07 September 2010

Teaching Appropriate to Cognitive Levels of Students


I see lots of good teaching in our schools; there are times, though, when I am really bothered by the instruction which does not appear to be appropriate for the developmental level of the students. Would anyone expect a 4th grader to palm a basketball? Probably not – and when I ask the question, I often get these strange looks – and sometimes questions about why I would even ask a question like that. True; we can see the obvious inability of the child to palm a basketball – the hands just are not big enough; to require the youngster to do it anyway would just lead to frustration. But, how often do we ask children to do something that they are not cognitively ready to do? And what kind of frustrations result?


I remember having an orientation session for incoming middle school students; the students were invited to come to the building before school opened and practice walking to their classes, lockers, cafeteria, etc. At the end of one of the tour days, I found a note in the lobby, apparently dropped by one of the incoming students. On that note was written:


1. In through caf right door

2. Strait until exit 8
3. Up to top, turn right
4. First room on right – 225
5. Go down corridor, pass first room – next on left 222
6. Down hall, turn left
7. Strait till exit 5
8. Continue to branch
9. Turn left (English)

10. Go back to exit 5

11. Turn right 3 times

12. First room on right – 218

13. Down exit 5

14. Turn right 2 times

15. Go through 119 to 121

16. Back to exit 5

17. Turn right 3 times

18. Second room on right

19. Back to 5 to gym

20. Back to 5 – turn


Obviously a very concrete thinker who needed specific directions for everything that needed to be done the first day.


A couple of days later, I was in the lobby and saw one of the incoming students looking at the pictures we had in the lobby – honor students, various awards, etc. I spoke to the student about what he was looking at – he seemed to be in such deep concentration. He replied,

Well, when I was thinking about all the people that come here and how all the awards for academics and sports have been forgotten, and, how if you look the names, you don’t know any of them. It makes you think – will anyone remember me?

What a difference in the cognitive levels of two incoming students – how can we teach these students in the same way? One is much more concrete while the second is already at an abstract thinking stage. We need to remember that there is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequal people.

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