Cognitive Apprenticeship in Classroom Instruction: Implications for Industrial and Technical Teacher Education
Sarah L. S. Duncan
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
National reports consistently predict that the American workplace of the future will be ever more high-tech, and workers will have to be effective team members and competent in problem solving, mathematics, and communication if they are to perform successfully in this complex work environment (Berryman, 1993; Carnevale, Gainer, & Meltzer, 1988; Johnston & Packer, 1987; Kane, Berryman, Goslin, & Meltzer, 1990; Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991). Researchers generally concur on the skills that will be required for job success in the future: (a) affective skills, (b) basic academic skills (reading, writing, computation, and oral communication skills), (c) cognitive skills (problem solving, decision making, and critical thinking skills), (d) social skills, (e) technical knowledge and skills, and (f) transferable skills, the ability to learn, flexibility, and adaptability (Johnson, Evans, Galloway, & Foster, 1990, p. 5).
Johnston and Packer (1987) have warned that individuals with minimal skill levels will not be adequately qualified for positions of responsibility in the high-tech workplace of the future. In the next century, fewer opportunities for advancement will exist in business and industry for unskilled workers. As Johnston and Packer explained, "the fastest-growing jobs require much higher math, language, and reasoning capabilities than current jobs" (p. 99). Adelman (1989) reports a consensus among business, analysts, and government that the jobs of the future will require mastery of these basic skills, which many students today simply do not possess.
The Problem and its Significance
Many Americans begin their post-secondary education deficient in mathematics, language, and problem-solving skills (Applebee, Langer, Jenkins, Mullis, & Foertsch, 1990; National Center for Education Statistics, 1994a, 1995). Recent research in teaching indicates that these basic skills are learned best when the principles of cognitive learning theory are applied to instruction (Bereiter & Bird, 1985; Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991; Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1987; Collins & Gentner, 1980; Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Anthony, & Stevens, 1991; Fischbach, 1993; Johnson, Flesher, Ferej, & Jehng, 1992; Schoenfeld, 1985). Although many studies have focused on the well-structured domains like mathematics (Fischbach, 1993; Schoenfeld, 1985) and technical training (Johnson et al., 1992), research in the less-structured domain of communication-one of the key skill areas identified by Workforce 2000-has not been neglected (El-Komi, 1991; Englert et al., 1991; Flower, 1993; Flower & Hayes, 1980; Kish, 1993; Nash, 1991). Because many students complete 12 years of elementary and secondary education without developing the basic skills discussed above, educators must develop, test, and implement effective instructional methods to correct this appalling state of affairs.
Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989), Gick and Holyoak (1987), and Perkins and Salomon (1988) are among the researchers who agree that learning can be enhanced when content is contextualized-when authentic situations are created during learning that are similar to the situations in which the knowledge will ultimately be applied. The closer the match between the learning situation and the ultimate workplace situation, the easier this transfer will be. Business writing courses have traditionally taught students to write in the formats (e.g., memoranda, letters, reports) typically used in the workplace. In traditional college composition courses (taken by many students in technical programs), writing instructors may design assignments that relate directly to students' fields of study in order to (a) make the assignments more personally relevant to students and (b) increase the likelihood of transfer of the targeted writing skills from the more "realistic" classroom assignment to the workplace (Duncan, 1993). In the case of writing, the skills of composing, planning, revising, and editing written work are the target skills that are to be transferred to the workplace. When writing instructors "situate" assignments so that they more closely resemble the writing done in the workplace (e.g., using workplace topics, including collaborative writing and peer review in the classroom), students will be more likely to see the connection to their work and transfer the skills into their writing on the job.
Applied instructional methods-those traditionally used in vocational education-provide the ideal vehicle for this shift to a more realistic context in the teaching of writing and other "academic" subjects. As applied methods are adapted for use in the academic domains, an integrated curriculum should emerge and possess the potential to enhance achievement for all students, including those students who will complete their formal education with less than a baccalaureate degree.
