3b. Cognitive Apprenticeship
Jennifer Brill, Beaumie Kim, Chad Galloway
Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia
The Fourth Grade at Cedars Elementary, Cedarville, and the Great Depression
The fourth grade at Cedars Elementary is ready to learn about the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the New Deal. Ms. Beauchamp and Ms. Reed, both fourth-grade teachers, have reviewed the curriculum benchmarks and prepared their lessons for the coming weeks. They have already led their classes through three days of the unit work. What follows is a “virtual visit” to each teacher’s classroom.
Ms. Beauchamp’s Fourth Grade Class
Ms. Beauchamp assigned Chapter 4 of the fourth-grade history textbook as homework over the previous weekend. Most of the students read the chapter and wrote answers to the end-of-chapter review questions. A few students copied the answers out of the back of the book. A handful simply failed to complete the assignment.
On Monday, the class reviewed the answers to the textbook questions as a group. Ms. Beauchamp led the review by asking for a volunteer for each question. Each volunteer read the question and answer aloud. Ms. Beauchamp provided feedback on the correctness of the answer so that the entire class could check their work. Next, Ms. Beauchamp showed the children a 20-minute documentary about life during the Depression, how it began, and the role that FDR and the New Deal played in bringing the country out of economic misfortune.
On Tuesday, Ms. Beauchamp felt it was important to reinforce the key concepts presented thus far in the textbook reading and the movie. So, she conducted a review. She selected a few blank transparencies and markers, set up the overhead projector at the front of the room, and dimmed the lights.
With the children seated at their desks, Ms. Beauchamp asked the group some questions: “What was the Great Depression?” “When did it occur and how long did it last?” “Who promised to bring America out of the depression?” “What was his ‘New Deal’ for the American people?” Ms. Beauchamp called on certain students to answer her questions. As they answered, she ignored incorrect replies and wrote the correct responses on a blank transparency. As she wrote, she emphasized key words in a clear and authoritative voice: “Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” “1929.” “New jobs.”
As Ms. Beauchamp conducted the 20-minute review, some students flipped through their textbooks, and a few took notes; most did not raise their hands and were not asked to participate; some talked among themselves, while others looked out the window; several doodled in their books or fidgeted in their seats. Ms. Beauchamp had to interrupt her lesson several times to discipline one student whose desk had already been moved away from the rest of the class. Joe sat in the far right hand corner of the room by the windows. His desk had been there for three weeks as a result of his disruptive behavior during class.
On Wednesday, Ms. Beauchamp distributed a play about life during the Great Depression, assigning roles to various students. Over the next week or so, Ms. Beauchamp would have the students rehearse and perform the play in an attempt to help the class become involved with the material. Finally, the class would be ready to take the ten-question (five multiple choice and five short answer questions), end-of-unit quiz.
Questions to consider:
How would you describe the activity in Ms. Beauchamp’s classroom? What teaching strategies did you witness? What learning strategies did you observe? What is your reaction to this classroom? To the quality of learning taking place? What do you feel was effective? Ineffective?
Ms. Reed’s Fourth Grade Class
On Monday, Ms. Reed introduced three visitors to the class: Mr. Clancy, Ms. Moore, and Ms. Abrams. Ms. Reed explained that the visitors would be helping the class over the next several weeks to look at a period in American history known as the Great Depression. The class’ goal would be to understand with help from the visitors what it was like to live during this very difficult time in the nation’s history and to explore what messages the Great Depression might have for us today.
Ms. Reed explained further. Mr. Clancy, Ms. Moore, and Ms. Abrams all had unique perspectives to share, as they had, with their families and friends, lived through the Depression in this same state when they were about the same age as the students. The three guests would be sharing their pictures, mementos, and stories as the group would journey back through time together.
Then Ms. Reed introduced yet another guest, Ms. Blackenship, an employee of the public library. Together they made an exciting announcement. To ensure that the stories of Mr. Clancy, Ms. Moore, and Ms. Abrams were preserved for the benefit of the community, everyone would collaborate in creating a multimedia presentation documenting the Great Depression from a local perspective. The final project would be donated to the local public library in a Memorial Day ceremony and added to the current collection of web-based local history lessons available from the library’s internet site. Ms. Blackenship then led the group on a brief tour of the library’s site, demonstrating samples of other multimedia presentations that had been created for the library.
After painting a picture of the weeks to come, Ms. Reed started the group on their journey by allowing the students and guests to get better acquainted in a short “icebreaker” activity. Then they all watched the video In Our Own Voices: Stories of the Great Depression, an assembly of recollections by individuals from across the country who had experienced its toll.
After the video, Ms. Reed led the group in an informal discussion about the movie and the personal recollections of Mr. Clancy, Ms. Moore, and Ms. Abrams. She asked questions such as : “What was it like to live during the Great Depression?” “For parents?” “For children?” “What do you think were some of its causes?” “Why do you think FDR was elected?” “What did he have to offer that the American people needed?” “What would Cedarville be like today if we experienced another depression?” Ms. Reed closed the discussion by giving a homework assignment. Students were to read Chapter 4 of the textbook and brainstorm a list of questions about the Great Depression. What did they want to know? What did they feel was important for others to know about this time period? The students were encouraged to ask their parents these questions before returning to class.
On Tuesday, Mr. Clancy, Ms. Moore, and Ms. Abrams returned with a collection of artifacts for the class to examine: scrapbooks, photographs, food stamps, and other items from the era in question. Ms. Reed also had a collection of artifacts, including vintage clothing, music, and old advertisements. Ms. Clark, the school’s technology coordinator, arrived with additional resources. Together, Ms. Reed and Ms. Clark laid out the tools that students had previously used including a digital camera and a camcorder.
Ms. Reed asked the class to write each of their questions on a post-it note and place them on the whiteboard. Together, the class sorted the questions into three different categories: “who/what/when/where,” “how/why,” and “so what.” Then, Ms. Reed asked class members to break into three small groups and randomly assigned a category to each group. Each group took a turn interviewing each guest, seeking answers to their set of questions. Each group was responsible for collecting the data shared using the tools provided. The adults helped the children share the workload by encouraging them to take turns at different roles: interviewer, photographer, videographer, and so on. Ms. Reed encouraged each group to consult additional resources–textbooks, the Internet, etc.–to fill in the answers to their questions. Afterwards, the students held a debriefing session in which each group reviewed their major findings with the entire class.
