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The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice

Watch It, Do It, Know It: Cognitive Apprenticeship

This program demonstrates how teachers help their students develop expertise and accomplish complex tasks by modeling, assisted performance, scaffolding, coaching, and feedback. It features a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher and an 11th- and 12th-grade English and social studies teacher, with expert commentary from University of Michigan professor Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar.

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Linda Darling-Hammond: What do you think of when you hear the word apprentice? Does it make you think of a simpler time when young people learned a trade by working side by side with master craftsman? It was easy for apprentices to see what they needed to do, step-by-step, to learn their craft and become an expert themselves.

How could we take this time honored teaching and learning method, and make it work in our classrooms today?

I’m Linda Darling-Hammond and that’s our challenge for this episode of The Learning Classroom. Today we will look at what we call cognitive apprenticeships.

Like historic apprenticeships, teachers model the skills they want their students to master, they lead their students step by step through the parts of the task by scaffolding and supporting their progress, they coach their individual students as they need help, and they ask students to reflect on their work in relation to high standards for quality.

Finally, the teacher gradually fades into the background – this is sometimes called de-scaffolding – so that their students can become independent and demonstrate their own expertise. The difference between cognitive apprenticeships and traditional apprenticeships is that the end product is not a candle or a piece of cloth; the end product is knowledge that is demonstrated through an exhibition of intellectual work.

Annemarie Palincsar, Ph.D., University of Michigan: If we think about the old world apprenticeships where, you know, weavers sat with weavers and candlemakers sat with candlemakers, and what they did initially is, they spent a lot of time really observing and being given portions of the task that were within their, their reach, and then as they learned more of the skills they are able to more fully participate in whatever the, the, the craft or the activity is. So those are some of the aspects of, of cognitive apprenticeship, that again, you have the expert learner in the teacher, but the teacher is always mindful of ways in which students can take on whatever aspects of the, the learning they’re capable of, and there’s always attention being paid to when can the students assume increasing responsibility for this activity.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Daryl Robbins, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Birmingham Covington School, uses a kind of cognitive apprenticeship to help her students develop literacy skills. To help them become expert readers and book critics, she engages them in book clubs.

As they read and critique the books they have chosen, she models, supports, and coaches her students, helping them learn to read critically, evaluate what they’ve read, and discuss their ideas respectfully.

Let’s take a look.

(classroom scene)
Daryl Robbins: Anyone have a good book recommendation? Anyone? Steven?
 It’s sort of like a whole story, and there’s main characters, like Martin the warrior…

Daryl Robbins: The kids do a lot of writing about themselves. We read books that I know they’re gonna relate to right away, so they’ll talk about themselves.

(classroom scene)
Girl: There’s a princess and it says …

Daryl Robbins: They don’t feel comfortable, then they’re not, they’re not really gonna be able to function within a group. They’re gonna be more inhibited. So we do a lot of that at the beginning of the year – team building, trust activities.

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Um, reminders about just book club in general, how many people are in your group? Three or four. Um, you wanna pick people with whom you feel comfortable sharing things. Also, just think about your general behavior, and what people in the class help you to do your best? Okay, so you’ve got kinda two big things you’re thinking about.

Daryl Robbins: You don’t just start off saying to the kids, “Ttalk about this book.” I think you have to move in baby steps.

(classroom scene)
Boy: Yeah, but each thing, I think it relates to each other, in a way.

Daryl Robbins: At the beginning of the year there is less talk, because I think you have to teach kids how to talk the way you want them to talk. You have to give them the verbage. You have to teach kids how to disagree with one another peacefully. I always talk about peaceful co-existence with the kids. You have to talk about the talk, if that makes sense.

(classroom scene)
Boy 1: Like her heart and her brain-
Boy 2:
 I seriously disagree with that because, I mean….
Boy 1:
 Well, I know she’d like it if he were physically there, but…It’s hard to explain, isn’t it?
Boy 2:
 Yeah, it is.

Daryl: What do you think, Tim? I’m curious. You always have great ideas, let’s hear it.
Boy 1: Come on, Tim. You’ve heard enough of mine and Justin’s jibberish.
Boy 2:
 I can’t.
 Do you think she’s making the wrong choice by talking about it?
Boy 2:
 No, not, no. I just disagree with his thing, that she likes, you said that you think that she likes it better that Tom is not physically there.
Boy 1: 
I’m not saying that all the time, I’m saying just, it’s hard to explain.

Daryl Robbins: You have to go through all of things that you anticipate might come up within a group and then model those.

(classroom scene)
Boy 1: …than I got out of “Lob’s Girl,” cause this kind of made more sense.
 But did you like “Lob’s Girl” better as a story?
Boy 1:
 Me too!

Linda Darling-Hammond: Daryl has carefully structured the process of learning so that her students can gradually take charge. Did you notice how she insisted on groups no larger than three or four? That was to insure that all students would have a responsibility to be part of the conversation. She also set up the conversations and modeled the kinds of questions students might raise.

You may have noticed how she drew out the quieter students through questioning and assisted students in learning how to talk to one another.

In this next activity, Daryl helps students take responsibility for their own learning and that of their peers through what is called an expert jigsaw. In this activity, students research different aspects of a topic in order to teach it to others. The students become experts using assistance from each other as well as the teacher. As the students take over the teaching, you’ll notice how Daryl fades and gives them more and more responsibility.

(classroom scene)
And you are not going to have to look up everything, okay? We did that at the beginning, where everyone was looking up everything. And I’m pretty sure now that you’ve got the map skills, you don’t need to be doing that. We’re gonna do the same thing that we did with China, and we called it Expert Jigsaw, do you remember that? Why do you think we call it Expert Jigsaw, Justin?
 Because few people found, like, many, everyone found some and then we all put it together.
 Yeah, everyone found something, we put it together, we kind of described it like a potluck dinner, where you bring the salad, you bring the meat…

Daryl Robbins: I think the basis for Expert Jigsaw is shared responsibility, shared ownership. In the case of our maps, each child feels like he or she contributed to this terrific map that we have in our classroom.

(classroom scene)
 Um, would this be sharing? “I’ll find Egypt, and then I’ll tell you?
 What would take place if you were sharing?

