Collins, Brown & Holum, 1991

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Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible

Collins, A., Brown, J. S. & Holum, A. (1991). Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible. American Educator, p.6-11, 38-46.

Teaching and Learning accomplished through apprenticeship Apprenticeship was the vehicle for transmitting knowledge

Standard pedagogical practices render key aspects of expertise invisible to students

too little attention paid in reasoning strategies

Students rely on their knowledge of textbook patterns for solving problems and lack models of how to tap into valuable resources

Four important aspects of Traditional Apprenticeship

  1. Modeling - observation of master demonstrations
  2. Scaffolding - support given tin carrying out a task
  3. Fading - slowly removing the support
  4. Coaching - runs through the entire apprenticeship experience

Many important cognitive characteristics are embedded in the subculture

Learners have continual access to models of expertise- in-use against which to refine their understanding of complex skills and are also exposed to a variety of models of expertise

Three Important differences between traditional apprenticeship and cognitive apprenticeship

  1. In cognitive apprenticeship one needs to deliberately bring thinking to the surface
  2. In a traditional apprenticeship the tasks come up just as they arise in the real world. In cognitive apprenticeship abstract content of school curriculum must be placed in context that makes sense to students
  3. In traditional apprenticeship the skills learned inhere in the task itself. It is unlikely students will encounter situations in which transfer of skills is required

Tasks of cognitive apprenticeship:

  1. Helps students generalize skill
  2. know when it is applicable
  3. know how to transfer the skill when novel situations arise

Making traditional apprenticeship more conducive to cognitive apprenticeship

  1. Identify the processes of the task and make them visible to students
  2. make the abstract tasks relevant to students
  3. vary the diversity of tasks, and show the common aspects so students can transfer what they know

Reciprocal teaching is very important in improving students reading accuracy

Scaffolding and fading improves students' confidence

Expert learners employ heuristic strategies which are rules of thumb of how to approach a specific problem

Schoenfeld advocates small group problem solving and reciprocal teaching

An example Postmortem Analysis occurs when students explain the processes they used to solve their homework problems

Different strategies Schoenfeld employs are:

  1. Domain knowledge in the case of reading are vocabulary, syntax, and phonetics
  2. Heuristic strategies
  3. Control strategies
  4. Learning strategies

The six teaching methods

    1) Modeling
    2) Coaching 
    3) Scaffolding
    (the first three are the core of cognitive apprenticeship designed for students to acquire an integrated set of skills)
    4) Articulation discuss knowledge, reasoning or problem solving
    5) Reflection - comparison of problem solving processes
    (these are designed to help students focus their observation of problem solving processes and to gain conscious access of their own problem-solving)
    6) Exploration- pushing students into problem solving on their own. encourages autonomy


    1) Global before local skills
    2) Increasing complexity 
    3) Increasing diversity

Critical characteristics affecting the sociology of learning

    1) Situated learning - students learn while working on real tasks
    2) community of practice - communication about different methods to carry out tasks
    3) Intrinsic motivation - setting personal goals to seek skills and solutions
    4) Exploiting cooperation - collaboration to accomplish goals
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