Introduction  I  In Reading & Writing  I  In Mathematics  I  References  I  Comments


The notes below come from the following journal article:

  • Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 15 (3), 6-11, 38-46

The main premise is as follows: teachers need to have (a) a clear idea about the learning intention, (b) to scope and sequence activities so that learners can great control of the skills, and (c) provided opportunities for the learners to practice, process and embody the skills, knowledge and understanding of the guild.



“IN ANCIENT times, teaching and learning were accomplished through apprenticeship: We taught our children how to speak, grow crops, craft cabinets, or tailor clothes by showing them how and by helping them do it. Apprenticeship was the vehicle for transmitting the knowledge required for expert practice in fields from painting and sculpting to medicine and law. It was the natural way to learn. In modern times, apprenticeship has largely been replaced by formal schooling, except in children's learning of language.”

“In apprenticeship, learners can see the processes of work: They watch a parent sow, plant, and harvest crops and help as they are able; they assist a tradesman as he crafts a cabinet; they piece together garments under the supervision of a more experienced tailor. Apprenticeship involves learning a physical, tangible activity. But in schooling, the "practice" of problem solving, reading comprehension, and writing is not at all obvious-it is not necessarily observable to the student. In apprenticeship, the processes of the activity are visible. In schooling, the processes of thinking are often invisible to both the students and the teacher. Cognitive apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible.”

“Standard pedagogical practices [often] render key aspects of expertise invisible to students.”

“For example, students [who] are unable to make use of potential models of good writing acquired through reading [struggle] because they have no understanding of how the authors produced such text. Stuck with what Scardamalia and Bereiter (1985) call "knowledge-telling strategies," they are unaware that expert writing involves organizing one's ideas about a topic, elaborating goals to be achieved in the writing, thinking about what the audience is likely to know or believe about the subject, and so on.”

“[Optimal] design of learning environments [is vital], where "environment" includes the content taught, the pedagogical methods employed, the sequencing of learning activities, and the sociology of learning.”

To make real differences in students' skill, we need both to understand the nature of expert practice and to devise methods that are appropriate to learning that practice. To do this, we must first recognize that cognitive strategies are central to integrating skills and knowledge in order to accomplish meaningful tasks. They are the organizing principles of expertise, particularly in such domains as reading, writing, and mathematics. Further, because expert practice in these domains rests crucially on the integration of cognitive strategies, we believe that it can best be taught through methods that have traditionally been employed in apprenticeship to transmit complex physical processes and skills.”

“Giving students a conceptual model-a picture of the whole-is an important factor in apprenticeship's success in teaching complex skills without resorting to lengthy practice of isolated subskills, for three related reasons. First, it provides learners with an advanced organizer for their initial attempts to execute a complex skill, thus allowing them to concentrate more of their attention on execution than would otherwise be possible. Second, a conceptual model provides an interpretive structure for making sense of the feedback, hints, and corrections from the master during interactive coaching sessions. Third, it provides an internalized guide for the period when the apprentice is engaged in relatively independent practice.”

“Another key observation about apprenticeship concerns the social context in which learning takes place. Apprenticeship derives many cognitively important characteristics from being embedded in a subculture in which most, if not all, members are participants in the target skills. 

As we said, in traditional apprenticeship, the process of carrying out a task to be learned is usually easily observable. In cognitive apprenticeship, one needs to deliberately bring the thinking to the surface, to make it visible, whether it's in reading, writing, problem solving. The teacher's thinking must be made visible to the students and the student's thinking must be made visible to the teacher.”

“In order to translate the model of traditional apprenticeship to cognitive apprenticeship, teachers need to:

  • identify the processes of the task and make them visible to students;
  • situate abstract tasks in authentic contexts, so that students understand the relevance of the work; and
  • vary the diversity of situations and articulate the common aspects so that students can transfer what they learns.”

“Scardamalia and Bereiter's (1983, 1985) teaching method ... proceeds through a combination of modeling, coaching, scaffolding, and fading.” 

“As the students internalize the processes invoked by ... prompts, the cue[s] are gradually faded out as.”