Cognitive science has made a significant impact on beliefs about learning and teaching (Gick & Holyoak, 1987; Phye, 1986; Royer, 1986). Knowledge and skills are situated and bound in a particular context (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Perkins & Salomon, 1989); therefore, the most appropriate instructional method is one that incorporates both (a) realistic presentation of the knowledge, procedures, and skills and (b) opportunities for students to apply the knowledge and practice the procedures and skills in a realistic context.
In cognitive apprenticeship, instructors model the strategies and activities necessary to solve problems, while providing appropriate scaffolds (organizational strategies and other supporting materials) to support the students' own efforts. Coaching and correction are provided as the students work on increasingly complex problems, and then support is withdrawn as the students develop competency. These steps that mirror the methods employed by experts and apprentices for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In the writing classroom, instructors initially perform as expert writers, modeling (thinking aloud) to share their strategies and composing processes with students. Think aloud modeling reveals the most complete description possible of their cognitive activities and strategies, while providing organizational scaffolds for the students. Instructors describe what they are thinking and doing, why they are doing what they are doing, and verbalize their self-correction processes. After modeling, instructors support students through similar problems by coaching the students, demonstrating the use of scaffolds and explaining the principles and rules that apply to the writing task. Each successive problem is designed to be increasingly complex, and the instructor provides less and less assistance as the students gain experience. Ultimately, students develop competency and solve problems and develop their own expertise.
Cognitive apprenticeship methods have been studied across the disciplines, in mathematics (Fischbach, 1993; Schoenfeld, 1985), technical curricula (Johnson et al., 1992), and in reading (Palincsar & Brown, 1984). The cognitive apprenticeship approach has also been advocated for writing instruction (Collins et al., 1986; Flower, 1993; Hayes & Flower, 1980).
Writing as Problem Solving
Much of the research on employing a problem solving approach in teaching has been conducted in well-structured domains like mathematics (Schoenfeld, 1985); however, writing may also be approached as problem solving. Schoenfeld (1985) found that unless care is taken to ensure that students grasp the theories and principles underlying mathematics, they may only learn to perform by rote. Rote learning of procedures does not guarantee that students will be able to apply appropriate theories and principles when confronted with new problems that do not closely resemble the examples they have been shown. In other words, students may not transfer the skills to new situations. Schoenfeld (1985) says that effective mathematics instruction must require students to understand mathematical concepts and methods, recognize relationships and think logically, and apply the appropriate mathematical concepts, methods, and relations to solve problems. Effective writing instruction has similar requirements.
Hayes (1989) and Flower (1993) are among those who have studied the application of the problem solving paradigm to writing. The parallels between the cognitive and problem solving activities required in mathematics and writing are considerable. Rules and "formulas" exist in writing, as does the potential for students to gain only superficial understanding-they may learn to write grammatical and complete sentences that say nothing or may be unable to transfer their writing skills from the classroom assignments into the writing they will do on the job.
Scaffolds (Rosenshine & Meister, 1992; West, Farmer, & Wolff, 1991) include all devices or strategies that support students' learning. One example of scaffolds for writing instruction is reflected in the work of Englert and colleagues (1991), who developed an acronym to represent their approach to solving the problem of writing well (POWER: P refers to planning; O to organizing, W represents writing the preliminary draft, E is for editing, and R stands for revision). Other expert writers may attach different labels and make different divisions in the composing activities, but whatever the labels, the common tasks include planning, organizing, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading.
Scaffolds to support students' efforts to plan and organize their writing may also be graphic in design. Figure 1, for example, may be used either during the initial planning of an essay (as an alternative to the traditional outline, a scaffold used frequently in composition) or may be used after the essay draft has been completed. When it is used after a draft has been written, the writer attempts to place all the text into one of the areas on the scaffold; in this way missing elements or under-developed sections of the text can be revealed. Instructors need to model the use of the scaffolds; without explicit instruction, students may fail to accept their value or fail to understand how to use them.
|Organizational scaffold for persuasive writing.|
Think Aloud Modeling
Before they can think aloud to model composing activities for students, instructors must become aware of, and be able to articulate their own writing processes. As instructors attempt to verbalize each thought, step, and strategy that they employ while completing a task, they cannot mention everything because people think more rapidly than they speak (Hayes & Flower, 1980). But, incomplete or not, these verbal protocols provide the only available window into the mind of the expert writer. Studies in the use of think aloud modeling have produced positive results (Bereiter & Bird, Collins et al., 1991; Collins et al., 1987; 1985; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Schoenfeld, 1985). Students have developed the skills that were modeled and learned to apply the strategies they were taught.