Daryl Robbins: Expert Jigsaw equalizes learning a little bit, because regardless of your ability level, you’re still contributing to whatever the task was as a whole. So you know that without you we couldn’t have gotten there. Whether you’re more advanced and you did a huge chunk or you’re struggling and you just did a small piece, it was a piece.

(classroom scene)
Libyan desert, I found it! It’s right by Egypt.

Daryl Robbins: So I think kids are quick to thank each other for contributions. And kids know that everyone played a role regardless of ability level or, or other factors. Everybody helped us get to the point where we are now. And definitely I think that, that is a community.

(classroom scene)
Girl 1:
 Right there.
Girl 2:
 But again, I think I agree more with Tarick, even though…

Daryl Robbins: I seat my students in groups so that they’re almost forced to look at each other, and every child in the classroom is seated so he or she is looking at another child instead of me. They’re certainly moments where I need them looking at me and making eye contact so I know they’re actively listening. But during work times they’re facing each other. And I move around to help, but ultimately when they look up for help, it’s a student sitting across from them. And I think that makes a big different. I don’t think I realized that right away, that how they’re seated really does make a difference.

I think that the students are very focused on “ask the teacher for help”.

(classroom scene)
 Bedouin, where could you find that?

Daryl Robbins: And I always say to my kids, “Try three resources before you get to me.” Sometimes that resource is a book, sometimes it’s, you know, another actual object that we have in the classroom. And sometimes that’s someone else.

If you’re not sure how to spell a word, maybe you could ask three friends before me. We call it “three before me.”

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Israel. Give her a clue, in relationship to…?
 It’s west, it’s the country exactly west of Jordan, north of Egypt, south of Syria, southwest of Lebanon.

Daryl Robbins: It would definitely be faster if I just answered their question. But part of what I’m doing is not only helping that child to engage in dialogue with another child, but I’m also hoping that the child who answers their question will be kind of validating what he or she knows. In repeating something or explaining it, I think you’re solidifying what you know. So I’m hoping it will help both kids involved in that process.

(classroom scene)
 Okay, so it’s somewhere on this page. You were right.

Daryl Robbins: I think when kids discover something on their own or with a friend, they feel like they own it. They’re proud of the partnership. They’re proud of the process. And they can talk about the process in terms of how they got to where, where they are now. They can say, you know, at the beginning of the hour I thought this, but then I talked with a friend, and now I think this. I can’t believe I’ve totally changed what I thought. Or I’m, I’m different than I was an hour ago. If I tell them something it’s, you know, “Are we gonna be tested on this?”

It’s, it’s more that kind of thing.

(classroom scene)
Steven: Mao… created the red guards, and they would kill people, and he just  took over China really, and nobody really had any say. He would just say, like, “You die. You stay alive.” The red guards killed, um, many of his…

Daryl Robbins: Community learning, I think is often the foundation upon which the individual learning is based. You learn as a community. That’s a lot of times when you’re introducing new things or looking at varied perspectives.

Individual learning is important too, though, because everyone’s at a different place in their learning, and kids need to pick up from where they are. You need to start your individual learning at a place that’s right for you.

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Great job, Kylie!

Linda Darling-Hammond: What we just saw does not happen magically by the teacher just turning over the classroom to the students. Daryl prepared her students step by step so the transition came naturally.

First, she modeled both the social and academic skills she expected her students to master – including how to give and offer help. Then she scaffolded the learning process, watching and intervening when she saw a student needing assistance. She coached students about how to find the information they needed and showed them how to help each other.

In the end, she guided her students toward the production of knowledge they felt they owned. Presenting what they had learned motivated the students and increased their sense of investment in the content.

The presentations also created a sense of standards in the classroom: as their work becomes public, students develop an idea of what they should be striving for.

Annemarie Palincsar: So the teacher’s the expert learner in the cognitive apprenticeship. And by that I mean the teacher is trying to think about the ways in which he or she thinks that will be useful to advancing the students’ thinking. They’re trying to think about the array of tools that will be useful to advancing students’ learning, whether those tools are text, or hypermedia, or setting up interviews, providing language for the students that will help them to communicate their ideas effectively with one another.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Making thought processes transparent is easier said than done. And yet, this is crucial for helping students develop expertise.

Pete Shaheen teaches writing to 11th and 12th graders at Birmingham Seaholm High School. He, too, applies cognitive apprenticeship strategies. He models the thinking and decision making processes that writers go through as they create a text. Pete does not break down the writing process into standardized steps that you might expect. Instead, based on what we know about how real writers work, he allows the students to develop their own approaches, using tips about different strategies and feedback from their colleagues as a guide. As he steers this process, the students take on increasing responsibility, until they are leading portions of the class themselves.

(classroom scene)
Pete Shaheen:  You read your piece, then we do the five minute discussion, right?  Remember, there are certain ways we start out, and remember, after you read your piece your role is severely limited in what you do, and today we’re gonna do a little bit of a modification, and, ah, that modification is simply this, that I will also participate in the response with you guys, okay?
Girl: <reading> Somewhere in the distance I hear the sound of the violin, soft and passionate, the sound washes over me, and I feel compelled to follow it. It drowns me with a taunting melody. I can’t breath or think, all I want to do is listen forever. Slowly I open my eyes…

Pete Shaheen: Cognitive apprenticeship is a process that a teacher uses to model learning and to transfer the ownership of that learning style from the teacher to the student. Specifically, cognitive apprenticeship as it might work in writing, for example, is finding a way for students to respond to each other’s writing through maybe a systematic approach to looking at a text.

(classroom scene)
I thought maybe starting from the beginning with her as her normal life, like her as a farm girl, poor, struggling, um, maybe that way we would like her more ’cause then she would, this is her dream, she deserves it. She’s worked hard her, all her life. That would be a way for us, the reader, to be more attached to her and like her.

Pete Shaheen: In teaching and in particular the teaching of writing, what you have to be able to understand is at first writing is a, is a process that varies from individual to individual.

