For my own learning I have been using strategies that fall in line with the cognitive learning theory for years. I am a verbal learner and write summaries of new information. I rarely organize the summaries on paper but leave them as lists and organize as I write. I use all kinds of highlighting, color-coding, and note taking strategies that I have developed or modified to help me hang on to information. I have, however never really been able to pass these strategies on to students and have realized that being explicit, and teaching students how to use tools to extend the power of their minds so they can learn and recall information is an important part of teaching. Teaching learners how to learn is a crucial step in helping students develop into life-long learners and using the strategies discussed this week is a great way to start.
A suggested strategy was to use mind-tools such as spreadsheets for processing data or concept-mapping tools to process information. (Laureate Education, Inc, 2011) A quote from the teacher who was talking about using a spreadsheet with students was that doing the calculations by hand was possible, but it didn't add to the students mathematical understanding. (Laureate Education, Inc) That line had a powerful impact on my understanding of using cognitive-tools. I finally had a grasp of the power of the tool. Though the students were using it to do something they could have done themselves, it wasn't just that it was faster to use the spreadsheet, but that using it freed up "mind space" for more creative thinking. This is certainly using an application as a cognitive tool to distribute cognition; adding the power of the human mind to the power of the computer and letting the human mind do what the computer can not, be creative.
Information processing falls within the cognitive learning theory. It states that learning starts with sensory information. If you attend to the information it moves into short term memory and there are limits to the amount of information you can process in short term memory. Using mind-tools can extend those limits greatly. As a teacher I can provide tools like graphic organizers to help students capture information, and in more than one sensory register (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011). Using questions I can help students process information deeply thus allowing it to move from short-term to long term memory. Moving to long-term memory requires active participation of the learner and Pitler, Hubbell and Kuhn's suggestions would help accomplish that. They suggest using cues, questions and organizers as well as summarizing and note taking (2012). All of these strategies help the learner process information, allow the learner to elaborate by making connections to previous learning and using combination notes specifically allow learners to include pictographs or other graphics in their notes.(2012) This facilitates making connections to more than just the verbal center of the brain, thus making it easier to retrieve.
I need to be more conscious of my teaching strategies so that I can explicitly and clearly teach skills to support student learning. I have used some of these tools in the past, but have never been focused on the power of the tool, I have focused instead on the result of using the tool. Working with students who have gaps in their English language skills, it is doubly important to give them tools that extend their power to learn. These can amplify their efforts and give them greater results with the same amount of energy expended. Giving them episodic memories through virtual field trips (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011) providing the structure of graphic organizers or scaffolds for note taking and summarizing necessary to process new concepts, (Pittler, Hubbell & Kuhn, 2012) allowing them to add multiple sensory inputs will all present an enriched classroom experience so that they can take full advantage of the time they have to learn.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011). Program five: Cognitive learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., & Kuhn, M. (2012). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works--2nd ed. Alexandria: ASCD.