Time and Processing Capacity

I have a theory about time and processing capacity. It is an interesting look at our use of time in an educational setting. Orsch’s motto is not one wasted moment. Living up to this model and offering only valuable time to students takes effort and strategy. To adhere to this motto, it helps to consider the finite resources of time and processing capacity.

In any given moment, we have the resources of time and processing capacity at our disposal. The choices we make in each moment determine our use of such resources. The scheduling choices we make for children determine their use of time. The educational choices we make for children directly affect the processing skills they will develop. Every given choice—every given moment—contains both time and processing capacity. At every point in our waking hours, time is passing while our brains are processing.

Currently you are reading. As you read these words, time is passing and you are processing the information contained within this page—hopefully. You might also be processing other thoughts. What will I make for dinner? Make sure to get Johnny to baseball practice early for pictures…How will we pay the mortgage this month? If you are an effective critical thinker, you will simultaneously read these words and compare similar ideas and thoughts to your own experience. If you are more of a convergent thinker, you might be waiting for more examples so that you can develop a conclusion to these ideas. If you are more of a divergent thinker, you might be reaching for your own examples to expand your current level of understanding. If you are a proficient creative thinker, you might be creating new paradigms that combine your own experience with the ideas on these pages. Regardless of your approach to processing information, your own processing capacity affects your ability to think.

Each of us has a specific capacity for processing information, but the capacity can grow and develop or it can stagnate. Underdeveloped processing power results in underutilized capacity. Well-developed processing power will likely result in better processing capacity (i.e., thinking skills).

What develops or limits processing power? It seems the more actively engaged we are in a given task or thought, the more processing power we allocate to that task or thought. If we are only partially engaged in a task, our brains concurrently dedicate processing power to other thoughts. All good thinkers know that the more they think, the more efficient their thinking becomes. The more puzzles we solve, the better skilled we become at solving them. Thinking skills can be trained and practiced.

Engagement verses. Boredom

If students are required to listen to a lesson that is uninteresting, below their level, above their level— or any number of reasons for why they would not be engaged—they will use their time otherwise. They may ponder the ceiling tiles—how do they install those? They may think about what is in their lunchbox. They may do their best to hang on to the teacher’s lesson but find it impossible to actively use processing power on a topic that does not fit their needs. Teachers have very little control over a student’s thoughts, but in any given moment, they also have ample opportunity to actively engage their students.

At any given moment in an educational setting, a spectrum exists. On one end of the spectrum is boredom, on the other end—engagement. A student cannot be fully engaged and bored at the same time, but they can be partially engaged while feeling slightly bored or they can be mostly bored while absorbing some meaningful information.

We need to begin to see everything a child does when they are engaged as valuable. Even if the concept does not sink in fully, the child has attached at some level if engaged. If disengaged, a child will not only miss the concept completely but will spend cognitive capacity elsewhere during that particular moment in time. Because learning itself is innately engaging, it is conceivable that a child could spend her/his/their entire school career feeling no boredom, wasting very little time.

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