Research in Vocational and Technical Education
Components of cognitive apprenticeship have been shown to be valuable in vocational and technical instruction (Bodilly, Ramsey, Stasz, & Eden, 1993; Johnson & Thomas, 1994; Rosenshine, 1986). For example, coaching, scaffolding, and fading were performed by an "intelligent tutoring system a computer-coached practice environment" (p. vi) in a study conducted by Johnson, Flesher, Ferej, and Jehng (1992) that applied the theories of cognitive science to the task of teaching aviation mechanics students to troubleshoot like experts. Students in an experimental group gained "considerable experience in proper use of the cognitive strategies needed for competent troubleshooting because [the tutor] emphasized cognitive skills and de-emphasized physical skills" (p. vii). Significant differences were found between the experimental and control groups' ability to troubleshoot and students in the experimental group were also able to "recover from their errors" more often than the control group students. Johnson et al. (1992) concluded that realistic problem solving practice in technical courses may enhance the application of these troubleshooting skills in the workplace, and that explicit teaching of troubleshooting processes and skills is advisable. In this case, instructional activities were performed by a computer program, the Troubleshooting Tutor.
Research in Mathematics Instruction
Schoenfeld (1985) recommended that mathematics instructors model their own problem solving skills for their students during instruction. He recommended having students bring problems for the instructor to solve while the class observed. In this way, students were able to see the instructor (the expert mathematician) think aloud while solving a problem rather than observe a rehearsed solution. Students' own struggles to solve problems are validated as the instructor works through the new problem, correcting errors or changing steps as necessary, in real time.
Fischbach (1993) studied the use of cognitive apprenticeship as a method of instruction for technical mathematics in a community college. Working with intact classes in a control group design, two technical mathematics instructors employed think aloud modeling in one of their classes. The study was conducted during ten weeks of a semester; instructors modeled problem solving by thinking aloud and had students work in groups to solve complicated and applied problems. Fischbach (1993) found that students in the classes that included think aloud modeling out-performed students in the control classes on the problem-solving and final examinations; however, statistical significance was not found. Fischbach concluded that these quantitative results indicate that cognitive apprenticeship was a viable alternative to traditional methods of instruction in technical mathematics classes.
Based on information gathered through student interviews at the end of the study Fischbach concluded that students in the cognitive apprenticeship treatment classes had benefited from "the opportunity to become part of the culture, improve their understanding, and work on application problems" (Fischbach, 1993, p. 151), and she concluded that cognitive apprenticeship instructional methods were viable alternatives for teaching technical mathematics.
Research in Writing Instruction
Scardamalia and Bereiter (1986) noted the potential of think aloud modeling to support students' writing skills development. Bereiter and Bird (1985), Collins, Brown, and Newman (1987), Hayes (1990), and Flower (1993) and her colleagues (Flower, Wallace, Norris, & Burnett, 1994) are just some of the individuals who have examined cognitive apprenticeship in writing instruction. Stasz, Ramsey, Eden, DaVanzo, Farris, and Lewis (1993) describe a college-preparatory English course in which the instructor included workplace situations, situated learning, modeling, scaffolding, and coaching. Writing assignments about literature were "situated" in the students' own cultural experiences by requiring them to consider how the literature reflected existing problems in their own lives. By grounding the work in realistic and meaningful contexts and purposes, the instructor made the writing tasks relevant to students as individuals. The instructor included think aloud modeling in his repertoire of teaching techniques. Scaffolding took the form of optional organizational structures for the assigned research paper written on the board. Coaching consisted of providing hints to students, who knew that the hints were directive and not answers in themselves.
