Examples of Cognitive Apprenticeships

Developed by Sue Gerber

There are several examples of entire programs of learning as well as individual lesson plans created in the framework of cognitive apprenticeships.

Reciprocal Teaching -- Reading Comprehension

Reciprocal teaching is a technique developed by Annemarie Sullivan Palinscar and Ann L. Brown for increasing reading comprehension. In many ways, it is a tool to instill metacognitive strategies in students. These authors identified three factors which affect one's ability to comprehend text: (1) the clarity of presentation -- syntax, style, grammar, and the like, (2) compatibility of reader's knowledge and content, (3) reader's use of strategies to increase comprehension and retention. They then developed an instructional method focusing on the third factor -- metacognitive skills . The technique exemplifies the principles of the cognitive apprenticeship model. It involves four concrete strategies which the novice reader employs while reading: (1) summarizing (a form of self-review), (2) questioning, (3) clarifying, and (4) predicting.

The method involves the expert teacher first modeling the strategies for all of the students. Then, each student plays the role of the teacher and leads the discussion. As in other cognitive apprenticeship models, the teacher guides and scaffolds the students as they need it. He or she gradually reduces this support as the students become more proficient.

Click here for an annotated list of recipricoal teaching references related to reciprocal teaching

Problems Solving in Mathematics

Alan H. Schoenfeld, professor of mathematics and science technology at Berkeley, has extensively researched metacognition in mathematics and science. He has developed an instructional method of problem solving in small groups that exemplifies the theoretical basis of cognitive apprenticeships. The principles involved in this "scaffolded knowledge instruction" are (1) making expert thinking visible through modeling (2) building on prior knowledge, (3) scaffolded instruction, and (4) cooperative learning utilizing real world problems.

Dr. Schoenfeld has a website which details his work. It includes two descriptions of research projects that employ these principles. One project is the Computer as Learning Partner (CLP) which is developed to improve middle school science instruction. In addition to the theoretical rationale, this site also includes several specific curriculum examples for teaching light, sound, and thermodynamics. The Knowledge Integration Environment (KIE) project is designed for middle and high school students, and involves using the Internet to develop and test scientific theories. In addition to a theoretical rationale, details on 8 ready-to-use group projects are given.

Teaching for Conceptual Change

No one enters into a learning situation (or any situation, for that matter) without having some expectations or preconceived notions. Students, for example, have naive ideas of speed and acceleration before they are introduced to them formally in a physics classroom. These initial understandings of a process or concept are based on the learner's prior knowledge gained from experience and interactions with individuals and the social world. Furthermore, these misconceptions are often resistant to change -- despite the fact that they are also often incorrect or at least incomplete. Individuals must be confronted with some sort of cognitive conflict which spurs them to adapt and reconstruct their knowledge based.

Teaching for conceptual change, as discussed by Anderson and Roth, is based on these principles of the structure (misconceptions) and construction (social interactions) of knowledge. This approach to instruction fits within the framework of the cognitive apprenticeship model, and is one in which the teacher plays a vital role throughout.

Initially, the instructor presents students with a problem or question and queries them to ascertain initial degrees of understanding and to become aware of commonly held misconceptions. A teacher could begin a discussion of probability by talking about the lottery, for example. Through this discussion, it might become apparent that some students think that certain numbers are more likely than others to be drawn. The teacher then works from these "starting points," developing tasks, posing new questions and revisiting the old to create the cognitive conflict in students. He or she usually presents these ideas and questions via modeling, coaching, and scaffolded dialogue. As students progress, teachers gradually lessen their overt assistance.

Because all decisions regarding the manner in which content is presented are based on teachers' assessments of student misconceptions, it is important for these evaluations to be accurate. On the surface this may not seem a difficult task, but this is not necessarily the case. Often, once we understand a concept or gain a skill, it is difficult to transport ourselves back to a time in which we were naive about the subject. The research literature documenting misconceptions could prove very beneficial in this regard.

Click here for an annotated list of references related to conceptual change teaching

Bereiter and Scardamalia's Procedural Facilitation of Writing

Specific lessons

  1. Statistics

    Willemsen, E. J. W., & Gainen, J. (1995). Reenvisioning statistics: A cognitive apprenticeship approach. In J. Gainen & E. W. Willemsen (Eds.), Fostering student success in quantitative gateway courses, (pp. 99-108). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

    The authors examine seven aspects of active learning -- experiential learning, collaboration, discovery, authentic problems, planning before doing, risk taking, and integrative learning. They are discussed in the context of three principles of cognitive apprenticeship: authentic activity, scaffolding, and expert practice. An example of a cognitive apprenticeship model for teaching elementary statistics is detailed.

  2. Weather


    Which Way Will the Wind Blow? Details a project developed for a unit on weather for a high school level earth science course. The plan for this unit is part of a larger project, The Learning Through Collaborative Visualization (CoVis) project conduced at Northwestern University.

    CoVis utilizes a computer network providing students with access to satellite maps and other weather related and scientific information. The ultimate task for the students is to create their own weather maps and to use them in predicting weather forecasts. The manner in which this is accomplished highlights several aspects of cognitive apprenticeships including authentic practice of real world science, a contextualized task, collaborative work, testing prior conceptions (intuitions), teacher as scaffolder (not dispenser), and observation of expert systems (professional weather maps on-line).

    Included in the document at this web site it a pedagogical rationale for the program and unit, a fairly detailed description of the actual computer program utilized, and a list of references.

  3. Minerals


    "The Virtual Tutor Project" This document describes the HyperCard program, Virtual Tutor-Minerals, currently under development. The program is designed to foster an understanding in the students of the process of systematic identification which is involved in classifying minerals. The process is one in which expertise is developed over time and through concentrated effort, and therefore the cognitive apprenticeship model is the model for this program.

    This document describes the underlying rationale for Virtual Tutor-Minerals, discusses the software briefly, and indicates areas for further development.

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