Teacher Cognition (again)

All of us in higher education know about teacher cognition even if we are not familiar with the term. Because of our own educational experiences, by the time we get to university, we are all experts at teaching, and our university experiences simply sharpen that expertise. If we look at what Borg has said about teacher cognition, we can pull out some of the features that will help us understand how teacher cognition influences higher education.

  • teachers are influenced by their own experiences as learners;
  • these experiences act as a filter through which teachers interpret new information and experience;
  • previous educational experiences determine much of what we do in a classroom;
  • teacher cognition is deep-rooted and resistant to change;
  • educational experiences from k-12 through higher education exert a persistent long-term influence on teachers’ instructional practices;

In addition to some of Borg’s insights, we know that in higher education, the single largest influence on how we teach is how we were taught while at university.

The evidence we have for knowing our teaching expertise based on our own educational experience is incontrovertible, it is you! Just look at how brilliantly you turned out! Given how brilliant you are, the methods used to get you to where you are must be just as brilliant. Why wouldn’t you use them to make your students just like you? If they fail to get there, it isn’t your fault. You are proof of that. If they don’t measure up, it is the fault of the student.

We know that about 10% of the population consistently engage in formal operational thinking. I have no evidence for this, but I would think that those who end up in academic positions at universities would consistently use formal operational thinking in viewing the world around us. What that means is that we aren’t the same as most of our students. We somehow figured it out, in spite of the methods used to teach us. Why then would we continue to use the exact same methods that result in getting only about 40% of our graduates to demonstrate measurable improvements in their formal operational thinking ability?

We know that teacher cognition is deeply resistant to change which would be some of it. General inertia is some of it. A lack of interest on the part of the professoriate (8% will read anything about teaching this year). I think wilful blindness plays a big part. We know from mountains of evidence that what we are doing has been shown to be ineffective for learning, and yet we refuse to change.

Given how resistant to change teacher cognition is, all we can do is to keep talking about change and hope that the integrity of the individuals brings them to a state of real self-reflection and a desire to find out and then change.

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