Now, what used to happen is there used to be a four-step process that we tried to impose on all writers. As we got more sophisticated, and began to look really at how writers write, and how we get the best out of ourselves, we began to find out that, you know, our progress as writers really wasn’t quite so linear, it was more circular.

(classroom scene)
So you describe the clothing so well, so maybe link the clothing or, like the rubies to him.
You know, or like, like, link to him. As you always see him at this place, then explain one of them, you know, so.
Girl: <reading> A single ruby on another gold chain rests in the hollow of my throat. I notice that it is an intricate rose pattern before raising my hands to push the doors open. Before I can even touch them they swing away, and I walk into the next room.

Pete Shaheen: The way that I begin is, first of all, through observation. I let students talk, and I look at what students do in seminar, and how they come to seminar. And then I, and then one day I’ll just say, “Okay, today is your seminar. I’m not gonna say a word.”

(classroom scene)
GirlSuddenly the realization of what’s happening hits me, and I stop dead, my heart pounds and becomes frozen in place. I mean I don’t even know if I should be here; I don’t even know what’s going on. I don’t know why that melody is so spellbinding. I start to feel the cold grips, the cold grips of fear surround me. At the same time I can’t stop watching him.
Pete: Before we move on to our next reader let me suggest again that we all have an obligation to one another to jump in. Okay? And if that puts a little pressure on you, that’s okay, too, but I need you to jump in, and I need you, we can’t make decisions about what we’re going to do to our writing if we don’t have the input. That’s why we all have to jump in. It’s part of our obligation as listeners and its part of our need as writers is to get that feedback.
Like the thing, the lines that, like, really got to me were when they were talking about like the six kids, and do you even remember their names. And um, why did I leave, yeah, like that was so sad. It’s just like, sort of, the mood of the whole thing. Even in all the confusion.

Pete Shaheen:  In the beginning of the year, I’m more text driven. I’m trying to help students develop the experience, build the bridges from their own experience to text, so that they can continue to build bridges. Now at some point in the year they’re gonna understand for themselves how to build bridges from text.

(classroom scene)
We decided that we didn’t spend that much time on the five senses, and because it is so important ’cause you use it, like perceptional voyage, the, um, what else do you use it for?…Exploring the moment. Like all the other writers say, you need the five senses, so what we decided to do is we’re going to have five different stations where you’re going to test out one of the five senses. So we need you guys to have a piece of paper and a pencil so you can write, too.

Pete Shaheen: There’s never really a clear process in terms of scaffolding and unscaffolding. I would say the process is continuous. You’re constantly building up the scaffold and reflecting about how you got there. So, it’s through that reflection that you’re able to build more and solidify your foundations, I think. So when I ask them questions about how you get to your decision, I’m asking, I’m really asking them to be reflective.

(classroom scene)
 So then you write, maybe put your left hand in there and write with your right hands…
 Write about what I feel?
GirlYeah, like how it feels, like, you know, is it smooth is like… There’s nothing sharp in there – it’s not gonna hurt you.
GirlAnd use descriptive words that focus on smell, nothing else, just smell.

Pete Shaheen: Moving a student from the point where they’re a novice to the point where they’re expert enough that they don’t need a teacher to look over their shoulder is, again, an individual process. Every student is a little bit different. Some students barely need to be nudged at all, and others need, I think, more prodding.

But the signs that I think I find of, of a student who’s ready to move on, first of all, look at the reading that a student does. If a student, if you have a reading that you hand out to students, and they come back to class, and they make notes in the margins of the reading, and they have questions, that’s a, that’s a pretty good indication that they’re engaging in the materials and that they’re beginning to get themselves ready to move on in the process. Another sign is you just listen to the student. Is the student willing to take some risks?

(classroom scene)
Boy: Well, in our writing it’s important to include many of the senses (loud noise) sometimes people neglect to, to do sound, and it’s a very important sense, it can evoke a lot of emotion into your writing. I think it’s important that um, that we include that, so I have a CD here. I want you all to listen to it and imagine you’re in the middle of it, and write about it, and try to emphasize the sense in your writing, and just go crazy.

Pete Shaheen: Writing plays an interesting role in the apprentic..apprenticeship of students learning here. And the reason it plays an, an interesting role is it’s different than some traditional notions would, would have it. It used to be writing was a solitary activity, but writing is a collective, collaborative effort now. We’ll sit in response groups after we have a seminar like this and we’ll jot down id..our ideas. At the end of class today I said “Go home and write about what you think is the ethical use of language.”

And now we’ll come back and, and we’ll talk together about what is their perception based on their papers. And we’ll critique one another in the same sort of democratic forum that we had, where students will be asked to defend their ideas.

(classroom scene)
Girl: Um, what’s the word I am looking for? It almost seems it was just broken down to the bare thoughts, exactly what you where thinking, there wasn’t a lot of, um, mindless words, so to speak. It was more as if you were saying exactly what’s on your mind without trying to put it into any kind of formal format.
Pete: Not to pick on you, but you said you had a lot of cool imagery, right?
Okay, so if you could give us an example. Now this is why it’s important because as we know writing is revision, right? Sometimes you’ve got to cut out a really good part of writing, um, to save the piece.
 If you’re going to say that, then I would have to say especially that first introductory part – the imagery, the way it followed, like, I could really follow that well, and just in terms of the imagery, not in terms of what it was trying to say, but in terms of the imagery, I could follow that well.
 And that gives her more information, doesn’t it, when she goes to make those revisions, it helps her weigh what she is going to cut.

Pete Shaheen: Authentic learning is repeatable. It’s something that happens over time. It’s something that allows for failure and then allows for people to retry and rebuild. It becomes a state of mind.

Annemarie Palincsar: Another characteristic of a cognitive apprenticeship is always being mindful of ways in which you’re trying to cede control of the learning to the learners. And so you see that, I think, wonderfully illustrated in Mr. Shaheen’s class, because the students are working in small groups. They’re responsible for a lot of the design work, how they’re going to demonstrate what they’ve learned, how they’re going to communicate to others. He’s touching base with them about the processes by which they’re learning or engaging in this, but it, it’s clear to me that his emphasis is really on imparting control to the students for this learning activity.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Students’ accomplishments in this kind of classroom may look almost effortless, but they are made possible by the nearly invisible structures the teacher puts in place.

