Support Materials

8. Watch it, Do it, Know it - Cognitive Apprenticeship


Linda Darling-Hammond: What do you think of when you hear the word apprentice? Does it make you think of a simpler time when young people learned a trade by working side by side with master craftsman? It was easy for apprentices to see what they needed to do, step-by-step, to learn their craft and become an expert themselves.

How could we take this time honored teaching and learning method, and make it work in our classrooms today?

I'm Linda Darling-Hammond and that's our challenge for this episode of The Learning Classroom. Today we will look at what we call cognitive apprenticeships.

Like historic apprenticeships, teachers model the skills they want their students to master, they lead their students step by step through the parts of the task by scaffolding and supporting their progress, they coach their individual students as they need help, and they ask students to reflect on their work in relation to high standards for quality.

Finally, the teacher gradually fades into the background - this is sometimes called de-scaffolding - so that their students can become independent and demonstrate their own expertise. The difference between cognitive apprenticeships and traditional apprenticeships is that the end product is not a candle or a piece of cloth; the end product is knowledge that is demonstrated through an exhibition of intellectual work.

Annemarie Palincsar, Ph.D., University of Michigan: If we think about the old world apprenticeships where, you know, weavers sat with weavers and candlemakers sat with candlemakers, and what they did initially is, they spent a lot of time really observing and being given portions of the task that were within their, their reach, and then as they learned more of the skills they are able to more fully participate in whatever the, the, the craft or the activity is. So those are some of the aspects of, of cognitive apprenticeship, that again, you have the expert learner in the teacher, but the teacher is always mindful of ways in which students can take on whatever aspects of the, the learning they're capable of, and there's always attention being paid to when can the students assume increasing responsibility for this activity.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Daryl Robbins, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Birmingham Covington School, uses a kind of cognitive apprenticeship to help her students develop literacy skills. To help them become expert readers and book critics, she engages them in book clubs.

As they read and critique the books they have chosen, she models, supports, and coaches her students, helping them learn to read critically, evaluate what they've read, and discuss their ideas respectfully.

Let's take a look.

(classroom scene)
Daryl Robbins: Anyone have a good book recommendation? Anyone? Steven?
It's sort of like a whole story, and there's main characters, like Martin the warrior…

Daryl Robbins: The kids do a lot of writing about themselves. We read books that I know they're gonna relate to right away, so they'll talk about themselves.

(classroom scene)
Girl: There's a princess and it says …

Daryl Robbins: They don't feel comfortable, then they're not, they're not really gonna be able to function within a group. They're gonna be more inhibited. So we do a lot of that at the beginning of the year – team building, trust activities.

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Um, reminders about just book club in general, how many people are in your group? Three or four. Um, you wanna pick people with whom you feel comfortable sharing things. Also, just think about your general behavior, and what people in the class help you to do your best? Okay, so you've got kinda two big things you're thinking about.

Daryl Robbins: You don't just start off saying to the kids, "Ttalk about this book." I think you have to move in baby steps.

(classroom scene)
Boy: Yeah, but each thing, I think it relates to each other, in a way.

Daryl Robbins: At the beginning of the year there is less talk, because I think you have to teach kids how to talk the way you want them to talk. You have to give them the verbage. You have to teach kids how to disagree with one another peacefully. I always talk about peaceful co-existence with the kids. You have to talk about the talk, if that makes sense.

(classroom scene)
Boy 1: Like her heart and her brain-
Boy 2:
I seriously disagree with that because, I mean….
Boy 1:
Well, I know she'd like it if he were physically there, but…It's hard to explain, isn't it?
Boy 2:
Yeah, it is.

Daryl: What do you think, Tim? I'm curious. You always have great ideas, let's hear it.
Boy 1: Come on, Tim. You've heard enough of mine and Justin's jibberish.
Boy 2:
I can't.
Do you think she's making the wrong choice by talking about it?
Boy 2:
No, not, no. I just disagree with his thing, that she likes, you said that you think that she likes it better that Tom is not physically there.
Boy 1:
I'm not saying that all the time, I'm saying just, it's hard to explain.

Daryl Robbins: You have to go through all of things that you anticipate might come up within a group and then model those.

(classroom scene)
Boy 1: …than I got out of "Lob's Girl," cause this kind of made more sense.
But did you like "Lob's Girl" better as a story?
Boy 1:
Me too!

Linda Darling-Hammond: Daryl has carefully structured the process of learning so that her students can gradually take charge. Did you notice how she insisted on groups no larger than three or four? That was to insure that all students would have a responsibility to be part of the conversation. She also set up the conversations and modeled the kinds of questions students might raise.

You may have noticed how she drew out the quieter students through questioning and assisted students in learning how to talk to one another.