On Wednesday, each group began planning its part in the multimedia presentation. They drew sketches of their work, loaded photos and movie clips into the computer workstations, and began to type the text of their stories. The next eight days or so would be spent working in small groups to design and develop the multimedia program into a final product. As the students worked, Ms. Reed would guide them toward considering certain questions, organizing their thoughts and their work, and consulting a variety of resources, including books, videos, the Internet, and, of course, other people. Ms. Clarke would check in to provide technical support. Mr. Clancy, Ms. Moore, and Ms. Abrams would come by several more times to provide additional information and reactions to the project as it developed. Periodically, the students engaged in “quick crits” in which they offered suggestions and asked questions about each other’s work to date.
When the projects were completed, the entire group, along with parents and other friends, would have the opportunity to participate in the Memorial Day presentation and viewing of “Life in Cedarville During the Great Depression.” After the ceremony, everyone would be invited to enjoy snacks on the lawn where Ms. Reed would lead the group in discussing their experiences working on the project, including what they had learned about the Great Depression and why it was important for people in the town to know about it. When the students returned to school, Ms. Reed would ask them to record a personal reflection in their electronic journals about the entire learning experience.
Questions to consider:
How would you describe Ms. Reed’s classroom? What teaching strategies did you witness? What learning strategies did you observe? What is your reaction to this classroom? To the quality of learning taking place? What do you feel was effective? Ineffective?
The Bottom Line
Both Ms. Beauchamp and Ms. Reed use some effective strategies for learning. Both incorporate a variety of media, including books and video, as well as a variety of activities including reading, writing, and presentation. Yet, the nature of the experience is quite different in each classroom. In Ms. Beauchamp’s classroom, the teacher is more active and directive, while the students are more passive. In educational terms, Ms. Beachamp’s classroom might be described variously as didactic, traditional, instructivist, or instrumental. In Ms. Reed’s classroom, both the teacher and the students are involved in and share responsibility for directing project activities. Ms. Reed’s classroom might be described by a professional educator as facilitative, collaborative, holistic, or social. Ms. Beauchamp’s approach is a familiar one. Her classroom is illustrative of a classic model of teaching and learning. Ms. Reed’s classroom is representative of a more novel, less familiar approach, one demonstrating many of the characteristics of cognitive apprenticeship.
An Introduction to Cognitive Apprenticeship
Cognitive apprenticeship practices, along with anchored instruction, learning communities, and in-situ assessment, are educational approaches derived from Situated Learning Theory. These practices strive, first and foremost, to place teaching and learning practices within a rich and varied context that is meaningful and authentic to students. An apprenticeship is distinguished from tutoring, mentoring, coaching, and volunteerism by its focus on interaction that is a specific socially and culturally valued activity at which the adult is more skilled (Tisdale 2001).
As Brown, Collins, & Duguid describe it, “Cognitive apprenticeship methods try to enculturate students into authentic practices through activity and social interaction in a way similar to that evident in craft apprenticeship.” Interestingly, apprenticeship is a old and well-established model for learning. As Brown and his colleagues point out: “Only in the last century and only in industrialized nations, has formal schooling emerged as a widespread method of educating the young. Before schools appeared, apprenticeship was the most common means of learning and was used to transmit the knowledge required for expert practice in fields from painting and sculpting to medicine and law” (p. 453).
Like the apprentice electrician or the interning future physician, cognitive apprenticeship seeks to engage learners in real-world scenarios in which they act and interact to achieve useful outcomes. The workplace has a number of strengths as a learning environment: authentic, goal-oriented activities; access to guidance; everyday engagement in problem solving; and intrinsic reinforcement (Kerka 1997). Although children cannot experience all aspects of the typical craft apprenticeship (nor should they), they can benefit from some of its common practices, such as modeling of certain skills by more advanced individuals and coaching by mentors toward higher levels of knowledge and practice. Cognitive apprenticeship is one example of situated learning in which learners participate in a community of practice that is developed through activity and social interaction in ways similar to that in craft apprenticeships (McLellan 1994).
What is the context in which Ms. Reed’s class is learning about the Great Depression? In what ways does it provide variety, depth, meaning, and authenticity for learners?
- The Great Depression is explored within the context of the students’ local community life, past and present.
- This historical period is explored through the personal stories of people from all walks of life and all parts of the country, including Cedarville, as well as through questions originating from the students.
- The multimedia project extends the learning experience beyond the classroom, providing an authentic, goal-oriented service to the local library and community.
- Variety is introduced in learning through tools and artifacts (books, movies, camcorders, computer workstations, journals, photographs, vintage items), activities (reading, writing, discussion, interviewing, designing, producing, presenting), and people (the teacher, the students, the local librarian, the media specialist, the technology specialist, assorted family and community members).
- Students explore ideas in greater depth by revisiting their content questions throughout the project in eclectic ways, collaboratively through peer and group discussion and project construction, and individually through reading, journaling, and other activities.
Breaking It Down
Beyond striving to engage learners in activity in real-world, meaningful contexts, cognitive apprenticeship is known to embody certain characteristics known as modeling, coaching, scaffolding, reflection, articulation, and exploration. The following sections explore how each of these concepts are applied in the fourth-grade classrooms of Ms. Beauchamp and Ms. Reed.
[Note from Dr. Clinton: What this section describes goes beyond generic modeling to *cognitive modeling,* specifically. A good rule of thumb is that if you claim to be using cognitive apprenticeship you must explicitly include cognitive modeling.]
Modeling takes place constantly in everyday life. Learning simple tasks, such as how to wash dishes, involves more physical skills and processes than cognitive processes. A task can be imitated simply by observing another person demonstrating how to wash dishes. Complex tasks that require complicated cognitive processes are more difficult to model because it is impossible to observe what takes place in the human mind. For example, if students are observing a “good” math student solving a complex problem quietly, they can see what the good student writes on the paper but cannot see the process by which the problem was interpreted or why certain rules were chosen over others to solve the problem.
