content of their narrative writing task with its connected creative thinking possibilities also taking place.

Richer levels of narrative writing

Further to the importance of handwriting automaticity and creative narrative writing efficiency, Claire Cameron and others found that students who were handwriting automatically and efficiently then tended to “have greater [cognitive and intellectual and richer] processing capacity available to learn more complex concepts, including symbolic representation of letters and numbers”.

Complex and sophisticated reflective narrative possibilities

This is the start of the development of much more complex and sophisticated narrative possibilities. What this now also means, is that these highly skilled efficient handwriting students and sophisticated narrative writing authors should now have the intellectual capacity to meaningfully question content.

This reflective capacity of evocative questioning of narrative content is the precursor of being able to engage in the deeper and erudite thinking processes of critical thinking.

Critical thinking

According to Michael Scriven and Richard Paul, critical thinking is about having the knowledge, self-belief, confidence and the related intellectual capacity to reflectively and persuasively question content, irrespective if the content was presented as speech or in written form, and without fear of any external judgement concerns.

In its exemplary usage, critical thinking “is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness”. All of which, of course, is relative to the age of the writer.

Content-writing and learning may come to a standstill

However, for the student who does not possess efficient and highly skilled handwriting letter formation automaticity – with its correlated narrative content-writing competence and related potential development of critical thinking and higher-order thinking capabilities – the desire for learning could very well stall. And, perhaps, the student may even become disenchanted with their writing and their overall learning environment.

Added to this concern, citing Carol Gray, Suzanne St. John found that there was an association between fine motor skill deficits and deficits in handwriting automaticity and narrative writing, as well as there being “'difficulties in reading, reading comprehension, reading fluency, writing, numeracy, spelling, memory, speed, hearing, vision and balance'”.

Identified concerns and students at risk

Further to this, St. John found that “[t]he presentation of poor and inadequate gross and fine motor skills can [also] contribute to the early identification of students at risk for school failure”. In addition to this, according to St. John citing motor skill studies, “fine motor skill deficits have been connected to” a wide range of identified disorders such as: behavioural disorders, language disorders, learning disorders and attention deficit disorders.

Further to this, St. John found that the presentation of gross and fine motor deficits has the makings in determining student “achievement during the first three years of school”.

Model. Apply. Repeat

Writing is complex and it requires the application of hard work. The development of writing requires effort and the constant engagement of gross and fine movement actions. Skills need to be taught. Skills do not ‘just happen’. Model and apply the tripod grip. Apply action. Write, erase, write, erase, write, erase. Practise, practise, practise, achieve. Repeat. Gross and fine motor actions and linked neurological firing and rewiring is now taking place, as previously emphasised.

Universal imperative biological actions

In these behaviours we have the universal imperative biological actions of gross and fine motor skill development occurring, the universally linked neurological firings and rewiring, and the accompanying power of sequence learning taking place. All of which has the potential to lead to robust writing efficiencies, and united personal development, such as self-efficacy, self-esteem, confidence and resilience. All of which can then lead to enriched learnings and significant academic insights and fused holistic personal, emotional and social achievements taking place as well.

Early identification and intervention

Importantly, the research suggests that if family and school support and accompanying interventions can take place early (and then regularly progressed over an indeterminate period of time), behavioural, cognitive, affective, social, and academic learning concerns can, more often than not, generally be lessened and/or eventually disappear altogether.

Children do not fear hard work, mistakes or challenges

If anyone wants “to give… children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning” (Carol Dweck). If you watch children at play, they do not fear hard work, nor do they fear mistakes, and they are always willing to challenge themselves. Children are continually ‘pushing themselves’ to achieve more difficult tasks, especially once they have accomplished a previous task.

In terms of achievement, irrespective of discipline, the universal reality is that achievement is not and never has been a coincidence. Achievement is crafted by the actions of desire, discipline, dedication, determination, perseverance and resilience.

In terms of application, achievement and expertise, Anders Ericsson, writing in his book Peak: secrets from the new science of expertise, presented the following: It “is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve”.

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Dr Ragnar Purje is adjunct lecturer in the School of Education and the Arts at Central Queensland University. Under the supervision of Professor Ken Purnell, Purje’s doctoral dissertation focused on the success of his neurologically focused acquired brain injury rehabilitation therapy.

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