In Reading Comprehension and Written Composition (back to top)

“In traditional schooling, students learn to identify reading with the subskills of recognizing and pronouncing words and with the activities of scanning text and saying it aloud. Under the new conception, students recognize that reading requires constructive activities, such as formulating questions and making summaries and predictions, as well as evaluative ones.”

As Palincsar points out (1987), working with a text in a discussion format is not the same as teaching isolated comprehension skills ñ like how to identify the main idea. [In apprenticeship through] reciprocal teaching, the strategies students learn are in the service of a larger purpose: to understand what they are and to develop the critical ability to read to learn.”

“According to Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987), children who are novices in writing use a "knowledge telling" strategy. When given a topic to write on, they immediately produce text by writing their first idea, then their next idea, and so on, until they run out of ideas, at which point they stop. This very simple control strategy finesses most of the difficulties in composing. In contrast, experts spend time not only writing but also planning what they are going to write and revising what they have written (Hayes and Flower, 1980). As a result, they engage in a process that Scardamalia and Bereiter (1983, 1985) call "knowledge transforming," which incorporates the linear generation of text but is organized around a more complex structure of goal setting and problem solving.”

“To encourage students to adopt a more sophisticated writing strategy, Scardamalia and Bereiter (1983, 1985) have developed a detailed cognitive analysis of the activities of expert writers. This analysis provides the basis for a set of prompts, procedural facilitations that are designed to reduce students' information-processing burden by allowing them to select from a limited number of diagnostic statements.”


In Mathematical Processing (back to top)

“One distinction between novices and experts in mathematics is that experts employ heuristic methods, usually acquired tacitly through long experience, to facilitate their problem solving. To teach these methods directly, Schoenfeld (1983, 1985) formulated a set of heuristic strategies, derived from the problem-solving heuristics of Polya (1945). These heuristic strategies consist of rules of thumb for how to approach a given problem.”

“But as he studied students' problem solving further, he became aware of other critical factors affecting their skill, in particular what he calls control strategies. In Schoenfeld's (1983, 1985) analysis, control strategies are concerned with executive decisions, such as generating alternative courses of action, evaluating which will get you closer to a solution, evaluating which you are most likely to be able to carry out, considering what heuristics might apply, evaluating whether you are making progress toward a solution, and so on. Schoenfeld (1983, 1985) found that it was critical to teach control strategies, as well as heuristics.”

“As with the reading and writing examples, explicit teaching of these elements of expert practice yields a fundamentally new understanding of the domain for students. To students, learning mathematics had meant learning a set of mathematical operations and methods. Schoenfeld's (1983, 1985) method is teaching students that doing mathematics consists not only in applying problem-solving procedures but in reasoning about and managing problems using heuristics and control strategies.”


References  (back to top

  • Bereiter, C., and Scardamalia, M. (1987). The Psychology of Written Composition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator, 15 (3), 6-11, 38-46
  • Hayes J.R., and Flower, L. (1980). "Identifying the Organization of Writing Processes." In L.W Gregg and E.R. Steinberg (Eds.), Cognitive Processes in Writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Palincsar, A.S. (1987). "Reciprocal Teaching." Instructor, XCVI No. 2, 5-60.
  • Polya, G. (1945). How To Solve It. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Scardamalia. M., and Bereiter, C. (1985). "Fostering the Development of Self-regulation in Children's Knowledge Processing." In S.F. Chipman, J.W. Segal, and R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and Learning Skills: Research and Open Questions. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Scardamalia, M., and Bereiter, C. (1983). "The Development of Evaluative, Diagnostic and Remedial Capabilities in Children's Composing." In M. Martlew (Ed.), The Psychology of Written Language: A Developmental Approach (pp. 6795). London: Wiley
  • Schoenfeld, A.H. (1985). Mathematical Problem Solving. New York: Academic Press.
  • Schoenfeld, A.H. (1983). "Problem Solving in the Mathematics Curriculum: A Report, Recommendations and an Annotated Bibliography." The Mathematical Association of America, MAA Notes, No. 1.