A cognitive modeling strategy, with teachers and competent students serving as cognitive role models, is a key characteristic of cognitive apprenticeships. The models should put their thoughts and reasons into words while explaining and demonstrating certain actions, because students cannot otherwise monitor the thinking process (Meichenbaum, 1977; Shunk, 2000). These think-alouds allow students to build a conceptual model and acquire an integrated set of cognitive and metacognitive skills through processes of observation (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Collins, 1991).
Modeling in cognitive apprenticeship means showing how a process unfolds and giving reasons why it happens that way (Collins, 1991). There are two kinds of modeling that can be used in education:
- Modeling of expert performance. This includes making the problem-solving process of experts explicit to students.
- Modeling of processes in the world. This includes making invisible parts of a process visible (e.g., photosynthesis processes).
These two kinds of modeling can be interwoven, especially when the problem includes the invisible parts of the process. In applying these two types of modeling in educational settings, two strategies are available to teachers:
- Modeling on the outset. Apprenticeships normally start with modeling and explaining the process that students are to use.
- Modeling after students’ attempt at a task. Another strategy is to present the problem to the students first, let them think through the process, and then provide modeling of experts’ processes.
The major responsibilities of the teacher during the modeling stage of cognitive apprenticeship are structuring situations of expert practice and demonstrating the expert’s thinking process in a manner that does not overwhelm students (Rogoff, 1990). The goal of this stage is to build mental models of experts’ cognitive processes so that students can eventually work on their own.
Because it involves a process that cannot be directly observed and experienced, cognitive modeling requires more sophisticated planning to apply in classrooms than does modeling of physical performance. The modeling of cognitive processes requires the following:
- Modeling an expert’s performance
- Externalizing internal/cognitive processes (verbalizing thought processes)
- Encouraging students to think like experts and treating them as experts
- Modeling the performance in different contexts
- Demonstrating how to cope with difficulties (if needed)
Teachers or other models who demonstrate performance should identify and represent cognitive processes that the experts engage in as they solve problems (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989). This culture of expert practice reflects the work of Vygotsky (1978) wherein he stresses the benefits of students’ interaction with competent others. It is important for learners to be exposed to a higher level of reasoning than the current level for their cognitive growth (Hogan & Tudge, 1999). Demonstrating the process of reading comprehension, teachers might verbalize the internal process as follows: “What is it I have to do? I have to find the topic sentence of the paragraph. The topic sentence is what the paragraph is about. I start by looking for a sentence that sums up the details or tells what the paragraph is about” (McNeil, 1987, p.96; Shunk, 2000).
It is a good strategy to include a demonstration of performance that displays typical fears and deficiencies of learners at the outset, and gradually reveals the improvements in the modeling (Shunk, 2000). During the demonstration, teachers might state how they are coping with difficulties as follows: “This paragraph is less structured than the other ones. I can’t find the topic sentence. What should I look for then? Oh, this sentence seems to be connecting the idea of the previous paragraph to the idea of this paragraph.” Students might gain confidence in performing the task and not be discouraged when faced with difficulties because they have observed the struggles of experts.
A key component of cognitive apprenticeship is that students learn the cognitive processes in realistic contexts so that they may process their thoughts accordingly in actual situations. In the teaching of reading comprehension, teachers might use an authentic newspaper and go through the process of reading and comprehending an article. Thus, students understand and build a conceptual model of the comprehension process and its conditions for application in conditions similar to real life situations (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989).
Returning to the story of the fourth grade at Cedars Elementary reveals how Ms. Beauchamp and Ms. Reed provide or could have provided cognitive apprenticeships starting with modeling.
Modeling in Ms. Beauchamp’s Class
As mentioned earlier, Ms. Beauchamp leads the class in a very traditional way. She presents knowledge, gives instructions, and corrects students if they are wrong. Students listen to Ms. Beauchamp’s lectures, do as she instructs, and bring their assignments to class for correction. The nature of students’ tasks is clearly different from that of the teacher’s tasks. There is no continuum of activities from the teacher to the students because Mrs. Beauchamp provides no demonstration of student activities. No aspect of modeling is found in her class.
Problem-solving activities play an insignificant role in Ms. Beauchamp’s classroom. She often begins the class by reviewing and correcting the answers to the textbook questions that students have individually prepared as assignments. This activity of reading the answers aloud and giving correct answers fails to provide the teacher with important and useful information, such as the students’ thoughts about the questions while answering them and the ways they reflected on what they learned through the assignment. It seems clear that writing correct answers on transparency film accompanied by a loud and authoritative voice does not promote students’ thinking processes. Thus, this approach provides no cognitive modeling for solving problems.
Modeling in Ms. Reed’s Class
Unlike Ms. Beauchamp’s class, the scenes from Ms. Reed’s class are dynamic and engaging. Ms. Reed conducts the class as a facilitator and collaborator in its activities. In her class, there is little distinction between the activities of the teacher and those of the students. The students creatively replicate the activities of the teacher and others.
Coaching and Scaffolding
Coaching and scaffolding are two critical components of the cognitive apprenticeship model. These elements are addressed together because they share many characteristics. Although coaching does not enjoy the familiarity of its cousin scaffolding in the research literature, some researchers call it “the thread running through the entire apprenticeship experience” (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991). Scaffolding, while distinct from coaching, can actually be categorized as a type of coaching. In this section we will discuss why this is the case.
Although it is considered a separate component of cognitive apprenticeship, coaching has as much in common with the process of scaffolding. Both involve a teacher (or a more knowledgeable other) providing some type of assistance to a learner to facilitate attainment of a goal. Coaching may be seen as a broader term than scaffolding, however. In fact, scaffolding can be considered only one form of coaching (see Figure 1). At this point a closer examination of coaching is in order.
