- How do we process information so that
we can use it effectively later?
- How can teachers organize learning
to support student understanding?
- Information processing – Teachers
will understand how information is received, organized,
- Associations and connections
– Teachers will become familiar with strategies
for helping students to make associations and draw connections
among concepts and for enhancing memory and information
- Novices and experts – Teachers
will understand how experts and novices differ in how
they solve problems and use knowledge. Teachers will consider
how to organize instruction to encourage the development
of expert strategies.
How do we perceive and understand the world
around us? How do we make sense of events and new information?
What helps us to remember or forget? How do people think
when they are solving problems? And why – and how
– does an expert solve a problem more efficiently
than a novice? In this session, we explore cognitive processing
– the work we do to take in, organize, and make sense
of new information. Teachers can assist students as they
grapple with new ideas, organize, and communicate what they
How Does Experience Affect the
In How People Learn,
Bransford and colleagues (2000) identify three major points
about brain development that are important for education:
- Learning changes the physical structure
of the brain,
- These structural changes alter the functional
organization of the brain; in other words, learning organizes
and reorganizes the brain, and
- Different parts of the brain may be ready
to learn at different times.
Learning and the Physical Structure
of the Brain
As we interact with the world around us, nerve cells,
or neurons, send and receive information to and from other
nerve cells. Communication between neurons takes place across
microscopic gaps, or synapses, and nerve impulses are transmitted
neurochemically across these synapses. The neuron integrates
the information received from the synapses, which in turn
project information to other parts of the body, such as
the muscles. This process is the basis of how we think,
move, talk, and make sense of the world around us.
New connections are added to the brain in
Early in life synapses
Then some are selectively
lost (or pruned) because they are not used.
More complex cognitive processing occurs in
the cerebral cortex – the blanket of cells that covers
the brain and is divided into lobes, each of which performs
many different functions.
It is a common misperception that individuals'
intelligence and brain development are entirely determined
by biology. Education and experience do develop the brain.
Cognitive psychologists—those who study
how we learn by conducting human experiments and observations—can
help us to bridge understandings in neuroscience with implications
for the classroom.
How Do We Perceive and Make Sense
of the World Around Us?
We are constantly bombarded with stimuli
and information, not all of which can be attended to at
once. What is perceived and processed in the brain depends
on several features of the stimulus as well as of the perceiver.
Critical are –
- what captures our attention – the
visual, auditory, or other attributes of the stimulus
that cause us to pay attention
- how we selectively filter out aspects of
the information that are unfamiliar or uncategorizable
to us or that do not mesh with our expectations
- how we organize the information in our
brain, connecting it through associations with other things
Individuals process information differently
in the brain. For example, people learn through different
pathways and modalities – visual, aural, kinesthetic
– and with different kinds of representations. These
differences pose a challenge for teachers, requiring that
they represent ideas and information in ways that allow
for different kinds of processing and figure out what will
allow certain students to process information most effectively.
Many researchers attribute specific learning
difficulties to problems that occur when the brain processes
language and other visual, auditory, and kinesthetic information.
Learning disabilities take different forms
– they are related to language comprehension and production,
motor skills, social skills, and attention, for instance.
It is important for teachers to have skills
and tools for observing and cataloging the kinds of tasks
with which students seem to have difficulty, as well as
those with which they have greater success, as a guide to
curriculum planning and instructional adaptations.
How Do We Remember?
- For learning to occur, facts, concepts,
and ideas must be stored; connected to other facts, concepts,
and ideas; and built upon. Cognitive theorists have studied
the nature of memory to determine how and under what conditions
people retain or forget information.
- How can memory be enhanced? Researchers
have found that information is stored in several forms
– visual, verbal, and by its meaning. When physical,
auditory, and visual stimuli are combined with symbolic
materials like language or numbers, the ability to retrieve
information is likely improved.
- Research also demonstrates that when people
are asked to remember a series of events or list of words,
they will do better at recalling them if they create categories
or meaningful connections among them, and if they "chunk"
this information into smaller groupings.
- Other strategies for enhancing the retrieval
of learned material include overlearning, learning with
understanding, and relating material to an organized knowledge
- When the curriculum is organized in a manner
that allows new material to build on earlier learning,
and when new material is tied to what students already
know, teaching effectiveness is increased.
How Do We Organize and Build Knowledge?
Perceiving and remembering
are influenced by our prior experience, our expectations
for a given situation, and our ability to make connections
Cognition is cultural.
The ways people categorize ideas, build knowledge, and
reason are all influenced by the values and common activities
of their culture.
The simplest kind of association is developing
a connection between two ideas.
The way a set of new information is presented
to students makes a difference in their learning and their
ability to make new connections.
Developing Conceptual Knowledge
- Throughout their lives, individuals develop
more complex associations among words, concepts, and ideas.
Cognitive psychologists call these "schemas"
or general knowledge structures used for understanding
and memory storage. Schemas consist of information, in
an abstract form, of the associations we have with a word,
concept, or idea, and they in turn connect with other
- The schemas one brings to a learning experience
– a person's background knowledge – influence
what is learned and what is retrieved. Part of the teacher's
role is to develop and enrich students' existing schemas
and the ways their minds organize information.
- As we develop understandings of concepts,
we create new associations among ideas. One way to make
these new associations visible to teachers and students
is by creating a visual representation or diagram of the
underlying features and structures of a concept.
- Another way we build knowledge is through
the construction of explanations about different phenomena.
Individuals carry around "mental models," or
explanations, in their heads for why things happen.
- Mental models may come from students' intuitive
theories – like theories of motion or theories of
evolution – or they can be provided as a form of
instruction by teachers or textbooks.
- There are several ways teachers can support
all children in organizing their learning, including those
who experience challenges in cognitive processing.
Teachers can structure
the learning process.
cluster and sequence activities.
an idealized version of the task to be performed.
guide practice efforts.
Teachers can organize
information and help students organize what they are
learning by taking appropriate steps.
and labels for organizing information.
representations (e.g., pictures, metaphors, and
examples of abstract ideas
to critical features or ideas
Using a multi-sensory
approach to teaching: Providing opportunities for
students to process and organize information through
different pathways for input and output
students to organize information by thinking out
loud, talking with others, visualizing concepts,
and making connections to personal experiences
Teachers can identify
students' strengths, preferences, prior knowledge, and
and building on students' preferences for information
to their prior knowledge and experiences
familiar strategies for learning and responding
Knowledge in Practice: How Do Experts
One of the ways researchers
have discovered differences in cognitive processing is
by comparing experts and novices as they solve problems
in specific domains. Asking an expert and novice to solve
the same problem reveals important differences in information
processing, the organization of knowledge, and reasoning.
found that expert knowledge tends to be organized around
core concepts or
big ideas that guide their thinking and encompass a large
number of interrelated facts or patterns.
Experts not only
have acquired a great deal of content knowledge, but they
also understand how to determine the contexts in which
particular kinds of knowledge are useful.
Experts also use
a number of different strategies to solve a problem.
Experts tend to check
their solutions to problems and monitor their own work more frequently,
– that is, an understanding of the underlying ideas
and relationships in a domain—influences what the
learner pays attention to, what is remembered, and what
kinds of errors are made in learning something new and
with better results than novices.
Glaser (1992) suggests that teachers consider
four strategies in designing experiences for students that
will enable them to develop competence in solving problems:
complex opportunities to practice solving problems
performance (e.g., help students link their schemas for problem types to specific
Consider the social
context of learning
Attending to cognitive processing means taking into
account and tapping into the often-invisible ways we develop
knowledge, solve problems, and make sense of our worlds.
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Return to the Support
Materials for Session 3.