Critique of Cognitive Apprenticeship Written by Brill, Kim, and Galloway

Janet Hood
University of Houston

The chapter begins with two different fourth grade classroom scenarios, followed by a description of the teaching approach called cognitive apprenticeship. Each of 6 characteristics of cognitive apprenticeship; modeling, coaching, scaffolding, reflection, articulation, and exploration is described with an explanation of how it was applied in the two classrooms. Two examples of the application of cognitive apprenticeship in the real world and a discussion of implications for teaching and learning concludes the chapter.

Before reading the chapter I was not sure of the definition of cognitive apprenticeship or traditional apprenticeship, so wanted a general overview of it before deciding whether to read more. I was somewhat confused by beginning the reading with two scenarios and no other introduction. It was not clear if they were both meant to be illustrations of the same practice or not. A short definition or introduction at the very beginning would be helpful. While it may have been the intention for the reader to construct the definition or to pique an interest, it turned out the examples were not clearly one thing or the other, and I did not feel like reading through long stories before I knew if the basic subject would even interest me. It turned out that one was a good example and the other had a few aspects of cognitive apprenticeship, but it wasn’t clear without much more reading.

After the stories, it was still a while before cognitive apprenticeship was defined. The Flash animation illustrating the Parthenon-like support pillars which were the six characteristics of cognitive apprenticeship was effective imagery. I would also like to have those characteristics listed in the narrative at that point. as I had to print out the chapter to read through it for the first time when I would not have computer or internet availability while riding the bus to work. I was left wondering what the six pillars were. Even upon reading the sections about them later on, some of the pillars were grouped in pairs and I was left to count the words to see if they totaled six.

It was helpful that before trying to define cognitive apprenticeship, the authors placed it in context with anchored instruction, learning communities, and in-situ assessment as educational approaches derived from situated learning theory. They distinguished it as an approach derived from a theory, rather than a theory itself. At this point I thought I was getting to find out exactly what cognitive apprenticeship was, but from the chapter reading was never entirely clear exactly how cognitive apprenticeship is similar to or differs from traditional apprenticeship.

Although the major references are there, I needed to do some digging on my own by reading Collins, Brown, and Holum, who describe cognitive apprenticeship is “a model of instruction that goes back to apprenticeship, but incorporates elements of schooling.” In contrast to traditional apprenticeship in which “the processes of the activity are visible… cognitive apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible” in areas such as mathematics, writing, and reading. The student’s and the teacher’s thinking process must be made visible one to the other. In addition, “teachers need to: situate abstract tasks in authentic contexts, so that students understand the relevance of the work, and vary the diversity of situations and articulate the common aspects so that students can transfer what they learn.” Another clarification is that the characteristics of traditional apprenticeship only include the first 4 out of 6 for cognitive apprenticeship.

There is a statement that I question on page 6 of the chapter about children not being able and it not being desirable for them to experience all aspects of the typical craft apprenticeship. There is no clear reference to support this statement. What about the training of a musician which usually begins in childhood with a traditional apprenticeship approach? This also made me wonder if in many traditional apprenticeship scenarios there may be more of a cognitive element including some articulation and reflection than what is assumed in the readings, (both by experts and in this chapter).

In addition to defining the title of the article in more detail, a few other brief definitions would be helpful. Although it is probably assumed that most readers have some background, perhaps community of practice, mentioned at least three times, should be defined especially as it is not one of the chapters in the Wikibook. After 30 hours in a masters program in education, I finally heard of it in a recent class. The acronym MKO (more knowledgable other) confused me until I was able to play the flash animation. Wikibook may imply electronic access, it should not be assumed that all the reading of it will be done when it is available.

The two real world examples were not enough. The link to one of them was not available anymore. Because this is always a possibility with the internet, it would be better to describe the example as well or the reference quickly becomes outdated. I would have liked some more discussion of how problems in the world could be solved by this method of education. One issue might be how to choose a model/mentor. It may be an advantage to have several models, giving a broad perspective and showing many ways to do something, or several different thought processes. This was shown in Mrs. Reed’s classroom. More discussion of teaching methods using the cognitive apprenticeship model in adult education would be interesting. This article is written mostly from the elementary school perspective, for instance referring to an apprenticeship as always being between an adult and a child, rather than between an expert/mentor and a learner.

Despite most of my critique being suggestions for improving the chapter, it is a valuable reference, especially in the descriptions of how each of the 6 characteristics of cognitive apprenticeship were used in the two classrooms. The overall organization of the paper was good other than the initial lack of a definition. The powerpoint game at the end was fun, but I was not able to open the videos. The relating of cognitive apprenticeship to other learning situations and theories was useful to put it in context, as was the discussion of it’s benefits and challenges. The list of references seemed complete, although they may not have all been cited. The chapter definitely kept me interested and motivated to learn more about the method in order to use it in practice.