Collins, Brown, and Holum (1991) provide many examples of coaching, which they call “the process of overseeing the student’s learning.” The goal of coaching can be simply summarized as the learner accomplishes the learning goal. The process of ensuring this goal may begin with helping learners choose their tasks (admittedly, not always an option), and may end with providing feedback to learners on their completed products. In between these steps, many other coaching strategies may be employed, including providing hints and scaffolding, evaluating how learners actually go about the process of learning, diagnosing problems, offering verbal and nonverbal encouragement, structuring lessons in ways that facilitate learning, and working with learners to overcome weaknesses. So, it can be said that coaching is the process of doing whatever it takes to assist learners in their learning, from start until finish. It is now instructive to turn to one of the components of coaching–scaffolding.
Of the six characteristics of the cognitive apprenticeship model, scaffolding is perhaps the best known and most discussed in the literature. Although there are numerous definitions of this term, any one of them is likely to provide the basic idea of what scaffolding is all about.
First, two definitions offered by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:
- A temporary or movable platform for workers (as bricklayers, painters, or miners) to stand or sit on when working at a height above the floor or ground
- A supporting framework.
At first glance, the more detailed first definition may not appear to have as much application to an educational environment as the more general second definition. However, upon substituting the word “students” for “workers” in this definition, the applicability to education becomes evident. A scaffold is a structure that supports students while they work at a level higher than their ability allows without assistance.
Of course, when educational researchers, practitioners, or theorists talk or write about the process of scaffolding, each has a specific conception of what this process refers to. For instance, Collins, Brown, and Newman (1989) describe scaffolding as: “a kind of cooperative problem-solving effort by teachers and students in which the express intention is for the students to assume as much of the task on his own as possible, as soon as possible.”
Although scaffolding has some very specific components that will be discussed later, in almost all cases, it refers to any situation in which two processes occur. The first process involves providing support to the student by a more knowledgeable other (MKO), whether a teacher, a better informed peer, a community member, a domain expert, a parent, or in some cases, even a computer. The second process inherent in the scaffolding experience involves the gradual removal of the support system in a way which leaves the student able to perform unassisted the task which was previously possible only with the scaffolding.
Scaffolding is based on Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which he defined as the distance between the “actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (p. 86). Vygotsky believed that when a student is at the ZPD for a particular task, providing the appropriate scaffolding would give the student enough of a “boost” to complete it. Further, once the student, with the benefit of scaffolding, masters the task, the scaffolding can be removed. Just as a building remains erect after its scaffolding is removed, a student should be able to achieve the task again without the aid of scaffolding.
Zhao and Orey (1999) identify six elements of ideal scaffolding. The first element is the sharing of a specific goal, which typically refers to achieving a task. Sharing the goal increases intersubjectivity between the learner and the MKO and also helps decrease learner frustration because the learner knows that he is not alone in trying to achieve the task. The second element of ideal scaffolding is a whole-task approach. This simply means that the focus is on learning the task as a whole, not concentrating on individual sub-skills of the task.
The third element is the immediate availability of help. This is in alignment with the primary basis of scaffolding: help the learner when he is at a point where he needs help in order to continue the task. When learners are left for too long at a point where they cannot make progress, they may lose interest and motivation and become frustrated. The fourth element is that the scaffolding should assist the learner in his intentions. The MKO should help the learner on whatever he is currently struggling with, so as not to interrupt another train of thought. This meshes well with the previous element of immediacy–helping the learner when he needs it, not after he moves to another task or problem.
The fifth element of ideal scaffolding is providing an optimal level of help. The MKO should provide assistance that is tailored to the needs of the learner. It should be just enough to get the learner past his current difficulties. The MKO should assist only in those steps that are beyond the learner’s ability. The sixth and final element of scaffolding is the conveying of an expert model. An expert model is a model of a task that will lead the learner to accomplish the task efficiently. This model provides a framework around which learners can organize their skills.
Now that some of the background and components of coaching and scaffolding have been described, the ways in which the two teachers employed them in their classrooms may be examined. It is also productive to speculate on how they could have further helped their students to learn.
Coaching and Scaffolding in Ms. Beauchamp’s Classroom
Ms. Beauchamp’s class seems typically traditional; very little coaching can be seen in her classroom. She structures class events to provide multiple opportunities to learn about the New Deal and the Depression. She asks her students to read ahead and answer textbook questions, goes over the answers in class, provides a short film for her students, conducts a review, has her students act out a play, and then assesses student learning with a test. Can any of this be accomplished in a way that will engage her students with the material and help them gain a better understanding of the events that occurred during this period in history?
To begin, it is worthwhile to examine Ms. Beauchamp’s method of questioning and providing feedback. It appears to be in the form of stating “Correct” or “Incorrect” after a student responds to a question. To increase learning beyond the simple recitation of names and dates, Ms. Beauchamp could lead the class in a discussion of why each answer is correct or incorrect, which would be an excellent use of coaching. She could also ask more open-ended questions about important points, rather than the basic questions in the textbook that can be answered with one or two words. For example, instead of asking, “When did the Great Depression occur?” she might inquire of the class, “What do you think was occurring domestically and internationally in the late 1920s that may have contributed to the beginning of the Great Depression?” This type of questioning requires students to think more deeply and to synthesize information, with less rote memorization. It also provides Ms. Beauchamp more opportunities to provide hints to students, allowing them to piece together answers from what they are reading or discussing in class.
Ms. Beauchamp’s use of a play as an instrument to help students learn about the Great Depression, on the other hand, is an excellent strategy; however, its implementation could be modified to allow the learners to become more intimately engaged with the material . For example, students might be asked to work in small groups to create their own mini-plays. Ms. Beauchamp could then work with individual groups, providing ideas to improve their productions and correcting any mistaken ideas they have. Also, it would give her a chance to encourage her students to use research materials and artifacts from outside the class, as well as to express their own interpretations of history in a dramatic form.
In considering the notion of scaffolding in the context of the story, Ms. Beauchamp’s goal for this unit must be determined. While Ms. Beauchamp does not explicitly state a learning goal in this example, it can be inferred from analysis of the information provided and by asking such questions as, “What does she ask her students?”,”How does she assess her students’ knowledge?”, and “What are the anticipated learning outcomes of the unit?” From the answers to these questions, it appears that Ms. Beauchamp tends to primarily ask questions that can be answered with a word or a short phrase, such as “Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” “1929,” or “new jobs.” Also, based on her method of assessment (short answer and multiple choice questions), it would appear that discrete facts are the primary desired learning outcome for her students.
