Cognitive Load Theory explains that while the brain’s working memory is similar in performance across most individuals, different loads impact each person’s capacity to fully utilize this aspect of the brain’s function. These loads–intrinsic, extrinsic, and germane–can lead to an overburdened mind, impacting the retention of critical information related to working memory and long-term memory.
Intrinsic loads refer to the difficulty of a task; these loads are static in that the skill difficulty remains the same for everyone. Extrinsic loads relate to external distractions and the instruction methodology of a skill or lesson. However, germane load refers to an individual’s ability to process information and make the necessary connections. Parents need to know how a child’s germane load can lead to overload and reading difficulties.
Germane Load: Too Much at Once?
Psychology Today explains that germane load is actually a positive load. An individual manages a germane load whenever they explore a new skill, learn a new fact, or even have a new experience. Anytime something new happens, the brain creates a ‘schema.’ This allows the brain to access that information again and apply it to a similar situation.
Everyone processes information uniquely, though. In this way, germane loads are not static. Each individual creates their own avenues for remembering and accessing information they need.
Germane load must be fostered. In fact, educators must help students find the best way to process information to enhance learning. Some children make connections best through graphs, while others perhaps need to organize information in another way.
The Impact of IQ or Intelligence on Germane Load
Intelligence isn’t particularly linked with germane load. This load focuses on creating the best paths or “schemas” to retain and process information that is learned. However, an individual with a higher intelligence might better understand how to synthesize, process, and retain information as it’s delivered.
Higher intelligence correlates to better abilities with verbal and nonverbal communication. A ‘gifted’ individual, for example, might see patterns aid in the creation of unique schemas for processing and synthesizing information. Creating these schemas could be easier for children with a gifted intellectual ability.
However, a child with a lower IQ can still create schemas and increase germane load. Educators and parents might need to explore different methodologies that aid retention, processing, and overall task/lesson mastery.
Reading and Cognitive Load Theory
When a child is struggling with reading, parents typically seek answers through diagnostic tests or other assessments to uncover the reason for the struggle. Could the struggle be related to cognitive overload?
While the task of reading is a static intrinsic load, other factors impact reading success. The extrinsic loads that could impact proficiency include:
- Method of instruction
- Classroom distractions
- Sensory concerns
The Best Method for Reading Instruction
How a child learns to read is crucial to their reading success. For years, many school districts adopted a reading curriculum that focused on teaching children to like reading. This instruction encouraged children to grab books that interested them; children were taught to read by using ‘guessing’ methods. Teachers encouraged children to use pictures in the books for clues to decode words.
There was one flaw that impacted this method of literacy instruction. Children were never mastering phonics, which is the basis for learning to read. In order to decode words, children need to learn the letters of the alphabet, the sounds of each letter, and how these sounds can change with blends and word structure.
Phonics was not the foundation for reading. Some children, however, intuitively learned to read. They might have been able to quickly pick up phonics fundamentals without much instruction or their parents might have guided their reading journey and helped them learn decoding skills.
The Nation’s Report Card publishes reading scores of students across the country. These children participate in reading assessments, and their scores are recorded in the Report Card. In 2022, only one out of three fourth graders read at a proficient level or above. In 8th grade, the statistics were worse.
More schools realize that the methods for teaching reading are not working, and children are paying the price. In response, a reading revolution has rippled across the nation. Districts are embracing a method of instruction known as the Science of Reading; this method focuses on teaching children how to read by focusing on the skills they need to read successfully. Phonics lessons are re-entering the curriculum, and more emphasis is now placed on crucial decoding skills.
Unfortunately, children who learned to read by guessing the pictures fell behind. The instruction likely overloaded their brain, and, by the time these children reached middle school, they were already far behind their peers in reading. Playing catch up when the brain has not created the necessary schemas for learning is a barrier that is too difficult for many children to overcome.
Please Be Quiet: How Classroom Distractions Impair Learning
Some children can learn with a radio blaring, other children yelling in the background, and the teacher giving a lesson in the corner. Other children become overloaded and cannot process information when another student is tapping their pencil during a test.
Every individual has unique extrinsic loads that can overwhelm them. A child who struggles to read can be overwhelmed by numerous factors. A room could be too chilly, the class could be too noisy, or maybe it’s just too quiet. A child with autism might be distracted by the rough fabric of their sweater. When the mind zeroes in on these distractions, it cannot learn and process information.
Children learning how to read and who are distracted by certain stimuli could benefit from an alternative learning setting. Some teachers allow children to wear headphones to drown out background noise or even take tests in another quiet room.
When parents identify that a specific distraction or extrinsic load is overloading their child, it’s time to reach out to the child’s teacher. To improve learning and reading success, these distractions must be removed. Parents and instructors can create an impactful and effective learning plan.
Other Sensory Concerns
Some children are sensitive to loud classrooms, and others are sensitive to textures. Sensory issues run the gamut. A child could be distracted by a room being too warm or too cold. Their clothes could be too tight, too loose, or too scratchy. In some cases, a smell could be so distracting that the child can focus on nothing else.
Identifying sensory issues is not always easy. Parents might simply notice that their child is struggling in subjects; the teacher might notice that the child is distracted. Some parents know the sensory stimuli that impacts their child. Once parents determine the issue, they can work to remediate the situation.
Readability Helps Children Strengthen Their Germane Load
Children need to make impactful and necessary connections to process information, learn it, store it, and, ultimately, master the lesson. Readability is designed to teach children to read by helping them develop the skills and schemas necessary to master decoding and comprehension.
Readability is designed for children in grades kindergarten through sixth grade and is leveled to ensure that children advance when they are ready. Readability includes a built-in AI tutor that leads lessons. Children read stories aloud in the program, and the tutor learns each child’s voice and can discern any pronunciation mistakes and reading struggles. As the child reads, the tutor gauges the child’s reading fluency (measured in words read per minute) and leads a comprehension quiz at the end of each book.
Children advance to the next reading level when they display mastery of both reading fluency and reading comprehension. Each book also features a vocabulary list to help children expand their knowledge; children also can tap any word in a story to hear the word used in a sentence or listen to the definition.
Readability’s reading tutor is designed to lead lessons like a real tutor. It provides feedback and praise. Children who use Readability also receive rewards as they complete tasks in the program; readers collect stars in the program, and these stars help children earn different (and fun) badges.
Parents can explore how Readability can help their child gain confidence and hit crucial reading benchmarks. Sign up for a free seven-day trial period and discover how Readability can help children boost their germane load.