Cognitive Engagement

Designing a lesson plan for cognitive engagement is essential to the development, implementation, and evaluation of effective DIY learning experiences. Dr. Betty Garner has developed a human-centered and student-directed design model of instructional flow that has used it with learners of all ages.[1]

1.   Explore  |  Students notice, experience, and gather sensory input

Start with an interesting and engaging nonacademic exercise (such as imagery, a piece of literature, words, symbols, etc) to help the students develop cognitive structures such as noticing patterns and relationships to then apply to content areas. Provide concrete materials for students to touch, see, hear, smell, taste, and interactive with. Teacher encourages student-generated questions and comments to share their curiosity, observations, and what they notice. Students need to “see with their eyes” the physical characteristics of objects and “see with their minds” the connections and unusual things they notice and have questions about.

* How the teacher relates to the students and interacts with them, affects how engaged the students will be in the activity.

2.   Describe  |  Students begin cognitive processing by making connections with prior knowledge

Provide time for students to describe and discuss with each other and with the class what they noticed and wondered about. Encourage students to ask questions. Encourage students to write and/or draw what they noticed to make connections, find patterns, formulate rules, and make abstract generalizations. This is an excellent opportunity for a formative assessment to gain insight into the types of words learners use to think and communicate, their level of knowledge, and how they process information.

* How the teacher reacts to questions and models being a curious learner determines whether or not the students ask questions.

3.   Explain  |  Teacher clarifies and builds on student descriptions, introduces new materials concepts, and asks students what sense they are making of it all and expand their processing

Provide connections between student experiences; offer feedback, and present new information. Pace content and skills so that students can enjoy the challenge of new learning and the satisfaction of understanding. Encourage cognitive, physical, and emotional engagement. Present material in multiple ways to meet the needs of individual students.

* Teacher competence, enthusiasm, relationship with students, organization, and ability to make information relevant directly affects students’ willingness to learn new material.

4.   Demonstrate  |  Students share evidence of learning outcomes, by analyzing and integrating information and applying their understandings

Provide time, coaching, and materials for students to demonstrate in their own words their understanding of the new concepts. Encourage continued questioning and learning through research projects (group and individual) related to the new information. Encourage application of new information to life through relevant action to influence change without imitating what the teacher presented (write letters, call, e-mail, research internet, interviews, etc). Encourage creative ways to demonstrate understanding (written report, journal, letters, editorials; oral report, role playing, drama, PowerPoint, animation, movie, video, drawing, posters, models, or by teaching information to someone else, or making up an assignment).

*  Teacher willingness to build on the students’ strengths and “let students do the work” greatly enhances students’ learning.

5.   Evaluate  |  Students and teacher reflect on and evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson, how it could be improved, and what questions come to mind as a result of the experience

Provide opportunity to reflectively respond to question: “What sense did I make of this?” Encourage students to help develop scoring guides to evaluate effectiveness of learning. How do they know they have learned new knowledge or skill? How could we do this differently the next time to improve this learning experience? Develop a plan of action, what will students do as a result of this learning? How will they continue to use these new concepts in everyday life and in other subject areas?

*  How teachers and students collaborate to evaluate learning determines personal investment in continued learning.

   Garner, Betty K. (2008). Getting to got it! : Helping struggling students learn how to learn. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.