It is important to remember that the scaffolding process facilitates attainment of goals that are slightly beyond students’ reach (when they are in the ZPD). Considering the inferred goals of Ms. Beauchamp’s class (the learning of discrete facts), is scaffolding needed? Do students require support to remember that the Great Depression began in 1929? The obvious answer is “no.” Scaffolding is not an appropriate instructional tool here because it does not facilitate the instructional goals that it can be assumed were set by the teacher. However, the appropriateness of these goals are a legitimate object of question.
How have student knowledge and understanding been affected at the completion of this unit? Is it likely that Ms. Beauchamp’s students will retain much significant knowledge about the New Deal or FDR once they enter the fifth grade? The most likely answer: probably not. If anything, they may recall that FDR wanted to provide more jobs to Americans and that the Great Depression started around 1930.
Coaching and Scaffolding in Ms. Reed’s Classroom
Ms. Reed, on the other hand, offers an explicit goal for her students: “to understand what it was like to live during this very difficult time in the nation’s history and to explore what messages the Great Depression might have for us today.” The questions that she asks and the opportunities for class discussion that she provides (rather than just lecture or video presentation) seem to support this broad goal.
In addition, Ms. Reed uses coaching and scaffolding strategies in her classroom. She chooses a variety of learning tasks from which her students may choose: reading their textbook, interacting with contemporaries of the historical era under study, synthesizing information into a multimedia presentation, watching videos, and other activities. Not only does Ms. Reed choose these activities wisely, she implements them effectively. She sees that support is available to her students during each activity, through both human and non-human resources. This very deliberate decision-making is an excellent way of overseeing the student learning process, and, within each activity, coaching occurs.
In the scenario, Ms. Reed’s students receive ample encouragement to perform well in their learning tasks. For instance, while student groups are interviewing the classroom guests, Ms. Reed challenges them to take on different roles in the interviewing process, even if the students are not completely comfortable doing this. She encourages them, and likely expresses her confidence in their abilities, while also reminding them that she is available to assist them with any questions or problems they encounter.
Coaching also occurs during the development of the multimedia presentation. Ms. Reed keeps her eye on the groups and helps them organize their thoughts and work. She also “coaches” them toward considering certain questions and consulting particular reference sources for information. In addition to Ms. Reed’s coaching, the students also have the benefit of Ms. Clarke’s coaching on technology issues and the coaching of the visitors, who provided additional information and support as the students needed it. All in all, the students in Ms. Reed’s class seem to have access to much more coaching than their peers in Ms. Beauchamp’s class. As a result, Ms. Reed’s students are more likely to leave the fourth grade with a stronger understanding of issues related to the Great Depression.
Thus, Ms. Reed’s instructional goal is very different from that of her colleague. Instead of requiring her students to learn bits of segmented data, she wants them to learn what it was like to live during this period of the nation’s history. Admittedly, this goal requires more work from her and her students. Simply stated, this goal is more difficult. However, while Ms. Beauchamp’s class will likely remain in the Knowledge level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Ms. Reed’s class attained higher levels of learning– comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and possibly even evaluation. (Further explanation of Bloom’s Taxonomy can be found at http://faculty.washington.edu/krumme/guides/bloom.html).
To promote this goal of understanding, Ms. Reed provides numerous types of scaffolding. It must be noted that the cognitive apprenticeship model does fall under the umbrella of situated cognition theory and, as such, “shifts the focus from the individual to the sociocultural setting and the activities of the people within that setting. Knowledge accrues through the lived practices of the people in a society” (Driscoll, 1994, p. 156). Therefore, when implemented as an element of the cognitive apprenticeship framework, scaffolding is likely to include aspects of the “social and physical context” (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989) of the topic under study. Ms. Reed brings three visitors into her class with whom her students are encouraged to discuss the Depression, the New Deal, and various other components of their lesson unit. Taken together, the goal is for the interaction of the students and these “more knowledgeable others” to produce new and more informed understandings of what it was like to live during that time in America’s history. Not only is this social context made available to the students, so too are various physical artifacts, such as clothing, food stamps, and scrapbooks. These items can also be considered part of the scaffolding process, as they help students understand how people in their community or state lived in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Other scaffolds are present in Ms. Reed’s class, of course; the multimedia presentation, the interviews with Depression survivors, and teacher-led (but not teacher-dominated) discussions about the subject.
But what about Ms. Reed’s students? What happens to them once their scaffolds are removed (a process referred to as “fading”)? What happens after Mr. Clancy, Ms. Moore, and Ms. Abrams make their last visit to the classroom, and after the classroom discussion turns to the next series of historical events? Will the students retain much of what they have learned about FDR, the New Deal, and the Great Depression? It appears so. By allowing her students to “enter that community and its culture” (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989) and to take ownership over their presentation of what they learned, Ms. Reed scaffolds her students’ learning. In the process, she also increases the likelihood that her students will internalize and retain much of their learning experience once they complete the unit and leave her classroom.
Questions to consider:
Which of the two teachers do you identify with and why? What recommendations would you give to either or both of the teachers in terms of coaching and scaffolding? What kinds of coaching and scaffolding activities can be used in the classes of different knowledge domains?
Articulation and Reflection
Articulation and Reflection are two more hallmarks of cognitive apprenticeship practices. These components are discussed together as they often go hand-in-hand in practice.
Articulation is defined as “the act of giving utterance or expression” (Merriam Webster’s, 2001). In terms of cognitive apprenticeship, articulation is described by McLellan as consisting of two aspects: separating component knowledge and skills to learn them more effectively and, more common verbalizing or demonstrating knowledge and thinking processes in order to expose and clarify them. Through articulation, the learners make their learning explicit through language so that community members have a basis of interaction to refine and expand understanding. Articulation can be interwoven in a learning experience through a variety of strategies including discussion, demonstration, presentation, and the exchange of written or other learner-produced artifacts.
