Cognitively Guided Instruction

Cognitively guided instruction is much more than just explaining how. For subjects like math, it can be easy to think that just providing the answer is enough for students. But with cognitively guided instruction, learning is more than just playing follow the leader.

What is cognitively guided instruction?

Back in the day, education in many areas was focused around the concept of getting the right answer, and getting it as quickly as possible. This is especially true for subjects like math, and it was expected that you were either good with figures, or you just weren’t. Math was a subject undertaken alone and was often confusing for students who just couldn’t quite ‘get’ it the first time.

This is especially true when students reach high school, and more complex and challenging concepts come into play. Because students were not taught to work in collaboration, or given the tools to persevere on their own, it often became easier to fail than to continue to ask questions – leading to shame, embarrassment and a reduced learning capacity.

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Why cognitively guided instruction is a must for math

But when it comes to subjects like math, it isn’t about simply plowing through in an attempt to reach the final answer; in modern schools, it’s known that cultivating understanding and developing problem-solving skills is a must. For future mathematicians or simply those who will use math daily, these skills are the building blocks to understanding and achieving better work.

Known as CGI, or cognitively guided instruction, this unique mathematics model is entirely student centered.

Unlike past methods, the focus is on:
  • Developing what students already know
  • Building from their natural sense of numbers
  • Providing the tools and insight for better problem solving
  • Offering more opportunity for collaboration and learning

The majority of training for teachers is designed around a teacher-centric classroom. Known as direct instruction, this form of teaching involves leading students to help them develop mastery of a specific skill or a subset of a skill. As such, the CGI model is entirely different to how teachers are taught to educate, making it an often challenging concept.

So, how can teachers develop the skills to use the CGI model?

The following questions should first be considered before venturing further into what student-centric teaching can provide:
  • Can students learn better if they are allowed to discover strategies, instead of being taught them?
  • Is collaborative learning beneficial to students, and in what way can it help develop their skills?
  • Can my students grow in math by questioning, sharing and working together to understand their subject matter better?

If the answers to the above suggest that you’re open to the concept of cognitively guided instruction, then it’s likely a suitable choice for your classroom. Unlike teacher-lead classes, working in a student-led environment requires additional planning, as well as broader support of the concept.

Incorporating CGI into the classroom

Each educator needs to collaborate and plan to support students in discovering strategies and evolving their ways of learning.

Before a CGI lesson, the following should be considered:
  • The range of complexity within the chosen subject
  • The metacognition of the students themselves
  • A plan for support and development when implementing CGI for the first time

This allows educators to be prepared to offer more significant, more informed support to students as they make their own pathways.

An example of this concept would be where a student is attempting to model numbers based on pictures. The first stage of a lesson on this subject should be questioning the overall process to help them change or improve the way they think. This goes beyond simply leading, and allows the student to organically come to a conclusion based on their conceptual understandings of math, as well as their ability to share strategy and see misunderstandings as they occur.

Just telling a student the direct way to solve a problem doesn’t offer them the skills they need to evolve and develop as mathematicians. Instead, we can use open-ended questioning, as well as targeted sharing of strategies. This puts students at the front and center of their own education and gives them the accomplishment they need to have a greater understanding of their subject matter.

This ownership not only supports them in developing their skills in mathematical thinking, but it also encourages skills that are transferable to countless other life situations, such as collaborative learning and even the sharing of strategies.

Getting students onboard with cognitively guided instruction

For some students, the transition to CGI doesn’t come easy; students are taught from day one in a way that encourages them to follow the leader. As such, sharing strategies can be misconstrued as offering instruction. For those students, it’s important to spend additional time to help them understand the purpose behind CGI, allowing them to reach their own conclusions.

By providing students with opportunities for more in-depth learning, insightful discussion, and respectful cooperation, building their understanding can be an organic and authentic experience. The concept of cognitively guided instruction is one that goes hand-in-hand with project learning, and its student-centric approach is what makes it so compelling.

TeacherFunder supports teachers to make their classrooms the best possible environment to learn. If you’re considering implementing CGI in your school, we can help make it happen. Find out more now.

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