Pete Shaheen figures out what kind of guidance to give and when to let students stretch out on their own by watching and listening closely for clues about what they understand and where they are struggling.

While he is quick to offer support as needed, reminding students of what to look for in their writing, and modeling strategies where they are timely, he is equally quick to back off. This is the concept we call fading – it encourages his students’ independence.

Annemarie Palincsar: So their expectation is that students are going to be successful, given adequate support, rather than kind of piecemeal, or providing more support, and kind of nudging children along. Set up challenging tasks, know what you’re looking for, know what children are bringing to this, because you’ve watched children carefully, you’ve listened to children’s thinking and their ideas, and then you can make decisions about – alright, given where I want them to go, what kind of support or assistance are they going to need. Whether that’s basic skills in reading and writing or a language, or other resources that they can use, or other contacts, more powerful activities that will help them to attain those goals.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Much of the momentum for students’ efforts in a cognitive apprenticeship is the real world context for their learning.

When our students see the larger purpose behind what they’re practicing in class, they’re much more motivated to master these lessons and apply them creatively in their everyday lives.

This is The Learning Classroom, thanks for watching.

“A cognitive apprenticeship sort of takes off from where candle-makers and cloth-makers left off in the days gone by, and says ‘How do we teach someone by modeling and demonstrating a way of thinking, a way of “working in our minds?” ”
Linda Darling-Hammond

Key Questions

  1. How can students learn to think strategically?
  2. How can teachers make thinking visible for their students and support more powerful learning

Learning Objectives

  1. 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.
  2. 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 apprenticeship.
  3. Assessing students’ learning – Teachers will understand how to make student thinking visible so they can judge when and how to support students’ learning.

Video Program

This episode demonstrates how teachers help their students develop expertise and accomplish complex tasks by modeling, assisted performance, scaffolding, coaching, and feedback. It features Daryl Robbins, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Birmingham Covington School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and Pete Shaheen, a eleventh and twelfth grade English and Social Studies teacher at Birmingham Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan. University of Michigan professor Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar puts the segments in context with expert commentary.

Session Content Outline

Key Questions

  • How can students learn to think strategically?
  • How can teachers make thinking visible for their students and support more powerful learning?

Learning Objectives

  • 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 apprenticeship.
  • Assessing students’ learning – Teachers will understand how to make student thinking visible so they can judge when and how to support students’ learning.

Session Outline

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 key features:

  • 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 can –

  • 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’ learning.


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?

Key Terms - New In This Section

  1. Articulation – the work the teacher does to encourage students to verbalize their own knowledge and thinking or problem-solving strategies
  2. Coaching – a process in which the “master” teacher guides, supports, and oversees the work of novices in ways that help support the development of skills and understanding.
  3. Exploration – letting students explore open-ended topics and develop competency by choosing their own paths toward problem solving.
  4. Fading – the process of removing support structures as the novice becomes more skilled, giving him or her more and more responsibility.
  5. Modeling – a process in which teachers and advanced students serve as models for novices working to develop skills and understanding.
  6. Reflection – thinking about academic work or tasks that enables students to compare their performance or understanding with others or with their own previous performance or understanding.
  7. Scaffolding – the work the “master” teacher does to provide just enough support, depending on the needs of the student, to move the novice student’s skills and understanding forward.

Questions for Reflection Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1. The video segments in The Learning Classroom were taped as teachers worked in their own classrooms. As you watch, jot down the questions you have about what you see the teacher do and how the students respond.

Step 2. When you’re done, click on the episode title from the list and compare your questions with the Questions for Reflection and responses that our project team has anticipated.

Step 3. Review the responses we have prepared to questions that match the ones you have asked. The expert responses are not “final answers,” they are provided to give you a starting point for your own reflection. What else might you add to the response you read?

Questions for Reflection

Question 1: It’s hard to see the steps of apprenticeship in Mr. Shaheen’s high school class. As he says, he is constantly shifting from scaffolding to de-scaffolding.

Response 1: Although Shaheen steps in and out of his supporting role very subtly from moment to moment, the overall pattern of his strategies clearly build toward greater and greater involvement of the students in managing their own learning. In one of the discussion circles he runs, he starts by mentioning that he is going to take a more active role in the discussion. By doing so he models the way a strong discussion can be run. He even steps in to help a student articulate her comments about another’s writing. This strong supporting intervention stands in clear contrast to the mini-workshops that the students plan and run while Shaheen largely observes. Through his earlier supporting strategies he has prepared the students to identify weaknesses in their writings, decide on a workshop strategy to address them, organize the workshop, and then run it themselves.

Question 2: The teachers shown are supposed to be scaffolding, but it’s still not clear what that is.

Response 2: Scaffolding differs, depending on the task, but occurs when the teacher carefully layers a learning task and provides support along the way until gradually fading as the learners reaches expertise. Scaffolding normally begins after the learning task has been modeled. Importantly, scaffolded instruction consists of the learner actively engaging in the learning task. The initial steps or first rungs of the scaffold provide students with the supports needed to make the learning task visible, experience early success, and progress to task mastery. Here is where the teacher uncovers the thinking related to successfully accomplishing the task. Subsequent layers of the scaffold require students to engage in the task more independently.

Question 3: Every student learns slightly differently. How do you adjust scaffolding to meet the needs of different learners in a heterogeneous classroom?

Response 3: Scaffolding is most appropriate for learners who are novice to the learning task. Although all students may be new to a specific task, they enter the learning situation with varying degrees of expertise. Group work or student discussions, when students learn from each other, can move each student forward along the learning continuum toward mastery. In other words, by attempting the learning task together with the support of the teacher, discussing their thinking, and sharing their ideas, each learner, despite his/her level of expertise, benefits cognitively.

Question 4: How are students who enter the learning experience as experts challenged in a cognitive apprenticeship approach to teaching and learning?

