Articulation and Reflection

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Tina Harkness, Chandra Porter, Dana Hettich
Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia

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Mrs. Smart is teaching a 12th grade AP U.S. History unit on politics and the election process in the United States in conjunction with the mid-term elections that are set for November 7th. She wants the students to be engaged in the classroom unit so they will have a desire to be engaged in the actual election process. There are quite a few students in her class who have just turned 18 and will be able to vote in the upcoming election. The rest of her students will soon be 18, and she wants them to understand and be engaged in the election process so they will be more likely to vote in the next election.

The students in Mrs. Smart's class are very opinionated and have a basic knowledge of the electoral process. However, they do not understand the importance of debate and how to effectively communicate their opinions to others while being respectful of other's opinions.

Mrs. Smart has been searching for an instructional strategy that will help her accomplish three goals:

  • Enable her students to clearly and concisely present their opinions
  • Teach students to incorporate others' opinions into their own thinking
  • Enable students to articulate this new thinking to others

Mrs. Smart was browsing the Web one day during her planning period and stumbled upon the instructional model Cognitive Apprenticeship and two of its classic teaching methods: Articulation and Reflection.

Mrs. Smart thought Articulation and Reflection could help with her AP U.S. History class. She remembers the adage that "all politics are local" and that discussing political issues requires social interaction. While becoming an "expert" in politics is truly subjective, the students can become "more knowledgeable others" about the various political issues that are impacting the upcoming elections. They could then share their knowledge with other students outside the class and encourage others to vote and become politically active. Mrs. Smart decides to explore Articulation and Reflection further.

After finding out more about Articulation and Reflection, Mrs. Smart realizes that politics are Articulation and Reflection. Speeches and debates are an example of candidates articulating their point of view on an issue. Taking into account other people's point of view and shaping that with your own point of view is Reflection. She decides that she can incorporate this teaching strategy into her politics and election unit.

Her students will frequently be provided the opportunity to articulate and reflect on their ideas through writing speeches and verbally delivering them. Mrs. Smart also plans to include time for her students to watch current political figures give speeches and debate issues. She will also bring in local political figures to give the students an opportunity to learn from "experts" about their Articulation and Reflection process. They will have great opportunities to improve their verbal and written skills, as well as their decision-making skills. By developing an opinion on political issues, students have to be aware of how that opinion would affect others if the opinion were to turn into a vote on legislation. This Reflection of the political process enables students to think about how their decisions would affect others. This will enhance their ability to analyze situations and increase their level of decision-making ability.

Mrs. Smart sees this teaching strategy as a way to get her students involved not only in the classroom, but also in the political process outside the classroom. Articulation and Reflection lead to a dynamic learning environment that engages and enhances student learning.

The Origins of Articulation and Reflection

Articulation and Reflection (A&R) are methods of instruction connected to Cognitive Apprenticeship and fall under the umbrella of Situated Cognition Theory. In other words, these methods are associated with a move away from viewing the learning process as mechanistic and towards the conceptualization of learning as something "emergent and social" (Brill, 2001). Situated Cognition Theory posits that cooperative efforts result in the best acquisition of knowledge. Indeed, it follows that only through interactions with one's peers and environment can a learner negotiate comprehension (Stein, 1998).

More directly, Articulation and Reflection are two parts of Cognitive Apprenticeship that strive to "place teaching and learning& within a rich and varied context that is meaningful and authentic to students" (Brill, Kim, and Galloway, 2001, p.20).

As we have learned, Cognitive Apprenticeship relies on social interaction, similar to the environment in which masters and apprentices of skilled trades and crafts have historically engaged in learning. The idea presumes that the newcomers should be acculturated into an established community of practice by way of observation and participation on the periphery. As learners become more confident in ability and more skilled in practice, the teachers and communities gradually cede control, resulting in the movement of novices from the fringes into the body of the community where they can participate and produce as equals (Bonk, 1998).

As such, Articulation and Reflection work together as a pedagogical strategy. Reflection skills promote critical thinking and students' construction of knowledge. Articulation skills give students the ability to communicate that knowledge with others. These methods of instruction give students the opportunity to express what they are learning as it relates to their own learning experience and to self-evaluate their process.

The ideal, as presented in the Cognitive Apprenticeship chapter, is that through using the five teaching methods of modeling, coaching, scaffolding, reflection and articulation, the teacher can guide the learner down the path of becoming an expert by providing opportunities to succeed based on the individual need or previous experiences of the learner. Ultimately the learner can take on the role as expert or the more knowledgeable other. Because this learning process is somewhat cyclical in nature, the order of the methods utilized is in flux. Articulation and Reflection of the process or problem could take place many times before the learner becomes an expert.

