“Language influences thought and action. The words we use to describe things—to ourselves and others—affect how we and they think and act.” (Weimer, 2015).
The June-July issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter highlights a study you don’t want to miss. It’s a meta-analysis of 225 studies that compare STEM
“Student learning is remarkably complex . . .” So begins the second sentence of a lengthy article proposing a research-based conceptual framework that identifies cognitive challenges to learning and how teachers can respond to them. The framework rests on three premises:
The framework organizes what pedagogical research has revealed prevents, inhibits, or otherwise diminishes learning. Teachers must overcome these cognitive challenges if students are to learn optimally. Illustrating the complexity of learning, each cognitive challenge may require more than one solution, which means that teachers must adapt to different and evolving learning needs. Moreover, the challenges do not operate independently of each other.
It may sound a bit overwhelming (and probably is), but the article is enormously helpful. The authors introduce each challenge with a short narrative example, followed by a description of the cognitive challenge, recommended teaching practices, and additional sources that the reader can consult. Below are brief descriptions of the challenges. Each is relevant to varying degrees depending on the student and the content.
Should an effective teacher be ready to address all nine of these challenges? Yes, and although it’s a big teaching challenge, some context puts the expectation in perspective. As the authors point out, some students are primed for learning, motivated, and ready to go. They have overcome these challenges. Other students learn despite experiencing some of these challenges, but they aren’t learning as effectively as they could; Chew and Cerbin describe this as “suboptimal” learning. Additionally, these challenges are not all new. We know that absent background knowledge, multitasking, and ability-based mindsets prevent learning, and most of us work to address these challenges. But laying out all the challenges sets a high standard. It shows us what’s involved when we recognize and grapple with the complexities of learning.
Every now and then I gush over an article, and this one deserves high praise. It is a pristine example of scholarship that can be directly applied to instructional practice. It maps the learning territory. We know that space and we work in it, but we do so on the ground, where it’s difficult to see the whole landscape. With a map of the territory, we wander less, can see where we’re going, and move in that direction with purpose.
Chew, S. L., & Cerbin, W. J. (2020). The cognitive challenges of effective teaching. The Journal of Economic Education. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220485.2020.1845266