Response 4: There are opportunities in a cognitive apprenticeship for students with prior experience with a learning task to stretch and perfect their knowledge and expertise. While these students may not require as much scaffolding as others, the teacher can use the cognitive apprenticeship structure to invite them to explore other implications and applications of the learning task, more clearly articulate their thinking while engaging in the learning task, and reflect on their learning process in comparison to other tasks and other learners’ approaches, processes, and products pertinent to the same tasks.

Students who have some expertise may also be challenged by an opportunity to scaffold others. Often in the process of assisting others, students must advance their own knowledge or expertise.

Question 5: The scenes in these segments seem to focus on group activities. Why is that? How important are cooperative groups while you are delivering instruction in a cognitive apprenticeship environment?

Response 5: Classrooms with cognitive apprenticeship approaches are highly active learning environments in which the expert learner or teacher, guest and peer masters, and novices gather to work, literally, toward everyone’s mastery of the learning task. This sort of learning environment is social, cooperative, and collaborative by design. It is essential for students to have the resources of each others’ thinking and assistance to claim the full benefit of the community of learners provided by a cognitive apprenticeship classroom.

Question 6: The high school students were seen running a significant class exercise. How does that fit the concept of master passing along knowledge to an apprentice? In general, what is the role of the peer learner in a cognitive apprenticeship?

Response 6: Although not seen in the video, the high school teacher had modeled the way writers’ workshops could be run. That set the stage for students to take on a peer leadership role. They were also learning as they led. Learning peers do not merely function as tutors to classmates, but fellows. That is, every student is situated in a cognitive apprenticeship to learn from every other student, as well as the teacher. In doing so, peers must be guided by the teacher to openly discuss their thinking processes, elucidate their conclusions, share their mistakes, and openly expose their practice. Doing so generates shared ownership and reciprocal motivation of learners to accomplish common learning goals.

Question 7: The students in these classes all seemed highly motivated. How can a teacher stimulate shared ownership in a student who otherwise may not seem motivated to reach expertise?

Response 7: Where other instructional strategies may fail to motivate reluctant learners, it is among the explicit purposes of a cognitive apprenticeship to generate motivation to learn, even among the reluctant student. Largely through the supports afforded by scaffolding, cognitive apprenticeship helps learners achieve early success in the learning process which leads to more risk-tasking and, eventually, learning mastery. Also, a teacher in a cognitive apprenticeship seeks to authenticate the learning by situating its application in “real-world” contexts to generate relevance for the learner. Likewise, the communal nature of the cognitive apprenticeship classroom can be a powerful motivator, because each student’s contribution is valued, celebrated, and used to lead all other’s along the path of their learning.

Question 8: How does a teacher attend and track the progress of so many in a cognitive apprenticeship classroom?

Response 8: Teachers must be “kid-watchers” in a cognitive apprenticeship classroom. They must carefully observe students during their practice of the skills related to a learning task – monitoring their processes, struggles, community contributions, and ways in which they exhibit the desired learning behavior and outcomes. Consequently, much of the assessment in this kind of learning task is anecdotal. This, however, is crucial to the supportive relationship of the teacher expert to the apprentices. Assessment techniques such as anecdotal notes, checklists, and running records become efficient tracking tools.

Question 9: What are appropriate situations for using cognitive apprenticeships?

Response 9: The learning and mastery of complex skills and processes most deserve a cognitive apprenticeship approach, because it helps uncover students’ complicated thinking processes with the support of the teacher and other students. Problem-solving, advanced reading skills, and naturalistic (versus formulaic) writing are examples of learning tasks most suited for a cognitive apprenticeship. Learning goals such as rote memorization, conceptual or factual knowledge are often not complex enough to require the exposure of task practice, thought processes, social learning and communal contributions which are all hallmarks of the cognitive apprenticeship.


Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University

Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar
Jane and Charles Walgreen Professor of Reading and Literacy, University of Michigan

Daryl Robbins
Fifth and Sixth Grade Teacher, Birmingham Covington School, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Pete Shaheen
Writing Teacher, Birmingham Seaholm High School, Birmingham, Michigan

TRANSCRIPT OF COMMENTS BY Annemarie Palincsar, Ph.D., University of Michigan

Excerpts from an interview with Annmarie Sullivan Palincsar, Jane and Charles Walgreen Professor of Literacy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Taped September 17, 2001

On metacognition

If we think that one important purpose of schooling is to prepare children to be lifelong learners, then metacognition is an important key to that, because when we talk about teaching children to be metacognitive, we’re talking about helping them to become aware of themselves as learners and, very importantly, to take control of their own activity as learners. So those are the kinds of skills that really will enable a student or a child to be a lifelong learner.

There was a time in the early ’70s when we assumed that children didn’t become metacognitive or couldn’t engage in strategic behavior until they were older, like maybe eleven, twelve years of age. But, in the thirty years since then we’ve learned through research, for example, that Henry Welman has done or Judy Deloche has done, that very young children, even children as young as three and four years of age have been shown to be very strategic in their learning. So, for example, Judy Deloche does work where she would hide an object and one group of three year olds will be told “Just stay with this,” let’s say it’s a dog, “Stay with the dog until I come back.” A second group of children were told, “Remember where the dog is so that you can tell me when I come back.” And children in that condition arrange, well, they did a number of things – they would point to it repeatedly, or they would put their hand where they knew the dog was hidden, or they would keep gazing at it, as compared to children who just thought they were there to, to just be with the dog. So, that would be evidence that children can be very purposeful in their activity, even as young as three.

I think this issue of developmentally appropriate is a bit challenging, because it’s not the case that there are strategies that are more or less developmentally appropriate so much as there are particular kinds of activities that you would engage children in that will be more accessible to children than others. And so it’s really the, the strategies are very much informed by, well, what are the demands of the learning activity. And then that should dictate what are the ways in which children can be taught to be planful or what approaches can they take, what methods of problem solving can, can they be taught. So it’s not a question of developmentally appropriate strategies, but rather developmentally appropriate activities which then call up particular kinds of strategies.

[looking at the segment in “Thinking About Thinking” featuring Kendra Hearn]

Even mind mapping or semantic mapping or networking has been used with very young children, so I thought that certainly her instruction reflected a number of very sophisticated kinds of ways of approaching text. So, asking the students to really be critical about another expert’s writing – that’s probably not something you would expect of very young children. Being able to have fairly unguided exchanges between peers about their writing – again, that would probably have to be much more supported or scaffolded if you were working with younger children.