Purpose of the Study
This study examined the effects of incorporating the instructional methods of cognitive apprenticeship-specifically think aloud modeling and scaffolding-into community college writing classrooms. Virtually all post-secondary vocational and technical programs require students to take mathematics and writing courses, so it is essential that we determine the best ways to integrate technical and academic content. This integration of academic and technical perspectives is essential if students are to be prepared to function productively in the workplace of the next century (Ascher & Flaxman, 1993; Berryman, 1993; Bodilly, Ramsey, Stasz, & Eden, 1993; Duncan, 1993).
A nonequivalent control group design (Cook & Campbell, 1979) was used in this study; nine volunteer instructors and 159 students in intact sections of writing courses at Danville Area Community College (DACC) in Eastern Illinois. Each instructor had a single writing course involved in the study and taught using one of the treatments (modeling with scaffolds, scaffolds without modeling, and control groups). Proper training of instructors in the modeling with scaffolds treatment sections was believed to be critical (Fischbach, 1993; Johnson, J. L., 1992); therefore, modeling instructors participated in six hours of modeling training before the semester began.
A combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods resulted in a comprehensive set of data. Pre- and post-test scores on American College Testing's Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) Writing Skills Test (1993), pre- and post-test essay scores, instructor journals, classroom observations (researcher observations and audio tapes), and instructor interviews comprised the data. Multivariate Analysis of Covariance (MANCOVA) was used to analyze the test score data. Two covariates were used: adjusted group means on both pre-tests (essays and CAAP); group means of both post-tests were the dependent variables. Instructors were asked to keep journals about instructional activities and strategies, and these journals were reviewed by the researcher. Each instructor was also observed in the classroom three times during the semester and 8 of the 9 instructors were interviewed individually at the end of the semester.
ACT's (1993) CAAP-Writing Skills Test was used as the quantitative pre-test and post-test. Combined scores and subscores for Usage/Mechanics (punctuation, grammar, sentence structure) and Rhetorical Skills (strategy, organization, style) were graded by ACT and then entered into a data base for statistical analysis. A second pre-test, an in-class persuasive essay, was also administered during the first week of classes. Prompts for the essay were those used by the Educational Testing Service for twelfth graders in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). For the pre-test, equal numbers of the two essay prompts were randomly distributed to students in each class by their instructors. All pre-tests were given during the first week of classes. Post-tests were administered during final examination week of the 15 week semester; thus, pre- and post-tests occurred approximately 14 weeks apart. The CAAP post-test was administered only to students in the participating classes who had taken the CAAP pre-test. Post-test essays were written by all students in participating classes, and in one of the classes, these essays also functioned as final examinations. Pre-test essays were held by the researcher until post-test essays were written, so that both groups of essays would be evaluated by the same cadre of experienced readers during a single grading session. White's (1992) grading criteria, which parallels the numerical system employed by the NAEP but is simpler, was used during the holistic essay evaluation.
Because statistical adjustment was necessary to "equalize" the means of the non-equivalent groups in this study, only those students with complete sets of data could be included in the statistical analysis (Glass & Hopkins, 1984; Kirk, 1982). One hundred fifty-nine students completed the CAAP and essay pre-tests. At the end of the semester, 91 students remained in these nine classes, and those who had taken the pre-tests were administered post-tests. Students with incomplete data were removed; leaving 82 sets of complete data for statistical analysis. These data were used in the multivariate analysis of covariance. Comparisons among treatment and control groups revealed a slightly smaller percentage of attrition (48%) for the modeling with scaffolding treatment, followed by 50% attrition for the control group, and 51% attrition for the scaffolding only treatment.
The statistical analysis of the covariates found that cognitive apprenticeship methods were effective in teaching writing skills (see Table 1). Analysis of the ACT instrument data found that the students' mean post test scores were higher at a statistically significant level (p = .05) than those of the control groups. These findings indicate that using think aloud modeling to teach writing tasks is a viable instructional alternative; moreover, it can result in increased student writing skill development.
The follow up univariate analysis of covariance indicated significant differences in the CAAP Combined post-test mean scores, CAAP Mechanics post-test mean scores, and CAAP Rhetoric post-test mean scores. No significance was found among the treatment groups for the dependent variable, essay post-test mean scores.
