It’s brain science.
That portion of brain power that is free on the point of introduction to a new idea, to actually engage with this new idea. This is obviously a limited resource, and so logically one should strive to de-clutter the introduction process of extraneous material and leave the working memory (in this case of a child in class) free to get on with the task of learning something new. A typical pupil, coming fresh to a new lesson, has a working memory of four to six items, or facts, that they can hold in their mind at the same time as they engage with the lesson. Use up this working memory before the new lesson has started and the child will struggle to understand what they are supposed to be learning, or properly focus on the task.
Of course, as we are talking about brain function which is hardly understood, even by brain scientists, this is just a metaphor, but it conforms to reality as we commonly experience it; don’t give someone too many new things to do at the start of learning something new, or you’ll confuse them.
And so, schools being what they are, this is what we do. Flying in the face of science, common-sense and our own everyday experience, we, as mandated by pedagogic practice, clog up the minds of our pupils before the lesson has started with; targets consulted, learning powers to be activated, skill sets accessed, required group protocols, Walts and Wilfs*; and so, as a consequence, their working memory is gone!
This is all supposed to help by making the lesson content and intention explicit. Certainly, to someone ignorant of the concept of working memory, this pre-lesson loading may create the impression of great thoroughness and intellectual endeavour, with all the learning bases touched, but really, it does the opposite.
Those children who can, eventually come to ignore all this pre-lesson excess and keep their working memory safe for the lesson. The others? That’s why we have remedial.
What think ye?
* Actually, these learning twins can be a useful mnemonic, if used sparingly! It tells the pupil what we are learning and what the teacher wants to see in completed work. In school, of course, they are battered to death daily.