22 Sep 2005 - 19:59
page splatter, part 3
Speaking of page splatter, here is an article from Cognitive Neuroscience that is directly relevant to the question of whether ransom note typography in textbooks is good, bad, or neither. (Assuming I understand the abstract, that is.)
Distracted and confused?: Selective attention under load
by Nilli Lavie
Volume 9, Issue 2 , February 2005, Pages 75-82:
The ability to remain focused on goal-relevant stimuli in the presence of potentially interfering distractors is crucial for any coherent cognitive function. However, simply instructing people to ignore goal-irrelevant stimuli is not sufficient for preventing their processing. Recent research reveals that distractor processing depends critically on the level and type of load involved in the processing of goal-relevant information. Whereas high perceptual load can eliminate distractor processing, high load on ‘frontal’ cognitive control processes increases distractor processing. These findings provide a resolution to the long-standing early and late selection debate within a load theory of attention that accommodates behavioural and neuroimaging data within a framework that integrates attention research with executive function.
Roughly, I believe that this paragraph says two things:
- Ignoring perceptual distractors (like extraneous noise, I assume) gets easier the more intense the perceptual 'item' or element you're paying attention to. If you're sitting in a quiet room and a couple of people are whispering behind you, it's harder to ignore them than if you're sitting in rock concert and the same two people are whispering behind you.
- BUT, when the item or element you're paying attention to involves the frontal lobes--i.e. when it is more 'cognitive' in nature, as in the case of mathematics--the harder the material, the greater your likelihood of 'processing the distractor.'
If I'm reading this correctly--Daniel Willingham may be willing to tell me if I've got it right--this is, to me, revolutionary.
I don't need cognitive science to tell me that American textbooks are horrifically distracting. I can barely extract meaning from Prentice Hall Pre-Algebra, and I don't think the teacher can, either. When I mentioned the integer tiles PHPA uses ON THE FIRST PAGE she had no idea they were there, in the book.
Although I read the PHPA section on adding & subtracting integers carefully (I thought), I did not manage to notice that the text formally defines subtraction of a number as addition of the number's opposite.
This definition was there, on the page, in a green box no less, but I didn't take it in. I had to come up with the principal on my own, as I was trying to create simple, readable, attendable lesson review sheets for Christopher.
This is one of those issues where I'm simply going to go with my own experience, no matter what the scientific consensus or non-consensus may be.
Page splatter obstructs learning.
page splatter really obstructs math learning
However, it had never occurred to me that the more difficult the material you're trying to master the more harmful page splatter becomes.
I just thought distraction was distraction.
But when I think about it, this abstract captures my own experience of textbook design. I loathe American math books. I feel a kind of repulsion just looking at them, and the reason I feel that way is that I have to put out incredible energy to stay on track.
Interestingly, I feel a corresponding love for clean design in math texts. To this day I remember the simple beauty and elegance of the brand-new math textbooks we were handed in 2nd grade. I can still summon up a picture of those books; I remember the shine of the elegant pages.
They were the most beautiful books I had ever seen.
Same story with Russian Math. It's a lovely book, and I 'had to' read it. The design is pristine, sober, and respectful, and I felt compelled to open the book and begin.
OK, I better knock this off until I find out whether I've interpreted the abstract correctly.....
Because if I didn't, I'm going to have to take this whole post back.
Willingham recommends TRENDS IN COGNITIVE SCIENCE
I asked Daniel WIllingham which one cog sci journal I should order, and his answer was TRENDS, because it carries review articles summarizing trends & questions in the field. From the web site:
Trends in Cognitive Sciences provides concise reviews, summaries, opinions and discussion of the most exciting current research in all aspects of cognition, the mind and the brain. Internationally renowned scientists from cognitive neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, social cognition, artificial intelligence, neural computation, and philosophy regularly contribute to the journal.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences features succinct, lively, and up-to-date Review and Opinion articles and discussion of the latest developments in the primary literature in Research Focus articles. Together with stimulating Book Reviews, Trends in Cognitive Sciences provides an essential overview of the latest thinking for both experts and newcomers to this rapidly expanding, multidisciplinary field.
Most articles are commissioned by the Editor and all Review an Opinion articles are peer-reviewed.
He's right; this is exactly what I need.
Haven't checked the price yet.
OK, I did it
Price for a one-year subscription: $198.
I just realized.
This is another case of It's always worse than you think!
I should start a collection.
Glencoe page splatter
Doug Sundseth on ransom note typography
Tom Friedman piles on
distance tutors & mathematicallycorrect review Glencoe
page splatter and the frontal lobes
page splatter redux
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