Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

A Cognitive Strategy Scaffolding Approach to Facilitating Reflection in Engineering Students

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

A Cognitive Strategy Scaffolding Approach to Facilitating Reflection in Engineering Students

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Research has shown that cognitive strategy scaffolding (CSS) is a very effective way to teach ill-defined (non-algorithmic) skills (Rosenshine 1995, 2009). The CSS methodology involves the following steps:

Step 1. Find experts in the desired skill(s) and identify the cognitive strategies they use as they exercise their skill(s).

Step 2. Develop prompts which assist the learner to engage with the cognitive strategies identified in Step 1. The prompts may be such things as checklists, targeted questions, hints, examples, models, suggestions and pertinent analogies.

Step 3. Engage the learner in practicing the cognitive strategies with the assistance of the prompts developed in Step 2.

Reflection, of course, is a non-algorithmic skill and is therefore a prime candidate for the CSS approach. There has been a good deal of research into using CSS to help children to reflect with the most notable investigation probably being the work of Palincsar and Brown (1984). This work was initially motivated by the finding that a key difference between high achieving children and low achieving children was that the high achieving children tended to reflect as they read, whereas the low achieving ones did not. If the low achieving children came across a passage in their reading which they did not comprehend, they tended not to slow down; they simply kept reading. The high achieving children, on the other hand, tended to slow down when they lacked understanding and engaged in reflection to try and acquire better understanding.

Palincsar and Brown found that there were four key cognitive strategies which experts used for reflection during reading (Brown, Palincsar, and Armbruster 1984). They were as follows:

(1) summarising,

(2) question generating,

(3) clarification and

(4) prediction.

They hypothesised that they could help low achieving children to improve their reading skills through an intervention in which appropriate reflection scaffolds were provided. These scaffolds consisted of a variety of prompts to help the children engage with each of the four cognitive strategies listed above. They put all the children into groups of two, with each child taking it in turns to help the other one to practice their cognitive strategy development. Clear examples were regularly given to the children on how to provide this assistance so that they were not overwhelmed by the experience.

Devising good CSS strategies is not enough to ensure development of good skill development. It is also important to provide the right motivational prompts. In Palincsar and Brown's implementation of CSS, they instinctively aligned their intervention with what subsequent research studies have shown to trigger effective motivation.

Motivation can be facilitated extrinsically or intrinsically. Extrinsic motivation is much easier to provide (via assessment credits or demerits) but it usually diminishes intrinsic motivation and is therefore counterproductive in the long term. Research also suggests that once intrinsic motivation is lost, it is hard to win back (Shirky 2010). The long-term disadvantage of extrinsic motivation tends to arise because students typically believe that when rewards or punishments are being dispensed someone is attempting to control them. While extrinsic motivation is usually counterproductive, it is not always so. People can willingly embrace extrinsic motivation without losing their intrinsic motivation if they believe the rewards/punishments are being applied out of a sense of care rather than out of a desire to control (Deci and Ryan 2008).

More generally, motivation tends to be facilitated when people are provided with (Deci and Ryan 2008):

(1) a sense of mastery,

(2) a sense of autonomy and

(3) an opportunity to relate to others in a positive way (particularly when they have an opportunity for help giving and help receiving). …

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