Let me give you an example. That’s a potentially helpful way to think about it. So, question asking, teaching children how to ask questions of themselves as they’re learning is a very prominent strategy, and it works very effectively. So what might be reflective of changes with development is that with very young children the focus of the question might be on such things as trying to self-test – do I remember who these characters are or what problem they’re trying to solve, or the sequence of events in this particular story. As students hit the middle grades then the nature of the questions would be more what inferences can I draw, what, what is the relevance of this information to a problem that I’m trying to solve. When we talk about high school students, what is it that wewant them to be self-questioning? Well, we want them to be really critiquing it, you know, what stand is this author taking? Do I agree with this stand? Is the evidence that the author has provided sufficient to support the stand that the author has taken?

In the very, very basic and fundamental strategy, self-questioning can look really quite different across the grade level. But at its core, it looks more similar than different.

The study of metacognition first was written about in the early 1970s. John Flavel and Ann Brown, both of which, both of whom were doing research on what’s referred to as meta-memory – how is it that children use strategies to help themselves to remember and organize ideas in such a fashion that they remember. So it actually began with memory research. And interestingly, it began mostly with youngsters who had pretty serious learning difficulties – children in fact who were identified as mentally retarded. So one of the hypotheses was that what distinguished these youngsters from other children is the fact that they didn’t engage in metacognitive activity. They didn’t have this awareness of themselves as learners or these, array of approaches or activities that would help them to be more successful in their learning activity.

That early research on metacognition really made very salient the issue or the importance of keeping present for children what is the purpose for which we’re learning. What are the goals of the kind of activity that we’re engaged in? And what are some ways in which you, as an individual learner, can influence what happens to you in the classroom? So it’s not been uncommon in instructional practice for children to really be somewhat at sea as to why they’re doing something. Teachers may not be very explicit about why is it that we’re learning this, or what is it that I expect you to do as you’re writing, or reading, or performing this math problem, or doing the scientific inquiry. So making visible for children what the purpose of the learning activity is, and then, focusing on the process, not the products of learning, but really shifting the attention to what are the ways in which you can interact with this task and be successful. There are, there are many other responses I could give you. Another important influence I think is the ways in which teachers now try to be more explicit about their thinking as adult learners, as expert learners. They try to make transparent for students what are the processes that we can bring to this activity that will help us to be successful. So those are some of the examples.

It’s really peculiar, because I don’t think any of us would take off for most voyages or trips without having some sense of what our destination is. Right? And, and depending upon what your destination is, you would probably think to pack in particular ways, and given the kind of experience you want to have on this journey, you’re going to launch into that journey in particular ways. But learning in schools very often isn’t that way. I mean, children aren’t informed about what’s our journey about. Where, what’s our destination? Why are we taking this journey? What tools will you need to help you to get there successfully or to enjoy the journey? And so I think that’s an important way in which metacognition can play a role in, in teachers’ thinking. That it, it isn’t a secret. In fact, Mrs. Hearn used that language. She says, this isn’t going to, I don’t want there to be a secret here.

Talking about metacognition doesn’t lend itself, I think, so much to talking about stages, but I think that there are some general guidelines of principles that are useful to teachers who want to teach from the metacognitive perspective. So, one principle, for example, would be doing what’s in essence a task analysis. This is what I want my students to be able to do. Or this is how I want them to demonstrate their understanding or their, their learning about something. What does it look like to be competent? What are some of the processes that I know competent or skilled or proficient learners use to achieve that, that kind of learning goal? And so then translating that into, well, what are the tools that I want to provide my students? So the brainstorm or the brain mapping is one example of a tool that a teacher can provide students. Context can be designed that will support children in being metacognitive. So there was a lot of emphasis in Mrs. Hearns’ class on sharing ideas, talking with one another. Not necessarily working toward consensus, but being aware of where your ideas differ – lots of emphasis in, on dialogue and interaction. She uses the language of being transactional in her teaching. And I think all of those are principles that we see among effective teachers who bring a metacognitive perspective to their teachings.

One of the things that I was struck by as I watched Mrs. Hearn teaching is, first of all, the way the nature of the activity, the choices that she makes about what are going to be powerful activities for the students. So, I think it starts there. If you have children engaged in trivial kinds of experiences, it’s, you can’t reap from that a lot of metacognitive awareness or the chance to be self-regulating. So the very choice of task is something that I would, I would call teachers’ attention to. A second dimension of her teaching that I think is interesting is that she pays attention to providing children with procedural knowledge, by which I mean she talks with the youngsters about how are you going to do this and be successful. She also talks about conditional knowledge. When is this going to be useful to you? I thought a third aspect of her teaching is that she has this rubric, and what I think she means by that is that the group together has generated a set of standards that will be useful to evaluating writing. This is something, it’s visible, it’s shared. It’s something that’s been constructed by the class together. It’s not something that’s been imposed on this particular classroom of students. So I think in doing that, the children have a sense or these students in this case, have a sense of agency. There’s some ownership here of what’s happening in this classroom. A fourth dimension is all the occasions for exchange – the exchange of ideas. Whether it’s in peer conferencing, or whole group reporting, or the teacher interacting individually with students, you see many occasions where she’s actually trying to get more access to her students’ thinking. I think it’s interesting that she pays attention to the motivation aspect. She talks about the importance of being interested or feeling as though you can be successful with this. And she points out to the students where they’re showing signs of progress. So they’re getting feedback on the consequences of engaging in these kinds of metacognitive practices. I could probably go on, but those are some of the primary features that I noticed.

