This primer on how cognitive science can impact our teaching was created as the final project for my Program Leadership course at Teachers College, Columbia University. This assignment was:
LEARNING THEORY AND NEW TEACHERS:
You are the Academic Dean of your school and responsible for its Mentoring Program. Each year in late August you run a three-day workshop focused on variety of topics relevant to teachers new to your school. This year you want to introduce them to the pedagogical implications of research emerging from cognitive science. You’ve already asked them to read selected readings about learning and teaching during the summer. But you realize – even with the best intentions – not everyone will be able to read and thoroughly digest these useful references. So, you decide to prepare a 1500 word (max) primer on the pedagogical implications of cognitivist learning theory and send it to them just before they arrive (assuming they can at least read it the night before your first meeting). Your primer is not meant to be comprehensive but simply informative, pointing out an array of what you deem to be the most effective teaching strategies based on cognitive science research. The primer could take into account research on attention, how memory works, student belief systems (a la Dweck), and the role of prior knowledge and misconceptions as they might inform different ways to teach effectively.
The form the primer takes is up to you, as long as it discusses specific teaching strategies and briefly summarizes the cognitive science principles or theories that inform them. At this point you need not specifically reference the research – that can be provided later in your subsequent sessions with the teachers but those you think most important should appear at the end of the primer. For the purposes of this assignment, you choose the school setting and age group. Please be sure you clearly specify these important details as a brief preface to your primer.
The teachers in mind are K-12. A follow up activity during the training would be for teachers in groups to consider how they might apply a chosen topic to their particular age group.