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Please Call The Cops 'Cause You're Killing Your Students!

Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
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Cognitive Overload. Unfortunately, we do that a lot. We often overwhelm students with information when we present it to them. What's worse, we teach them to do the same to others when they present. We are killing them. Well... We're killing their learning...

So, it is only fair we call the police on ourselves... Or stop the insanity...

Talk About 1 To 3 Key Points And Expand On Them

One way you may be killing your students is by doing too much. They say: Say Less! They mean it. So never, ever spend the entire class period presenting. Such practice is questionable even in college. And, it's NEVER student centered.

This is what most of my college experience was. Presentations were meant to be interactive, but usually only a small percentage of students asked questions or commented.

I believe even fewer are actively involved during a teacher led information giving session at the K-12 level. You see, even if you are a really engaging teacher, you are likely not reaching a part of your audience. By talking for most of the hour, you're not allowing adequate processing time and many students forget the information, don't understand it, or both.

So, keep it to 3 or fewer main points, 30 minutes or less, and plan a brain break and a hook between key points. Ideally keep your presentation to 15 minutes; three 5-minute chunks. Humans remember better when you stick to fewer points, but more supporting information about each.

This is how YOU present. But, it's crucial to create an effective presentation that does not consist of a bunch of slides that lead to Death By PowerPoint (cognitive overload).

When Presenting, Use Images And Speech, Not Text

Another way you may be killing your students is by putting way too much text on the slides you present.

It's okay to put bullet points of text on presentations your students will interact with on their own and at their own pace. This way, they can slow down, read and take notes, and process. Of course, you must teach them how to process. Prompt them to write questions, stop and discuss with a partner, write a group summaries etc.

However, if you have scheduled to present to an audience, get rid of the bullet points and the paragraphs. In fact, get rid of nearly all text. Instead, use images that convey your points. Then, talk about the concepts. You know your content. There's no reason to read off the slides.

Many times, we say the things we want to say while students mindlessly copy the bullet points. We don't want to read what they see, so we give examples and other supporting information. That's a recipe for cognitive overload. We are really bad at multitasking, we tell them not to multitask, and then we force them to try to multitask. Students CAN'T focus on what they READ and what we SAY at the same time. Yet this is what we often ask them to do.

Students CAN focus on what they SEE and what we SAY at the same time. Use it. Humans process images almost instantly, so place them on your slides and use them to talk about the concepts. Limit text to a few words per slide, so your audience can focus on what you say instead.

Additionally, build in a physical and mental break between concepts. Don't put different concepts on the same slide unless it's an intro or a closing one and don't just go from one to the other mindlessly. Ask them to do pair and share to connect the information to their lives, stand up and stretch, or tell them a quick story related to point you just covered. Or, segue to the new point by using a funny cartoon that represents it.

Doing it this way will help students pay attention and retain more. But the main reason for keeping it to 30 minutes (preferably less) is because you want deeper processing to happen before students leave your class.

Give Time To Process

Sometimes we kill our students by not allowing time to process information when they receive it.

Reflections, exit tickets, quick writes, group discussions, comparing, contrasting, summarizing, writing and answering questions, drawing diagrams, recording audio or video and so on... Plan for your students doing one, two, or three quick processing activities such as these immediately following the presentation so they can process and internalize at least some of the information.

Don't assign processing as homework. It doesn't work. Even if most students do it, which is highly unlikely, they'll be too far removed from the information. They might also be tired after hours of receiving and (hopefully) processing information during school.

This is another reason for keeping teacher led presentations/talks short. Frequently, students are too mentally spent to do a processing activity in the last 5 minutes of class after just sitting through a 50 minute teacher talk.

Bonus: Teach Students To Present Effectively

Students do what we do. They see us present using a million bullet points, so they assume this is the right way to do it, and they create presentations that are just as mind numbing.

Stop! Please! Here's a quick assignment I created to counteract that.

1slidepresentations.png

But here's the kicker. As students cannot rely on reading off the slides, they have to really learn the topics they'll present the next day. I disallow the use of note cards, because each student can focus and talk about on one key point when presenting, but I teach highschoolers. For lower level, you can scaffold by allowing note cards but encouraging not using them and with time decreasing and completely eliminating student reliance on them.

The world is your oyster. At least your classroom world is. So stop killing your students.

Because you have the power to change lives. It's time to use it and use it often.

Oskar's Blog

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Oskar is a teacher and an author of "Crush School: Every Student's Guide To Killing It In The Classroom." Oskar specializes in brain-based teaching and learning strategies to help students become better learners. The book can be used by Teachers to help students learn more effectively, and Parents to help their children become more aware of how they learn.


Oskar has a BS in Earth and Environmental Sciences and an MA in Teaching. He teaches high school Chemistry and Principles of Engineering. His professional interests are brain-based learning, flexible seating in middle and high school (#StarbucksMyRoom founder), social-emotional learning, social justice, and using technology to enhance learning.


He is also a fan of the Jedi order (and uses DA FORCE frequently), ninjas, and the superhero in all of us. He is on a Quest to Change the World because he can. We all can.


Follow Oskar's blog Focus 2 Achieve for newest education related articles, infographics, and swag.

  • Guest
    Bret Gosselin Thursday, 18 May 2017

    There is so much to take away from this post-you hit on very real issues in how we expect kids to "learn" when, at their core, these practices rarely accomplish that. The section on teaching kids to present well themselves is something I am also very passionate about. This is definitely going to be a resource I refer back to when planning and working with other teachers.

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Guest Thursday, 22 June 2017