Dealing with Cognitive Challenge in a curriculum

 

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As discussed in the blog on deep work, valuable things are hard to learn. This does not mean that we should shy away from including them in a curriculum. Cal Newport’s book “be so good they can’t ignore you” provides useful pointers for incorporating deep work into a professional career.  I think that these ideas can be used to incorporate cognitively challenging things into a curriculum as well:

  • Distraction-free: When you’re covering hard things, make sure that you have a distraction-free classroom
  • Finite time for challenging tasks: It’s unreasonable to expect learners to engage in deep work/ cognitively challenging activities for 8 hours a day. Ensure that you have enough down-time or repetition incorporated into your curriculum
  • Ritualize the learning of hard things: Newport argues that some kind of ritual is a good way of tackling deep learning. Possible rituals could include a putting hard concepts at the beginning the day or ensuring that you start a hard section with a leg stretch.
  • Manage collaboration carefully: A great deal of deep work is individual, but many of the most successful deep work environments include some kind of team collaboration. Ensure that you think carefully about team work and individual work when tackling hard concepts
  • Focus on the important: Everything is not deep work and most curricula can survive being pared down somewhat. Ensure that every aspect of the curriculum adds to the main learning goal and ruthlessly cut anything that doesn’t
  • Measure: Track the time spent on cognitively challenging tasks and make it public. Provide learners with a clear understanding of how they are doing and areas where they may need to spend more time.
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