[looking at the segment in “Thinking About Thinking” featuring Julie Helber]

In Mrs. Helber’s class, I thought that some of the interesting ways in which she was teaching with metacognitive principles in mind is, first of all, she’s doing a lot to prime the students’ thinking and to have the students activate what is all, is that they already know. Now that’s not directly a metacognitive activity. That’s something that good teachers do that has more to do with the fact that building new knowledge has a lot to do with being aware of what you already know and thinking about the relationship between your current thinking and new ideas to which you’re being exposed. So these youngsters, for example, are thinking about the array of situations in which they have experienced static electricity. So now they’re primed for thinking about what for her is really the more driving question, which is why? Why do objects stick to one another? Or what is it about materials that attract one another? So I think that’s one way in which she’s done, that is, by really priming children’s thinking, situating them so that they’re beginning to think about what they already know and given what they know, what new questions are they going to bring to their investigation. I think another example might have been the fact that the students aren’t just encouraged to made random observations. She talks with the youngsters before they begin about how, what is it that they’re going to notice about these materials as they investigate and how are they going to document what they’re observing. I think that’s important – to teach students to be planful in the inquiry process, so that in the end of it, they’re able to share with others what they’ve learned, begin to look at patterns in their data so that they can talk about how that larger guiding question can be answered, given the patterns that they saw in how these materials interact with one another.

Discussion of metacognition and a community of learners.

Thinking about the relationship between community of learners, or constituting a community of learners and being metacognitive is, is an interesting one. So, it’s difficult to get in touch or to recognize your own thinking in the absence of having the opportunity to talk about that, to compare your thinking with others. However, if the classroom hasn’t been conceptualized as a place where we do that, where a range of ways of thinking and a range of ways of approaching a learning activity are valued, where you’re not going to be ridiculed if you try a particular approach to a problem and it turns out that it’s not a very effective way. If the lesson is that, you know, that’s fine that that wasn’t very, that wasn’t very fruitful. But all of us benefited from your trying that particular approach. So all of us are going to gain from those kinds of mistakes. If there’s, I think one of the most important things about a community of learners is that there’s notion of shared authority for knowing. It’s not just the teacher who holds all the information, who knows all the, the processes and procedures for being successful – that every one of us as learners has knowledge to bring to this particular activity or task. And that’s more likely to happen when there is a community of learner principle, or, or a set of ways of thinking about organizing the classroom.

I think there are a couple of ways to characterize classrooms in which we see a lot of evidence of this kind of effective teaching that includes metacognitive activity, one of which is that there’s a clear center, or a clear focus on the learner. Some people talk about this as being learner-centered. So in each of these instances, a lot of attention is being paid to what are the ideas the children are bringing to this problem or this situation. But it’s also knowledge-centered and I think that’s worth pointing out as well. That in each case, the students are involved in something that’s meaningful, whether it’s learning to be a critical reader and writer of an essay, or learning how to investigate something in, some, and manipulate scientific phenomena and investigate in a way that’s going to lead to new, new understandings. So there’s, there’s, that’s a second component is that there’s, there’s real knowledge that’s worth worrying about. I mean one of the real problems that I think teachers of young children have sometimes is that the curriculum or the text that they’re working with don’t really provide the grist for children to wrestle with ideas or even think about what would be necessary to be successful with this particular task. I think a third feature that we saw in both of these classrooms is the feedback. Teachers are highly interactive with the students. They’re providing students information about the success with which they’re advancing or, more importantly, they’re encouraging the students to engage in that kind of self-evaluation.

Discussion of metacognitive strategies

Much of the research that’s been done, looking at how experts use metacognitive strategies, has been done through think-aloud research where a reader, for example, is asked to read portions of text and stop and just share out loud what it is they’re doing. The kinds of strategies that these expert or proficient readers use include things like simply monitoring for sense making, asking, you know, is this making sense? What understanding am I taking away from this? Paraphrasing the text – sort of stopping and sort of summarizing it, integrating the gist of the material as they work their way through it. Generating predictions – what I think the author is going to talk about next – is another common strategy. Fix-up strategies, so when there’s been a breakdown in the reading, for example, or the comprehension, what a proficient reader does is to take some measure, as opposed to a naive reader who will just keep barreling along. So the proficient reader stops and says, you know, clearly I’m not getting this. I need to re-read. Maybe if I look ahead it will make more sense. I need to ask for help. I need additional reading material. So it’s actually interesting that there are probably five to six strategies that are very powerfu,l and the ones that I’ve, that I’ve mentioned are the most, are the most frequent. Another one is the self-questioning and also visual imaging. So, you can do that with text that really suggests a particular picture, trying to, to make that picture in your mind to recall it.

Proficient readers use a particular set of strategies typically, so they self-question while they’re reading. They’ll try to summarize so they’re sort of integrating the gist as they move along. They’re anticipating what the author’s going to write about next, so predicting. They’re drawing images to the extent that the text will support that. They’re trying to visualize what the text is about. What’s in common about all of these strategies is that they promote both monitoring whether the text is making sense and they also provide a means to actually promote comprehension.

I think the question of the relationship between metacognitive strategies and the subject matter is very interesting. So it is the case and, and it’s been a, a very, an issue of some contention in the educational psychology literature – is there sort of a toolkit of strategies that we can teach children that no matter what the domain, they’ll find them useful. And for the most part, people think that there’s some truth to that, that, you know, teaching children to be metacognitive lends itself across domains. But that it’s very helpful to think about what are the subject matter’s specific demands and then thinking about, and what are the strategies that are useful to those particular demands. So, in the activity of science, for example, where you’re manipulating a phenomenon, and you’re working toward an explanation, that’s quite different and lends itself to different kinds of strategies, like organizing data in particular ways so that you can look at patterns and build an explanation. That would be different than the kinds of activities that children might do if they’re reading a piece of fictional literature, where the idea is to come up with multiple interpretation and multiple explanations for what the characters have done in that piece of literature. So you see just even within those two domains the activity of the learner looks quite different, and therefore it makes sense that children will be given different tools for being successful with those, those two different kinds of activities.