In this next activity, Daryl helps students take responsibility for their own learning and that of their peers through what is called an expert jigsaw. In this activity, students research different aspects of a topic in order to teach it to others. The students become experts using assistance from each other as well as the teacher. As the students take over the teaching, you'll notice how Daryl fades and gives them more and more responsibility.

(classroom scene)
And you are not going to have to look up everything, okay? We did that at the beginning, where everyone was looking up everything. And I'm pretty sure now that you've got the map skills, you don't need to be doing that. We're gonna do the same thing that we did with China, and we called it Expert Jigsaw, do you remember that? Why do you think we call it Expert Jigsaw, Justin?
Because few people found, like, many, everyone found some and then we all put it together.
Yeah, everyone found something, we put it together, we kind of described it like a potluck dinner, where you bring the salad, you bring the meat…

Daryl Robbins: I think the basis for Expert Jigsaw is shared responsibility, shared ownership. In the case of our maps, each child feels like he or she contributed to this terrific map that we have in our classroom.

(classroom scene)
Um, would this be sharing? "I'll find Egypt, and then I'll tell you?"
What would take place if you were sharing?

Daryl Robbins: Expert Jigsaw equalizes learning a little bit, because regardless of your ability level, you're still contributing to whatever the task was as a whole. So you know that without you we couldn't have gotten there. Whether you're more advanced and you did a huge chunk or you're struggling and you just did a small piece, it was a piece.

(classroom scene)
Libyan desert, I found it! It's right by Egypt.

Daryl Robbins: So I think kids are quick to thank each other for contributions. And kids know that everyone played a role regardless of ability level or, or other factors. Everybody helped us get to the point where we are now. And definitely I think that, that is a community.

(classroom scene)
Girl 1:
Right there.
Girl 2:
But again, I think I agree more with Tarick, even though…

Daryl Robbins: I seat my students in groups so that they're almost forced to look at each other, and every child in the classroom is seated so he or she is looking at another child instead of me. They're certainly moments where I need them looking at me and making eye contact so I know they're actively listening. But during work times they're facing each other. And I move around to help, but ultimately when they look up for help, it's a student sitting across from them. And I think that makes a big different. I don't think I realized that right away, that how they're seated really does make a difference.

I think that the students are very focused on "ask the teacher for help".

(classroom scene)
Bedouin, where could you find that?

Daryl Robbins: And I always say to my kids, "Try three resources before you get to me." Sometimes that resource is a book, sometimes it's, you know, another actual object that we have in the classroom. And sometimes that's someone else.

If you're not sure how to spell a word, maybe you could ask three friends before me. We call it "three before me."

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Israel. Give her a clue, in relationship to…?
It's west, it's the country exactly west of Jordan, north of Egypt, south of Syria, southwest of Lebanon.

Daryl Robbins: It would definitely be faster if I just answered their question. But part of what I'm doing is not only helping that child to engage in dialogue with another child, but I'm also hoping that the child who answers their question will be kind of validating what he or she knows. In repeating something or explaining it, I think you're solidifying what you know. So I'm hoping it will help both kids involved in that process.

(classroom scene)
Okay, so it's somewhere on this page. You were right.

Daryl Robbins: I think when kids discover something on their own or with a friend, they feel like they own it. They're proud of the partnership. They're proud of the process. And they can talk about the process in terms of how they got to where, where they are now. They can say, you know, at the beginning of the hour I thought this, but then I talked with a friend, and now I think this. I can't believe I've totally changed what I thought. Or I'm, I'm different than I was an hour ago. If I tell them something it's, you know, "Are we gonna be tested on this?"

It's, it's more that kind of thing.

(classroom scene)
Steven: Mao… created the red guards, and they would kill people, and he just  took over China really, and nobody really had any say. He would just say, like, "You die. You stay alive." The red guards killed, um, many of his…

Daryl Robbins: Community learning, I think is often the foundation upon which the individual learning is based. You learn as a community. That's a lot of times when you're introducing new things or looking at varied perspectives.

Individual learning is important too, though, because everyone's at a different place in their learning, and kids need to pick up from where they are. You need to start your individual learning at a place that's right for you.

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Great job, Kylie!

Linda Darling-Hammond: What we just saw does not happen magically by the teacher just turning over the classroom to the students. Daryl prepared her students step by step so the transition came naturally.

First, she modeled both the social and academic skills she expected her students to master - including how to give and offer help. Then she scaffolded the learning process, watching and intervening when she saw a student needing assistance. She coached students about how to find the information they needed and showed them how to help each other.

In the end, she guided her students toward the production of knowledge they felt they owned. Presenting what they had learned motivated the students and increased their sense of investment in the content.

The presentations also created a sense of standards in the classroom: as their work becomes public, students develop an idea of what they should be striving for.