Merriam Webster’s (2001) defines reflection as “consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose.” Reflection has been identified as one of the most important, yet neglected, aspects of learning and instruction. The founders of the Foxfire Project (1992), an innovative educational program for high school students, assert “…some conscious thoughtful time to stand apart from the work itself – is an essential activity that must take place at key points throughout the work. It is the activity that evokes insights and nurtures revisions in our plans. It is also the activity we are least accustomed to doing, and, therefore, the activity we will have to be the most rigorous in including, and for which we will have to help students develop skills.”
In the cognitive apprenticeship model of teaching and learning, reflection is yet another cornerstone activity. The goal of reflection is that students have guided opportunities to look back and analyze their individual and group performance and artifacts with an eye toward understanding and improvement. Like other components of cognitive apprenticeship, reflection can be encouraged in students in a variety of ways. For example, a mentor can pose experientially-based questions, or ask students to construct their own questions, throughout the learning experience –questions that consider content (e.g. who or what?) while emphasizing process (e.g. how and why?).
Articulation and Reflection in Ms. Beauchamp’s Classroom
In Ms. Beauchamp’s classroom, articulation is employed as part of the instructional strategy. For example, Ms. Beauchamp and her students share the answers to the end-of-chapter textbook reading. Most certainly, they will articulate certain knowledge of the Great Depression as they perform the play, and even as they record their answers to the written test. However, much of the knowledge shared is discrete and superficial (FDR, 1929, the New Deal) and generated directly from sources external to the students (the textbook authors, the playwright, and even Ms. Beauchamp). Furthermore, most of the sharing of knowledge occurs directly between Ms. Beauchamp and individual students rather than between and among diverse groups. In such an approach, opportunities for leveraging the knowledge and experiences of class members and potential outside contributors are missed.
Similarly, Ms. Beauchamp’s students experience few significant opportunities to reflect on the Great Depression. Students “reflect” on the chapter reading by answering the end-of-chapter questions and then later, questions on the written test. Ms. Beauchamp’s review and student participation in the play may have encouraged some students to reflect on the content; however, these opportunities for reflection are superficial, at best, and encourage little in-depth thought or discussion. They are also discrete activities in that they lack a shared focus. There is nothing to connect the reading, the review, the play, and the test in a manner that has personal meaning for the students.
Articulation and Reflection in Ms. Reed’s Classroom
In Ms. Reed’s classroom, articulation is more evident as a strategy to support individual and group learning. First, student/apprentices and adult/experts exchange knowledge and experiences about themselves and the Great Depression early on, through the teacher-facilitated discussion. This exchange continues before and after the movie, and through the group categorization of student-generated questions prior to beginning the multimedia project. From the outset, Ms. Reed facilitates the sharing of knowledge among a diverse set of novices and experts that includes students, school staff, community members, and parents. All students benefit by having knowledge of the Great Depression made more accessible through a variety of media (books, movies, the Internet, etc.) as well as through opportunities for guided, social interaction.
The practice of articulation continues in Ms. Reed’s classroom as students prepare to design their multimedia presentation through the group debrief session in which students share the data that they have gathered so far. Once engaged in design and production, students participate in ongoing feedback sessions through the student “quick crits,” the periodic visits by community members, and the coaching of Ms. Reed and Ms. Clarke. As the students develop their knowledge artifacts (the multimedia productions) they have opportunities to test them and make revisions in a formative manner. Before the “taking and scoring of a test,” which is often the first time many teachers find out what their students have learned, the teacher and other experts have numerous opportunities to help students confront and problem-solve through misconceptions and ineffective strategies.
Articulation is extended through the final phases of the unit work in the Memorial Day presentation and demonstration of the multimedia project to the community, in the group discussion that follows, and in individual student electronic journals. Here again, students have the opportunity to share their knowledge of the Great Depression within the useful context of its meaning for their community today. Yet another opportunity is provided for students to revisit and extend their understandings to more sophisticated levels.
As demonstrated through the experiences of Ms. Reed’s fourth grade students, articulation can take many forms and be revisited throughout a learning episode. As one aspect of cognitive apprenticeship, articulation supports a fundamental premise of situated cognition theory – that learning is a social and contextualized phenomenon. As such, masters and apprentices from multiple perspectives benefit from coming together, articulating, and ultimately negotiating shared understandings.
In contrast to Ms. Beauchamp, Ms. Reed interweaves opportunities for reflection throughout her students’ experience learning about the Great Depression. Early on, students are asked to generate personally meaningful questions about the Great Depression–questions they feel are important and want answered. These questions then guide the students’ data collection as they prepare to design the multimedia project. During the development of the project, students reflect frequently and in a variety of ways through guided discussions with their teacher, through student “desk crits,” and through discussions with Mr. Clancy and the other visitors. Here, formative reflection advances the thinking and effort of the group as it is expressed in a more complete and sophisticated artifact, the multimedia project. Toward the end of the project, students are afforded even more opportunities for reflection as they discuss the project with community members at the Memorial Day presentation and record their personal reflections in their electronic journals upon returning to the classroom.
Ms. Reed’s students do not only engage in reflection more frequently; the quality of their reflection is more diverse and thoughtful. From start to finish, reflective activities provide a vehicle for connecting individual activities in a thematic and meaningful way. First, the reflective activities focus on the stated objectives of the unit – “to understand what it was like to live during this very difficult time in the nation’s history and to explore what messages the Great Depression might have for us today.” Second, the reflective activities revisit this goal with increasing depth and diversity, gently moving students toward greater levels of understanding and ability.
Interestingly, reflective activities provide Ms. Reed with numerous opportunities to “check in” with her students. This enables her to assess the degree of content mastery and the extent to which the unit goal has been achieved. Thus, she need not rely primarily on an end-of-unit test to evaluate students. Instead, she can assess her students formatively and guide them toward greater levels of achievement “as the learning is occurring” in addition to employing some form of summary assessment at the close of the lesson. In this way, reflective activities help to take the mystery out of what is going on with the learning of individual students.
Questions to consider:
Which of the two teachers do you identify with and why? What recommendations would you give to either or both of the teachers in terms of articulation and reflection? What kinds of articulation and reflection activities can be used in the classes of different knowledge domains?
