Graphics for cognitive load reduction
JALT Annual Conference, Tokyo, November 2007

Second language writers of English for critical thinking are performing a number of cognitive activities simultaneously: recalling lexical units, remembering appropriate register and attending to sentence word order, and orchestrating rhetorical structure and readability. In addition to lack of confidence in decoding the wording of problems, this amounts to considerable cognitive load. This presentation outlines the author's collection of graphical tools for reducing such cognitive load: illustrations, sentence charts, readability charts and knowledge structure maps, and demonstrates the use of each tool.

Illustrations can support and/or confirm the learner's comprehension of task input language, and can motivate problem solving, thus backgrounding language concerns. Sentence charts are highly prescriptive, but do afford check-list confirmation that the writer has gotten all the necessary parts together for sentence construction. Readability charts enable the learner to keep in mind some basic principles of cohesion, and to confirm cohesion after writing. Knowledge structure maps (following Mohan, 1986) keep learner attention on the information aspect of task, even during learner composition. The use of information maps as graphical heuristics is also shown here. As well, a decision matrix is proposed which can help clarify instructor decisions about (a) degree of explicitness of scaffolding and (b) assessment criteria (e.g. selection of best lexical model; correct application of model).

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