How to Enhance Your Students’ Cognitive Skills

The United States’ National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) defines cognitive ability as the ability to “perform the various mental activities most closely associated with learning and problem solving.” A student’s cognitive abilities broadly include his or her verbal processing, psychomotor, and spatial skills, as well as his or her general fluid intelligence and ability to reason and logic. These skills can be measured by specific tasks like the following: verbal short-term memory; complex memory span; sentence repetition; nonverbal ability; phonological awareness.

Researchers have found that many of these skills peak in test subjects who were in their late teens or early twenties. Cognitive skills are involved when a student thinks, reads, learns, solves problems, and recalls stored knowledge or information. They are thus essential in allowing students to effectively process new information, retain it for future use and consolidate it with what he or she already knows. There is sufficient research to establish that a student’s ability to “store and manipulate information in short-term memory” is closely linked to academic achievements over multiple years of schooling the areas such as reading, mathematics, and language comprehension.

While researchers are looking into more sophisticated methods of understanding and analysing students’ cognitive skills and tracking how they develop over time, more practical-minded educators are understandably interested in learning how they can help improve the cognitive skills of the students in their respective classrooms. A 2013 journal article published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest outlines various learning techniques that can help you achieve just that:

  1. Elaborative Interrogation

Research on elaborative interrogation has demonstrated that students learn more effectively when they are prompted to answer the question “Why?” Instead of simply having them passively digest a list of facts and information, you should encourage them to verbalise explanations for the facts that they have just been presented with. This can take the form of questions like “Why is this true?”, “Why is this true for [X] and not [Y]?” or “Why does it make sense that …?”

 

  1. Self-explanation

Studies have demonstrated that students perform better on a wide range of learning outcomes (e.g. memory, comprehension and transfer) when prompted to explain an aspect (or more) of their processing while they are learning. The prompts given can be content specific or content-free (e.g. “And how does [X] relate to what you already know?”).

  1. Summarisation

Summarisation is a valuable tool that helps students to identify important information and how different ideas are interconnected when they digest large volumes of information. Summarisation helps to improve learning and retention because it prompts students to extract the higher-level meaning of what they learn.

  1. Practice Testing

Students may view tests as a highly undesirable component of their education (especially when they are mainly exposed to high-stakes examinations). However, studies have shown that practice testing improves learning and retention. This happens via direct effects (where a learning change occurs due to the taking of the test) and mediated effects (where learning change occurs because of the influence a test has on subsequent encoding). You can thus have students participate in various forms of low-stakes tests, and encourage them to test themselves on their own.

  1. Distributed Practice

Distributed practice is the exact opposite of cramming, where students organize many learning opportunities and goals within a short time span. Research has proven that a more distributed form of learning is more effective. This includes both spacing effects (where the practice opportunities are spread out over a wide period of time) and lag effects (longer lags between practice sessions are needed if the material is to be retained over a longer period of time). Teachers have to work against how textbooks are normally organized (revision of material that was previously learned is usually not a feature) and how students tend to procrastinate to impart the benefits of distributed practice.

At the end of the day, there are many different ways to enhance your students’ cognitive skills. The efficacy of each method depends on the type of material you need to impart and the learning style of your students. Try your hand at implementing some of these methods, and keep track of which ones work best for you.


Author Bio

Robert Wilson was born and raised in Malaysia. He is working as a blogger for ChampionTutor which provides Best Home Tutor. He’s hardworking, competent and trustworthy. His role within the company is to manage a team of Tutors. In his spare time, he loves to read, write and watch movies.

12 thoughts on “How to Enhance Your Students’ Cognitive Skills

  1. Cognitive skill is very important to a child and it should be impregnated during his/her childhood age and Robert Sir helped it in a very nice way. Actually, I wish more tutors are needed in our education system. Who will not only teach also work as a mentor.

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  2. Elaborative Interrogation is a fantastic way in getting students to remember content they just learned. It’s also a great way in encouraging students to verbalise their thoughts and express themselves. Research on elaborative interrogation has demonstrated that students learn more effectively when they are prompted to answer the question “Why?” Instead of simply having them passively digest a list of facts and information, you should encourage them to verbalise explanations for the facts that they have just been presented with. This can take the form of questions like “Why is this true?”, “Why is this true for [X] and not [Y]?” or “Why does it make sense that …?”

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    • That being said, there’s a huge emphasis on written responses. Written responses and the amount of time you have with students in class limits many teachers from being able to practice this effectively.

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      • If you’re worried about time constraints within the lesson, self explanation is an effective way to enhance cognitive development too. If studies have demonstrated that students perform better on a wide range of learning outcomes (e.g. memory, comprehension and transfer) when prompted to explain an aspect (or more) of their processing while they are learning then as teachers we definitely should encourage or prompt students into considering how it can relate to their own public or personal worlds. These kinds of questions or prompts can be quick and brief like, “How does this affect us?”. The discussion could range from 5 to 10 minutes (at most).

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  3. Some schools will support this kind of teaching pedagogy. Other schools, that I know of, have a rather strict and professional learning culture where it is not encouraged for students or teachers to discuss personal matters as it’s considered wasting learning time.

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    • You do not need to go into personal matters. Instead you can discuss how it can affect the students in their public sphere. That way you can avoid discussing personal matters and focus on relevance within the contemporary society. It’s enriching for students to understand how learning the content they are taught is actually relevant and significant in their everyday lives. It’s good as it provides rationale and encourages engagement. From recollection, one of the the teaching standards is; (Stage 5 – Outcome 1) for students to explore real and imagined (including virtual) worlds through close and wide reading and viewing of increasingly demanding texts. So you can explain to your unit coordinators the relevance of leading these kinds of discussions.

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  4. With written responses you can nail this in homework tasks. Summarisation is a valuable tool that helps students to identify important information and how different ideas are interconnected when they digest large volumes of information. Summarisation helps to improve learning and retention because it prompts students to extract the higher-level meaning of what they learn. You can easily set paragraph summaries for students to complete at home. Within these paragraph summaries you can ask elaborative interrogation or self explanation kind of questions.

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