Nina's Notes

for Effective Teaching and Meaningful Learning

Cognitive Tools for Effective Teaching


Cognitive tools make teaching and learning easy and effective. Viewing learning as a student-centered and dynamic process where learners are active participants, it strives to understand the reasons behind behavioural patterns.  Students are in control of their own learning (what a relief for a teacher, don't you think!?) and are guided towards autonomous learning, where the motives are intrinsic (Deci et al.1999) and learning is meaningful.


The emphasis in cognitive approach is in supporting students' development and capacity for autonomy and independent learning. Think about helping your students to understand themselves, and recognize their own preferred ways of working, thinking and learning. Students' skillful performance on tasks or problem solving situations are in the focus of cognitive approach, as well as the reflection of learning. Cognitive approach equips students with the ability to self-direct their performance, and provides tools for students to increase their self-regulation and thus helps students to manage their own behaviour.


Teaching with cognitive approach is easy. Teachers share the tools for understanding with students, who become more competent in their own learning  and begin visualizing the more complex thoughts by analyzing and categorizing them. Self-determination theory shows how intrinsic motivation (i.e. doing something because it is interesting and meaningful) leads to higher quality learning, which also helps student be more competent and confident.


Curriculum and instruction (Hoffman & Field 1995) should be modified to get the best results, but teachers can start simply by using more of performance assessments instead the objective ones (that have a single one correct answer), and thus provide more space for students thinking. The teacher should also model her own way of thinking by showing the steps how she found the solution and explain students how there usually are more than just one way to accomplish the given task. One great tool for this is making students explain each other what they think. With a very small practice it is easy to engage even the very young students into this sharing and explaining.


Please, check the 3C Framework for further ideas, and follow the links in this article!






Deci, E.L., Koestner, R. & Ryan, R.M. (1999). A Meta-Analytic Review of Experiments Examining the Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 125, No. 6, pp. 627-66


Hoffman, A. & Field, S. (1995). Promoting self-determination through effective curriculum development. Intervention in School and Clinic, Vol. 30(3),134-141



More about cognitive tools in teaching

Cognitive skills are the most important ones to predict the academic success in the future. Providing opportunites for reasoning using logic during the learnign process increses the thinking abilities enormously. If you are only doing what you are told to then there is not much need to think for yourself. 


The way we approach learning and whether we believe in our abilities are huge processes that are running all the time behind student performance. That is why I believe it is way more productive to build strong learners than measure shallow performance. 


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