I think it’s important that what we see in these videotaped excerpts is the fact that metacognition is not being taught as something discreet or isolated. It’s, children are taught to be aware of their learning and to control their learning in the context of real academic tasks. There was a time, and I’m not sure how prominent or prevalent this practice is now, but when metacognition first arrived on the scene, I knew of schools where they set aside like half hour periods where children were to practice being metacognitive. And that really isn’t going to lead to very much in the way of advancing children’s learning of anything. So what I think is important and I, I would worry that this emphasis on metacognition through this program is perhaps going to lead to that kind of practice again. Oh, well if, you know, being metacognitive is a good thing, then let’s practice being metacognitive. But it’s really in the context of, of real learning and challenging tasks. I mean there’s, there’s nothing that presses a youngster to become aware of his or her own activity as a learner than confronting something that’s challenging but that they want to be successful with. Interesting, they can experience the satisfaction of coming to know something at a deeper level or to know something more broadly. So I think that’s the value of what I see illustrated in these videotapes.

Discussion of cognitive apprenticeship

Well, you know, cognitive apprenticeship grows out of a very tried and true method by which human beings have learned from other human beings. So if we think about the old world apprenticeships where, you know, weavers sat with weavers and candle makers sat with candle makes, and what they did initially is they spent a lot of time really observing and being given portions of the task that were within their, their reach, and then as they learned more of the skills they are able to more fully participate in whatever the, the, the craft or the, the activity is. So those are some of the aspects of cognitive apprenticeship, that again you have the expert learner in the teacher, but the teacher is always mindful of ways in which students can take on whatever aspects of the, the learning they’re capable of and there’s always a, attention being paid to when can the students assume increasing responsibility for this activity. Another dimension about, or another aspect of cognitive apprenticeship is that it isn’t the case that in apprenticeships, traditional apprenticeships, that you would ever take apart the task. So it’s done in very holistic ways. So, weavers, if you’re learning to be a weaver you’re not, you don’t have certain days where you’re being taught how to think about color and another day when you’re thinking about the, the strength of different threads and a third day when you’re thinking about how can you make different patterns with these weaves. It’s all done in a very holistic way. And that’s characteristic of cognitive apprenticeships in classrooms too. You’re not trying to take a task and break it down into discreet or isolated kinds of skills, but rather keeping the task whole and then providing students access to the skills that will enable them to be successful with this task in its, in its whole, in its entirety.

For the teacher to be able to make decisions about when to remove support in a cognitive apprenticeship situation has everything to do with how aware the teacher is of what are the indicators that students are being successful. So designating a particular time when the teacher begins to relinquish control to the learners is probably not what typically happens. It’s rather the case that teachers are teaching, mindful that they’re always trying to release control of the learning to the students. They’re mindful of what the indicators will be when they back away or cede more control to the students, when they’re in fact, the students are able to continue to, to move forward in productive ways and they’re ready to step in again. The teacher’s ready to step in to provide additional scaffolding if, perhaps, for some children it was a premature withdrawal of the support, and they’re also ready to step in when the level of challenge increases. So a scaffolding or the process of scaffolding is not a linear one. In fact it’s probably best compared to a spiraling processing where, you know, you’re always trying to anticipate students be, being competent enough that they can work independently of you, but you’re ready to step back in and support students in the fact of counter-evidence that they’re, they’re not quite ready yet.

What are some cues of children needing or not needing more help?

Well, to determine where you start to scaffold, what that you need to scaffold, you have to be a wonderful study of children. Really successful teachers know their children well, and they know what to look for in terms of trying to understand how children are learning or what children are learning. And I think the most successful teachers I know are teachers that watch children very closely, and listen to children very well. I think that’s the key. Once you’ve listened and you’ve watched, then that gives you some very good insight, as to how much support children are going to need. Another characteristic of really successful teachers is that they engage in what is called prelatic teaching. I know that, that is a strange word, but what it means is teaching in anticipation of competence. So their expectation is that students are going to be successful, given adequate support, rather than kind of piecemeal, or providing more support, and kind of nudging children along. Set up challenging tasks, know what you’re looking for, know what children are bring to this, because you’ve watched children carefully, you’ve listened to childrens thinking and ideas, and then you can make decisions, about, alright, given where I want them to go, what kind of support systems are they going to need. Whether that is basic skills, in reading and writing, or a language, or other resources that they can use, other contacts, more powerful activities, that will help them to attain those goals. So those are some of the ways to think about this knowing when to provide. I know a teacher who talks about when do you hold and when do you fold.

Discussion of the zone of proximal development

What I would hope new teachers would take away from an understanding of cognitive apprenticeship, is that it is one of the most pleasurable ways to think about your role as a teacher, because there is never boredom. If you’re putting yourself and your students in challenging learning situations. If you’re making decisions about what your role as the teacher is based upon what you see your students doing. If you think about the ways in which your classroom constitutes this community of apprentices, what their apprenticing to is becoming lifelong learners.

Well, when you think about a zone of proximal development, you’re talking about what is the student able to learn with the assistance of others, and so this comes from a Vygotskian idea that what is really of interest isn’t so much what the learner currently knows, but what is possible for the learner to come to know with assistance. So we talk about, in some situations children have very narrow zones of proximal development. They can be given a lot of support, and they’ll show slow or small increments of change, other youngsters have very broad zones of proximal development, in particular context. So given a little bit of support they show enormous gains, or big strides, or tremendous shifts in their understanding. So it is really an interaction. What it suggests is that we never want to think about the learner in isolation, or the teacher in isolation, but rather the teacher and learner in interaction, and how the support provided by the teacher is going to enable the youngster to show significant gains or growth in their understanding or learning, or competence.


Related links

The Buck Institute for Education Problem Based Learning
This Web site is a collection of resources about project-based learning, including suggestions from teachers, a middle and high school teachers’ handbook, Web resources, and teacher training. Included is a special section on problem-based social science (economics, government, geography and history.)

The Center for Problem Based Learning (CPBL)
CPBL, established by the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, engages in problem-based learning research and development, teacher training, and curriculum development for K-16.

Creating a Community of Learners:  Lessons from a High School Journalism Program
This site illustrates a community of learners around a high school journalism program. The site provides background on learning communities as well as resources from which teachers may draw.

George Lucas Educational Foundation
The George Lucas Educational Foundation Web site provides feature articles related to project-based learning, interviews with experts, and examples of project-based learning from K-12 schools around the country.

Institute for Learning Technologies – Columbia University
The Institute for Learning Technologies was established in 1986 by Teachers College, Columbia University.  It is at the forefront of the movement to integrate technology into education.