Univariate analysis of covariance revealed that statistically significant differences in mean post-test scores did exist among the treatment groups. Three one-way analyses of variance (ANOVA) were conducted to determine where significance between the groups occurred:
- A one-way analysis of variance was conducted on the CAAP Combined post-tests means and resulted in an F value of 6.32 (p < .05). A Tukey-HSD test revealed that the means of both the modeling and scaffolding groups were significantly higher than those of the control group.
- A one-way analysis of variance was conducted on the CAAP Mechanics post-tests means and resulted in an F value of 3.69 (p < .05). A Tukey-HSD test revealed that the modeling group scored significantly higher than the control group.
- A one-way analysis of variance was conducted on the CAAP Rhetoric post-tests means and resulted in an F value of 7.20 (p < .05). A Tukey-HSD test revealed that the means of both modeling and scaffolding were significantly higher than those of the control group.
|Univariate Analysis of Effects of Treatment|
|Note: N = 82; *p < .05|
Instructors who performed the modeling reported increased student attention and enthusiasm during modeling. They also reported that students quickly learned the errors they made during modeling and concluded that this occurrence supported the effectiveness of the instructional technique. Modeling instructors reported that more training and supervision during the semester would increase both their competency and comfort in modeling.
To verify that modeling and scaffolding actually occurred in the treatment classrooms, three observations were made for each participating instructor (n = 27). Rosenshine's (1983) list of teaching functions was adapted for use as an observation guide for these visits. The researcher recorded each of the teaching functions observed during each class period while making notes about the instructional activities, scaffolding used, and students' activities.
Lecture was used in all three treatment groups and by all participating instructors. Discussion was also employed by all instructors in all treatments; however, in most cases, this discussion took the form of teacher questions and student responses rather than free-flowing, voluntary conversation. Scaffolds were presented in all treatment groups as well: Five scaffolding presentations were observed in modeling class observations, five were observed in scaffolding classes, and four scaffold presentations were observed in the control classes. Guided student practice was observed in all treatment groups, both group work and individual student work. Individual guided practice was observed more often than was group guided practice. Feedback and correctives were observed in all treatment groups.
Modeling was observed five times during nine observations of modeling treatment instructors and once in a control classroom. Instructor modeling of the use of the scaffolds was observed only in the modeling treatment classes even though although scaffolds were also distributed to students in scaffolding and control classes. The modeling treatment instructors were observed modeling the use of scaffolds on three occasions. Although modeling was observed on five occasions in the modeling classrooms, think aloud modeling was observed only four times and only in modeling treatment classes.
Debriefing interviews with eight participating instructors revealed a wide range of course requirements (numbers and types of assignments). Most of the participating instructors met individually with students during the semester to provide individual coaching, feedback, and correction. The self-reports of instructional methods revealed that instructors perceive that they do not lecture often, a perception contradicted by classroom observation data. Instructors acknowledged that classroom discussion most often takes the form of teacher questions and student answers, rather than free, voluntary dialogue. Instructors' perceptions that they use scaffolding concurred with classroom observations.
Modeling instructors shared their perceptions about modeling as an instructional tool and reported that they believed the technique to be effective, noting that student attention seemed higher during modeling activities and that students' responses seemed to indicate that the method was beneficial. Figure 2 shows the three modeling instructors' responses to some of the questions asked during the interview.
|Modeling Instructors' Interview Responses.|
As a group, the journals were brief and presented primarily superficial information; however, some interesting issues arose. One modeling instructor revealed the concern that modeling should be well rehearsed and devoid of errors. This concern seems reasonable at first; however, the spirit of think aloud modeling (see Schoenfeld, 1985), if not its utility, requires that the instructor actually compose the writing task at hand, and there is a danger that over-rehearsal could result in memorized presentations rather than actual examples of the struggle involved in composing written work.
One modeling instructor's journal expressed her enthusiastic acceptance of the benefit of modeling; she reported that she now models in all her classes. Interestingly, she is the only modeling instructor who referred to feeling nervous throughout the semester. Perhaps she is less extroverted than the others. Personality traits, comfort levels about public speaking, and willingness to appear fallible to one's class are all issues that must be considered by individuals who are interested in modeling as an instructional method.
Several examples of scaffolding were included in the journals. Descriptions of in-class group work were also present.