Annemarie Palincsar: So the teacher's the expert learner in the cognitive apprenticeship. And by that I mean the teacher is trying to think about the ways in which he or she thinks that will be useful to advancing the students' thinking. They're trying to think about the array of tools that will be useful to advancing students' learning, whether those tools are text, or hypermedia, or setting up interviews, providing language for the students that will help them to communicate their ideas effectively with one another.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Making thought processes transparent is easier said than done. And yet, this is crucial for helping students develop expertise.

Pete Shaheen teaches writing to 11th and 12th graders at Birmingham Seaholm High School. He, too, applies cognitive apprenticeship strategies. He models the thinking and decision making processes that writers go through as they create a text. Pete does not break down the writing process into standardized steps that you might expect. Instead, based on what we know about how real writers work, he allows the students to develop their own approaches, using tips about different strategies and feedback from their colleagues as a guide. As he steers this process, the students take on increasing responsibility, until they are leading portions of the class themselves.

(classroom scene)
Pete Shaheen:  You read your piece, then we do the five minute discussion, right?  Remember, there are certain ways we start out, and remember, after you read your piece your role is severely limited in what you do, and today we're gonna do a little bit of a modification, and, ah, that modification is simply this, that I will also participate in the response with you guys, okay?
Girl: <reading> Somewhere in the distance I hear the sound of the violin, soft and passionate, the sound washes over me, and I feel compelled to follow it. It drowns me with a taunting melody. I can't breath or think, all I want to do is listen forever. Slowly I open my eyes…

Pete Shaheen: Cognitive apprenticeship is a process that a teacher uses to model learning and to transfer the ownership of that learning style from the teacher to the student. Specifically, cognitive apprenticeship as it might work in writing, for example, is finding a way for students to respond to each other's writing through maybe a systematic approach to looking at a text.

(classroom scene)
I thought maybe starting from the beginning with her as her normal life, like her as a farm girl, poor, struggling, um, maybe that way we would like her more 'cause then she would, this is her dream, she deserves it. She's worked hard her, all her life. That would be a way for us, the reader, to be more attached to her and like her.

Pete Shaheen: In teaching and in particular the teaching of writing, what you have to be able to understand is at first writing is a, is a process that varies from individual to individual.

Now, what used to happen is there used to be a four-step process that we tried to impose on all writers. As we got more sophisticated, and began to look really at how writers write, and how we get the best out of ourselves, we began to find out that, you know, our progress as writers really wasn't quite so linear, it was more circular.

(classroom scene)
So you describe the clothing so well, so maybe link the clothing or, like the rubies to him.
You know, or like, like, link to him. As you always see him at this place, then explain one of them, you know, so.
Girl: <reading> A single ruby on another gold chain rests in the hollow of my throat. I notice that it is an intricate rose pattern before raising my hands to push the doors open. Before I can even touch them they swing away, and I walk into the next room.

Pete Shaheen: The way that I begin is, first of all, through observation. I let students talk, and I look at what students do in seminar, and how they come to seminar. And then I, and then one day I'll just say, "Okay, today is your seminar. I'm not gonna say a word."

(classroom scene)
Girl: Suddenly the realization of what's happening hits me, and I stop dead, my heart pounds and becomes frozen in place. I mean I don't even know if I should be here; I don't even know what's going on. I don't know why that melody is so spellbinding. I start to feel the cold grips, the cold grips of fear surround me. At the same time I can't stop watching him.
Pete: Before we move on to our next reader let me suggest again that we all have an obligation to one another to jump in. Okay? And if that puts a little pressure on you, that's okay, too, but I need you to jump in, and I need you, we can't make decisions about what we're going to do to our writing if we don't have the input. That's why we all have to jump in. It's part of our obligation as listeners and its part of our need as writers is to get that feedback.
: Like the thing, the lines that, like, really got to me were when they were talking about like the six kids, and do you even remember their names. And um, why did I leave, yeah, like that was so sad. It's just like, sort of, the mood of the whole thing. Even in all the confusion.

Pete Shaheen:  In the beginning of the year, I'm more text driven. I'm trying to help students develop the experience, build the bridges from their own experience to text, so that they can continue to build bridges. Now at some point in the year they're gonna understand for themselves how to build bridges from text.

(classroom scene)
We decided that we didn't spend that much time on the five senses, and because it is so important 'cause you use it, like perceptional voyage, the, um, what else do you use it for?…Exploring the moment. Like all the other writers say, you need the five senses, so what we decided to do is we're going to have five different stations where you're going to test out one of the five senses. So we need you guys to have a piece of paper and a pencil so you can write, too.

Pete Shaheen: There's never really a clear process in terms of scaffolding and unscaffolding. I would say the process is continuous. You're constantly building up the scaffold and reflecting about how you got there. So, it's through that reflection that you're able to build more and solidify your foundations, I think. So when I ask them questions about how you get to your decision, I'm asking, I'm really asking them to be reflective.