Independent exploration of student learning occurs naturally in cognitive apprenticeship when coaching and scaffolding are relaxed and fading occurs (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989). Exploration is not one of the characteristics of traditional apprenticeships of physical skills and processes because fading of supports could mean that students are already reaching mastery of the skills.
Features of exploration are similar to those found in discovery learning and inquiry-based approaches. Exploration is not merely reading or listening to a teacher presentation but obtaining knowledge for oneself. Nor is it simply students doing what they want to do; they perform directed and guided activities suggested by the teacher. The teacher poses general problems and allows students to move into specific problems of their own, instead of teaching how to solve a problem and providing materials to help students explore. Through exploration and other similar approaches, students discover new knowledge and learn general problem-solving skills (Bruner, 1961; Shunk, 2000).
Exploration in cognitive apprenticeship is pushing students to try out their hypotheses, methods, and strategies with processes similar to those that experts use to solve problems (Collins, 1991). Students are usually engaged in two kinds of exploration:
- Exploration of the world. Students explore and even play with facts, problems, phenomena, and properties of our world in a less structured learning environment (Rose, 1995).
- Exploration of problem solving processes. When novel problems that require adjustment of pre-existing cognitive processes are presented to the students, the learners try different problem-solving processes.
The responsibilities of the teacher to foster students’ explorations include gradual fading of support, encouraging students’ autonomy, and transferring responsibility to students (Rogoff, 1990). The goal of the students is to actually use their mental models of experts’ cognitive processes on their own or as a group to find and solve problems, set achievable goals, test hypotheses, and make their own discoveries (Collins, 1991).
Exploration should not be included only after all the supports are removed during cognitive apprenticeships. When students are lost in the course of exploration, guiding and scaffolding should be provided. Also, students need to continue to articulate and reflect on what they have found, as experts do in real situations. To provide experience in exploration, teachers should:
- Gradually fade support systems
- Encourage learner autonomy
- Provide general goals
- Encourage students to set their own achievable goals
- Encourage problem formation and problem solving
Fading of supports includes both fading in problem solving as well as fading in problem setting (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989). In other words, students are to find their own problems for their own goals and also find their own solutions to these problems. Teachers must teach general exploration strategies through modeling and guidance so that students will not be lost when they are on their own.
Through exploration, learners are encouraged to carry out expert problem-solving processes on their own. Exploration also promotes learner autonomy in defining or formulating the problems to be solved (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989). Learners become independent of the teacher and begin to apply what experts do regarding forming and testing hypotheses, formulating rules, and gathering information. Once they are in problem-solving mode, students are forced to make discoveries on their own. By doing so, they experience what it is like to be a scientist, historian, or mathematician because they are thinking and performing like these professionals.
To have authentic experiences of expert practice, students should be able to explore in an environment similar to that in which they will actually use the process and knowledge. This environment should reflect conditions for realistic application of knowledge. Learning through exploration can occur in the classroom through strategies such as role-playing, independent or group projects, and computer simulations (Collins, 1991; Shunk, 2000).
It is the teacher’s responsibility to find general tasks that students will find interesting. The goals should be broad enough so that students or student groups can find their own achievable goals. Goals for exploration should take into account thinking and the learning process. Goals that only require rote memorization or simple physical practice should not be considered. Solving problems that require inductive reasoning and resolving situations that are puzzling encourage student involvement (Shunk, 2000).
Thus far, it is evident that the two classrooms differ drastically in the extent to which elements of the cognitive apprenticeship model are present in class activities; it is to be expected that a similar disparity would exist in the use of exploration.
Exploration in Ms. Beauchamp’s Class
It is obvious that in Ms. Beauchamp’s class student autonomy and problem-solving are not encouraged. The teacher lectures and leads activities throughout the class, whether or not students are paying attention. It is to be hoped that some students might be interested in the topics presented in class and will explore them by themselves outside of class. However, without completely altering her instructivist approach, Ms. Beauchamp can encourage students to explore their interests related to the topic by changing the nature of the questions she asks in class and those she assigns for homework. At present, the questions seem to address only the basic facts about the Great Depression. Adding some problem-solving aspects to the questions and giving students guidelines to answer those questions will promote further exploration of the topic.
At the end of the unit, students will be involved in a play about life during the Great Depression. Ms. Beauchamp will assign each student the role of a character from the play, which will be performed from a pre-existing script. The drama should be interesting to the students, but the assignment is not significantly different from reading a book or watching a video. Instead of having students play predefined roles from a script, Ms. Beauchamp could provide only the opening of the play. Students could then explore the lives of people in their community who lived during the Depression era and generate the rest of the play from this research.
Exploration in Ms. Reed’s Class
Ms. Reed, on the other hand, provides ample opportunity for students to explore their own interests in the Depression era. When Ms. Reed begins the Great Depression chapter, she invites people from the community who lived during that period to share their experiences. By arranging this stage at the beginning, students are given an opportunity to explore the topic within the context of the local community, both past and present. Students begin their exploration of the topic by interviewing these people and listening to their personal recollections; the student investigators also learn how those who lived through this difficult time were affected by it.
Ms. Reed’s assignments encourage students to find their own questions, problems, and ways to answer them. She asks students to brainstorm a list of questions about the Great Depression, exploring what they want to know instead of what the textbook prescribes or what she wants them to know. She divides the class into small groups so that students can share the roles of experts– interviewers, photographers, videographers and the like. Each group is responsible for organizing its ideas, setting group goals, and formulating a set of questions. Group members are treated as experts responsible for their respective roles in collecting data.
The groups concurrently develop their own multimedia projects, with each focusing on its specific goals. Through this class-wide exploration, students become the owners of their knowledge. Real-life experts, such as historians, set their own goals and explore them to produce knowledge through problem solving; students in Ms. Reed’s class perform similar tasks. The authentic experiences of students in Ms. Reed’s class are vastly different from the experiences of students who passively take in information provided by Ms. Beauchamp and then write answers to questions corresponding to information given in the text.
Questions to consider:
What are the exploration experiences that you have experienced or provided in class? What recommendations would you give to either or both of the teachers in terms of exploration? What kinds of exploration activities can be used in the classes of different knowledge domains?