Modeling and scaffolding instructors were given identical sets of three writing scaffolds during the pre-semester training. Modeling instructors were shown how to model the use of the scaffolds and asked to use them in instruction. Scaffolding instructors were also asked to use the scaffolds; however, when handouts were reviewed, none of these scaffolds had been included by any of the instructors. During the initial meeting with scaffolding instructors, one had indicated that she would prefer to use her own materials. Most of the handouts given to the researcher were photocopies of a text that the instructors intended to use as supplemental textbook materials or, for most of the instructors in the study, articles upon which writing assignments were based.
Conclusions and Recommendations
What does it all mean? Think aloud modeling has been shown to be an effective instructional technique in both well- and ill-structured domains (see Rosenshine, 1986). Think aloud modeling has been used successfully in technical skills instruction, mathematics instruction, reading and writing instruction. It would therefore seem to have potential as a vehicle for integrating vocational and academic education.
Writing instructors, who had received only six hours of training in think aloud modeling, reported increases in student attention and enthusiasm, and statistical analysis indicated significant gains in students' writing skills' development. Think aloud modeling can be taught; however, the modeling instructors in this study were unanimous in their belief that training, opportunities to practice, and extensive coaching and feedback will be necessary. This concurs with Fischbach's (1993) conclusion that technical mathematics instructors would require extensive training to become competent in the use of cognitive apprenticeship instructional methods.
All three modeling instructors in this study reported feeling the need for more training and coaching to prevent them from slipping back into old teaching patterns. One potential problem is that instructors may memorize and re-deliver rehearsed presentations-they may act the part of modeling rather than do it. Schoenfeld (1985) avoids this trap by inviting students to bring new mathematics problems for him to solve during class. Writing instructors may avoid the temptation to recite rather than model by asking students to bring short pieces of writing (e.g., newspaper articles) and then modeling the writing task (i.e., summary, criticism, synthesizing sources) using these fresh materials. This spontaneous modeling will, however, require that instructors free themselves from the need to appear infallible to their students. Writing is hard work, and watching their instructor model the writing task may reduce students' concerns about their own imperfect and sometimes arduous efforts. Students who observe the struggle of the expert writer may put their own struggle into perspective.
Concurring with Fischbach's (1993) observations of treatment students' attitudes, modeling instructors in this study were unanimous in their judgment that modeling both increased student attention and improved student writing. One modeling instructor reported that when she made an error during modeling, the error appeared immediately in the students' own work. She felt that the rapid learning of this error indicated the powerful nature of modeling as an instructional tool. Another modeling instructor reported increased student attention from "good and average students" during modeling and informed the researcher that she had incorporated the technique into her other classes. Her enthusiasm for modeling the writing task may have been communicated to her students and, one would hope, might be contagious.
The scaffolding focus of this study was unsuccessful, perhaps because the primary focus of the study was think aloud modeling. Although the researcher distributed and discussed the use of three scaffolds to all treatment instructors, based on the materials identified as handouts used during the semester, none had been used in the study. The instructors all used scaffolding in their instruction, but they used their own. Perhaps the idiosyncratic nature of composing is accompanied by an idiosyncratic usefulness of scaffolds.
Integrating modeling into the classroom will require changes in the timing of the semester activities. Thinking aloud to solve a real problem (composing the written work) is time consuming, and modeling is only the first step-it must be followed by instructor-coached group practice, and finally, students would write the assigned piece on their own. Because college and university class periods may last for as short a period as 50 minutes, several class meetings would have to be dedicated to the completion of a single writing task (i.e., summary writing). If the goal is to achieve competence in writing, this will be time well spent.
Integrating think aloud modeling and other cognitive apprenticeship instructional methods into classrooms will require scheduling adjustments, instructor training, and curricular revision. However, if the goal of education in general, and vocational and technical education in particular, is to prepare students to be successful participants in the workplace of the future, to equip them with the skills and knowledge they will be expected to possess, these adjustments will be worthwhile. The bottom line is providing all students with a comprehensive education-one that incorporates academic and technical knowledge and skills and prepares them for the future.
Duncan is Lecturer, Business Education and Administrative Services, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois.
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