(classroom scene)
So then you write, maybe put your left hand in there and write with your right hands…
Write about what I feel?
Girl: Yeah, like how it feels, like, you know, is it smooth is like… There's nothing sharp in there – it's not gonna hurt you.
Girl: And use descriptive words that focus on smell, nothing else, just smell.

Pete Shaheen: Moving a student from the point where they're a novice to the point where they're expert enough that they don't need a teacher to look over their shoulder is, again, an individual process. Every student is a little bit different. Some students barely need to be nudged at all, and others need, I think, more prodding.

But the signs that I think I find of, of a student who's ready to move on, first of all, look at the reading that a student does. If a student, if you have a reading that you hand out to students, and they come back to class, and they make notes in the margins of the reading, and they have questions, that's a, that's a pretty good indication that they're engaging in the materials and that they're beginning to get themselves ready to move on in the process. Another sign is you just listen to the student. Is the student willing to take some risks? 

(classroom scene)
Boy: Well, in our writing it's important to include many of the senses (loud noise) sometimes people neglect to, to do sound, and it's a very important sense, it can evoke a lot of emotion into your writing. I think it's important that um, that we include that, so I have a CD here. I want you all to listen to it and imagine you're in the middle of it, and write about it, and try to emphasize the sense in your writing, and just go crazy.

Pete Shaheen: Writing plays an interesting role in the apprentic..apprenticeship of students learning here. And the reason it plays an, an interesting role is it's different than some traditional notions would, would have it. It used to be writing was a solitary activity, but writing is a collective, collaborative effort now. We'll sit in response groups after we have a seminar like this and we'll jot down id..our ideas. At the end of class today I said "Go home and write about what you think is the ethical use of language."

And now we'll come back and, and we'll talk together about what is their perception based on their papers. And we'll critique one another in the same sort of democratic forum that we had, where students will be asked to defend their ideas.

(classroom scene)
Girl: Um, what's the word I am looking for? It almost seems it was just broken down to the bare thoughts, exactly what you where thinking, there wasn't a lot of, um, mindless words, so to speak. It was more as if you were saying exactly what's on your mind without trying to put it into any kind of formal format.
Pete: Not to pick on you, but you said you had a lot of cool imagery, right?
Okay, so if you could give us an example. Now this is why it's important because as we know writing is revision, right? Sometimes you've got to cut out a really good part of writing, um, to save the piece.
If you're going to say that, then I would have to say especially that first introductory part – the imagery, the way it followed, like, I could really follow that well, and just in terms of the imagery, not in terms of what it was trying to say, but in terms of the imagery, I could follow that well.
And that gives her more information, doesn't it, when she goes to make those revisions, it helps her weigh what she is going to cut.

Pete Shaheen: Authentic learning is repeatable. It's something that happens over time. It's something that allows for failure and then allows for people to retry and rebuild. It becomes a state of mind.

Annemarie Palincsar: Another characteristic of a cognitive apprenticeship is always being mindful of ways in which you're trying to cede control of the learning to the learners. And so you see that, I think, wonderfully illustrated in Mr. Shaheen's class, because the students are working in small groups. They're responsible for a lot of the design work, how they're going to demonstrate what they've learned, how they're going to communicate to others. He's touching base with them about the processes by which they're learning or engaging in this, but it, it's clear to me that his emphasis is really on imparting control to the students for this learning activity.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Students' accomplishments in this kind of classroom may look almost effortless, but they are made possible by the nearly invisible structures the teacher puts in place.

Pete Shaheen figures out what kind of guidance to give and when to let students stretch out on their own by watching and listening closely for clues about what they understand and where they are struggling.

While he is quick to offer support as needed, reminding students of what to look for in their writing, and modeling strategies where they are timely, he is equally quick to back off. This is the concept we call fading - it encourages his students' independence.

Annemarie Palincsar: So their expectation is that students are going to be successful, given adequate support, rather than kind of piecemeal, or providing more support, and kind of nudging children along. Set up challenging tasks, know what you're looking for, know what children are bringing to this, because you've watched children carefully, you've listened to children's thinking and their ideas, and then you can make decisions about – alright, given where I want them to go, what kind of support or assistance are they going to need. Whether that's basic skills in reading and writing or a language, or other resources that they can use, or other contacts, more powerful activities that will help them to attain those goals.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Much of the momentum for students' efforts in a cognitive apprenticeship is the real world context for their learning.

When our students see the larger purpose behind what they're practicing in class, they're much more motivated to master these lessons and apply them creatively in their everyday lives.

This is The Learning Classroom, thanks for watching.

Return to the Support Materials for Session 8

Contributors to this Session

Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University

Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar
Jane and Charles Walgreen Professor of Reading and Literacy, University of Michigan

Daryl Robbins
fifth and sixth grade teacher, Birmingham Covington School, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Pete Shaheen
writing teacher, Birmingham Seaholm High School, Birmingham, Michigan