Examples of Cognitive Apprenticeship in the Real World
Below are some examples of ways that cognitive apprenticeship practices are applied in real-world settings. One example is from a K-12 setting; another is from an adult learning venue. For each example, there is a brief description along with an internet resource. The web sites contain more information, demonstrations, and even different learning environments.
CoVis is an integrated learning environment of visualization and communication tools. The visualization tools model the processes of non-visible weather phenomena. Students learning in the CoVis environment engage in open-ended scientific investigations and explorations that resemble the authentic practices of scientists. The communication tools provide channels for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration with other students and mentors. The mentors provide coaching/scaffolding of the science practice. The software systems of the CoVis environment include an asynchronous networking system, the Collaboratory Notebook. It provides the mechanism for recording activities, sorting artifacts, and sharing the working process with others. Through this mechanism, students reflect and articulate their scientific inquiry processes and the knowledge they gain through the processes.
Students completing a certificate in online learning at Edith Cowan University must be able to employ contemporary learning theories in the design of flexible and open on-line courses. They must choose appropriate learning media, plan engaging learning activities, assess the learning potential of on-line activities and exercises, and so on. In the online learning course, students work through a variety of real-world scenarios to develop knowledge and skills. For example, operating in a virtual office space, students must complete the evaluation of a web-based learning course that is being considered for additional funding. Cognitive apprenticeship practices include the use of coaching/scaffolding available in online journals and bulletin board discussion with mentors, modeling through access to prototypes, and articulation/reflection through online journaling.
Concluding Thoughts: Implications of the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model for Teaching and Learning
Cognitive apprenticeship is not a linear process occurring once during the teaching and learning process of particular subject-area content; rather, it is a recursive process (see Figure 2). Cognitive apprenticeship usually commences with modeling guided by a teacher, experts, or peers. The teacher gradually decreases the support provided to students through scaffolding and coaching methods and increases students’ autonomy through exploration. In the process of learning, students must revisit what they have done and discuss their ideas with teachers and other students. Students finally discuss, demonstrate, present, and exchange their individual or group products and look back to analyze their own or others’ performance and artifacts through articulation and reflection methods.
In implementing cognitive apprenticeships in classrooms, it is important to examine the aspects of different disciplines, educational settings, and students; these will be important parts of the learning experiences. Even though a model and scenario of an effective classroom approach to cognitive apprenticeship have been presented here, there remain questions to consider before teachers look into their own classrooms. Can educators create effective learning experiences for students by employing a cognitive apprenticeship approach? In what ways might cognitive apprenticeship practices be most useful? In what ways might the cognitive apprenticeship model break down for classroom use?
Benefits of Cognitive Apprenticeship
Cognitive apprenticeship practices can benefit learning in many ways:
Cognitive apprenticeship encourages authentic activity and assessment. The most important emphases of the learning environment in cognitive apprenticeship are situated learning and the culture of expert practice (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989). Learners are engaged in learning activities that are similar to the practices of real-world experts.
Practices of cognitive apprenticeship are motivating and engaging for learners. Cognitive apprenticeship provides students with authentic tasks; it encourages them to think like and to be treated as experts (Collins, 1991). When students are actively engaged in authentic tasks and make discoveries on their own, they are motivated and experience a sense of ownership of their knowledge and tasks.
Cognitive apprenticeship may encourage greater levels of retention and transfer. Learning within the cognitive apprenticeship framework is situated in a context similar to that in which experts actually practice (Resnick, 1989). Situated, contextualized learning enables students to retain their knowledge until they encounter similar situations in the future.
Cognitive apprenticeship may facilitate higher order reasoning. In cognitive apprenticeship practices, students work with teachers and experts who use higher-level thinking processes; they are exposed to these processes through cognitive modeling (Hogan & Tudge, 1999). After receiving initial stages of support from teacher and experts, students actually explore new ideas and make discoveries using advanced reasoning processes.
Challenges of the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model
Using a cognitive apprenticeship approach in the classroom is not without its challenges. Some pitfalls in employing the cognitive apprenticeship model include:
Cognitive apprenticeship may require highly facilitative teaching skills. Cognitive apprenticeship requires teachers (or coaches) to constantly attend to students’ difficulties and problems. Students’ autonomy levels depend on the success of the coaching and scaffolding provided largely by the teacher. This requires patience and advanced facilitative teaching skills.
The cognitive apprenticeship approach may result in higher levels of student anxiety and frustration. If expert modeling overwhelms the students, there may be difficulty in understanding the process and construction of a mental model of the process. Students may become anxious, frustrated, and afraid to explore tasks on their own.
Cognitive apprenticeship may require more time on task. The time required of students to explore different areas and to make discoveries and create their own products can be enormous. When students are working in a group, they must constantly discuss and reflect on their accomplishments and plans for the future.
Cognitive apprenticeship may require additional or more sophisticated resources. Successful implementation of cognitive apprenticeship requires realistic assessment of available resources. The nature of cognitive apprenticeship includes situated learning and the culture of expert practice. This may automatically require resources that are not readily available in schools and educational institutions (e.g., subject matter experts, time, money for expert modeling).
Cognitive apprenticeship affords both opportunities and challenges, as do most educational models. What challenges have you considered? How might you overcome them? What benefits might such a model bring you and your students? What aspects of cognitive apprenticeship are you already using? What aspects might you bring back to your classroom for a trial run?
|Click Here for PowerPoint Game. Caption: This game serves as the quiz for Cognitive Apprenticeship chapter. To play the game, double click on the PowerPoint presentation “cog.app.game.ark” Click view slide show to begin the game. Game template design by Mark E. Damon productions (2000). Game questions written or modified for the game by Kelly Neville, Robin Tillotson, and Arthur Williams (2006). Click Here for the Zip File that includes sound effects.|
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Here is a nice resource for applying ideas from several chapters in this book to teaching and learning math. Click Here for Online Teaching Degree: General Mathematics and Teaching Resources
APA Citation: Brill, J., Kim, B., Galloway, C. (2001). Cognitive apprenticeships as an instructional model. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/