Glossary: cognitive apprenticeship

From: A. Collins, J. S. Brown, & S. E. Newman (1989). “Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics.” In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser. Pp. 453-494. http://mathforum.org/~sarah/Discussion.Sessions/Collins.html

Effective teachers “involve” students in learning as apprentices: they work alongside students and/or set up situations that will cause students to begin to work on problems even before fully understanding them. A key aspect of an “apprenticeship” approach to teaching involves breaking the problem into parts so that students are challenged to master as much of a task as they are ready to handle. In addition, teachers are encouraged to provide students with varying kinds of practice situations before moving on to more challenging tasks, allowing an understanding that surpasses the use of formulas.

From: A. Collins, J. S. Brown, & S. E. Newman (1989). “Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics.” In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser. Pp. 453-494. http://mathforum.org/~sarah/Discussion.Sessions/Collins.html

Only in the last century, and only in industrialized nations, has formal schooling emerged as a widespread method of educating the young. Before schools appeared, apprenticeship was the most common means of learning and was used to transmit the knowledge required for expert practice in fields from painting and sculpting to medicine and law. Even today, many complex and important skills, such as those required for language use and social interaction, are learned informally through apprenticeship-like methods–that is, methods not involving didactic teaching, but observation, coaching, and successive approximation (453).

Cognitive apprenticeship, as we envision it, differs from traditional apprenticeship in that the tasks and problems are chosen to illustrate the power of certain techniques or methods, to give students practice in applying these methods in diverse settings, and to increase the complexity of tasks slowly, so that component skills and models can be integrated (459).

Drawing students into a culture of expert practice in cognitive domains involves teaching them how to ‘think like experts.’ The focus of much current cognitive research is to understand better what is really meant by such a goal and to find ways to communicate more effectively about the processes involved (488).


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