Friday, January 8, 2016

Cognitive Learning Theory

Those of us that can think back to Psych 101 recall the name Gestalt and his cognitive theory but educators focus on further work in this area put forth by Atkinson and Shiffrin that delves more into memory and how to place knowledge within the mind to make it more accessible. Have you ever driven past a bulletin board on the freeway and it showed an image of a dock and you were immediately brought back to a summer time memory - perhaps a family vacation? Your brain is at work! Just like a computer's filing is the brain. I have an external hard drive that I use for photography. When I move photos from my camera to the drive i label them under a file for the event but then I also place images in folders I have named after specific people, like my daughter. If it is a family event I move that folder under the family name so I can find those events faster if a family member asks for pictures. When I have a photo under a person’s name, under the event label and then in a larger folder for family I'm able to locate that image easier.

That same theory works for information we place in our minds. The more connections I have attached to that piece of knowledge the easier it will be to retrieve it because I have built a solid network and moved it to long-term memory (Orey). If a person has interest in a topic than information makes many connections and can be located quicker. In this facet, different practices are recommended for educators to pique interest and stimulate thought. Teachers can ask inferential or analytic questions. Different organizers like; expository, narrative, graphic and skimming all offer different pathways. If a student can create a memory or pull from their own experiences that means they are pulling from their episodic memory which is a very powerful tool.

Dual coding theory proposes that visuals such as political cartoons and propaganda and even maps have word associations that can be attached to them so that students can file that information away in multiple areas of the brain. If teachers utilize graphic organizers or organizing software that presents these opportunities provide an added depth for the student.

Note taking can also be used to help information move from sensory input to long term memory. My students have worked collaboratively through Google Docs, Prezis, Wikis, as well as power-point. Through those experiences, they were taking the information in - synthesizing it and producing something new and creative with that knowledge. With that experience students not only tap into episodic memory when they go to retrieve it but they also rely upon declarative memory (facts) and procedural memory (how-to) when I offer them the opportunity to use any of those learning tools in the future. I recently started working with 7th graders in a literacy class and they are building their own webpages as well as creating their first Prezi. I know that both of those applications will be needed in two years when they reach the high school. The more we can create meaningful experiences for our students within our classrooms the more successful our students will be in actually recalling and using the knowledge that we want them to know.