8. Watch It, Do It,
Know It - Cognitive Apprenticeship
Session Content Outline
- How can students learn to think strategically?
- How can teachers make thinking visible for their students and
support more powerful learning?
- Creating cognitive apprenticeships
– Teachers will learn what kinds of tasks and projects are
appropriate to a cognitive apprenticeship. They will recognize
that tasks should be authentic, representative of the field or
domain being pursued, and based on real-world needs and contexts.
- Making thinking visible –
Teachers will consider how to make expert thinking visible and
how to support student learning through modeling, scaffolding,
and coaching. They will recognize the need to break down a task,
to carefully scaffold, and structure activities to guide a cognitive
- Assessing students' learning –
Teachers will understand how to make student thinking visible
so they can judge when and how to support students' learning.
In many traditional occupations, masters of a trade
would take novices under their wings and teach them through an apprenticeship.
Master blacksmiths, seamstresses, or craftspeople would teach their
apprentices through a process of demonstration, assistance, and
coaching. In such settings, the learner was able to observe and
participate in the process of work from beginning to end. The master's
job was to create opportunities for the apprentice to assist in
the work and practice new skills under supervision. Teaching and
learning in apprenticeship settings revolved around authentic, real-world
tasks and products. In this Session, we discuss the idea of a "cognitive
apprenticeship," which applies this ancient tradition of practical,
trade-oriented apprenticeships to the kinds of teaching and learning
that take place in modern schools.
Designing Cognitive Apprenticeship Environments
The context for the cognitive apprenticeship has three
- The work must be situated in realistic tasks that are representative
of the field being pursued (e.g. conducting a scientific experiment
or a historical inquiry, writing a short story or a school newspaper)
- Tasks are typically carried out within a collaborative learning
community where students work together with the teacher to develop
ideas and assist and critique each other's work.
- Tasks are motivating to students due to their real-world value
(e.g. performing for an audience outside of a classroom or conducting
a poll and analyzing the results to shed light on a community
issue) (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).
Teaching Strategies in a Cognitive Apprenticeship
- Modeling – showing a student how a process is done
- Scaffolding – structures that give the student just enough
support for her to accomplish a learning task
- Coaching – assigning tasks, providing support, offering
feedback and encouraging students to guide their learning
Making Students' Thinking Visible
Having students elaborate on their thought processes
- help them become aware of their own understandings and misconceptions
- provide opportunities for students to assist their peers
- give teachers insights to use in scaffolding and assisting students'
Cognitive apprenticeship is not a formula; it is an
instructional approach that helps teach complex skills and reasoning.
Teachers should consider key questions as they plan their instruction:
- What are the central skills and concepts of my subject area
that I would like students to master?
- How can I make visible to my students how I, and other experts,
think when we perform these skills and work with these concepts?
- What kind of unit or class can I design that will require students
to understand, practice, and receive feedback on the real-life
application of these understandings (both individually and in
collaboration with others)?
- What kind of strategies can I use as a teacher to coach and
scaffold the development of expertise?
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