The reality, or so it seems, is that of the five instructional methods, Articulation and Reflection are the least exhaustively discussed in the literature. Indeed, Articulation and Reflection are rather the red-headed-step-children of Cognitive Apprenticeship. We could hazard a guess that the reason for this is that researchers have a difficult time measuring the learning outcomes of Articulation and Reflection. After all, in the educational setting, we are neither tested on our abilities to ask questions in an articulate manner nor are we frequently asked to reflect on the process by which we came by our answer. Or perhaps, because the asking and answering of questions is so closely tied to the teaching and learning process, we, as teachers, are not as capable of separating the method from its use. Nonetheless, there still is little information regarding Articulation and Reflection that exists separately from Cognitive Apprenticeship. As demonstrated in our e-book chapter, A&R rarely receives more than a cursory nod.

For Mrs. Smart, teaching a unit on politics never seems to engage the students to the extent that it did for Mrs. Smart when she was younger. One of the basic fundamentals of Cognitive Apprenticeship is teaching within a varied and authentic context. Mrs. Smart focuses the debate and discussion in her class on issues that are relevant to the students. For example, her state is considering an initiative that would require students to maintain a 2.0 GPA in order to obtain a driver's license. Because this issue directly affects her students in a real-world context, she believes her students will be more likely to be fully engaged in the unit.

What Does It Mean?

Articulation and Reflection focus on the importance of learners' abilities to express their ideas either out-loud or in writing. For many who majored in writing and reading intensive subjects in college, Reflection is a familiar, if somewhat dreaded, process. Recall how many reflection papers you were asked to write or how many "discussions" you participated in during college. This process is an old one, as even Socrates demanded that his students be able to formulate answers to questions and ask questions of themselves (Daudelin, 1996).

Yet, the question and answering need not take place only between teacher and learner. As defined by Cognitive Apprenticeship, the collaboration between peers provides varied opportunities for students to cultivate explanatory analysis as the formation of an argument or explanation immediately lends itself to the opportunity to examine one's own thought processes (Goodman, 1998). Meanwhile, as we will discuss later, who or what can act as a peer is changing as technology introduces new opportunities for learners.

This is supposed to be a flash animation. You'll need the flash plugin and a browser that supports it to view it.

Caption: Articulation and Reflection can often times be confused to be focused for the most part on content; however the cognitive approach on articulation and reflection focuses primarily on the cognitive processes rather than content. The animation above illustrates the difference between Articulation and Reflection as it refers to content and cognitive processes respectively. The animation first illustrates the non-cognitive A & R that is focused primarily on content, whereas, the cognitive A & R is focused primarily on cognitive processes as opposed to content. For the non-cognitive approach students watch political debates and read online articles about a local law to gain “content-related” background on that law. They then articulate their ideas verbally- delivering them during a mock debate session. Also, students reflect on the political debates/speeches and use those ideas along with their own to develop a speech. To illustrate A & R as it refers to cognitive apprenticeship, the animation shows that through Articulation, students are able to expose and verbalize the thinking process taken to solve a problem in order to help their peers make the same decisions. It then illustrates that Reflection in the cognitive sense is focused primarily on looking back on the thinking process taken to solve a problem and thinking of ways to improve upon those decisions. In summary, the cognitive approach on A & R seeks to provide ways in which students can interpret and voice exactly what is going on in his/her head (the thinking process) when making decisions to solve a problem. This animation was designed and developed by Jea Choi, Heusion Lim and Trudian Trail (2007).

What is Reflection?

And so, what is Reflection? At its most basic, Reflection enables students to compare the route by which they find answers to the route taken by others. Those "others" can include experts, peers, or even themselves in a different context.

The idea of Reflection in education first emerged in the writings of John Dewey, who defined Reflection in 1933 as "active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends" (Dewey, 1933, p. 9). Dewey distinguished between primary and secondary experiences and believed that Reflection was the secondary experience, beginning when the primary experience fails to meet the needs of the learner (Miettinen, 2000). It is this failure of expectation, this moment when one's habitual problem solving does not work any longer, that gives rise to Reflection and learning.

Dewey divided the Reflection process into five stages, the first of which is "the indeterminate situation," during which routine ways of doing things fail to meet the needs of the problem solver (Miettinen, 2000, p.66). This starting point is a disturbance in the normal flow of activity. During the second stage, the learners define the problem. As the learners attempt to adequately define an issue, they can inadvertently gain insight into the conditions by which she can remedy the situation. This leads immediately to stage three, which involves consciously studying the circumstances of the predicament and analyzing the means and resources available for resolution. At this time the learner can construct possible working hypotheses, searching her memory for similar situations or imagining how someone else might handle the same situation. Stage four is the time for reasoning, when the learner thinks through the hypotheses, testing and evaluating the likelihood of their success. Finally, in stage five, the learner acts, testing a hypothesis to see if it will work to resolve the problem.

Based on the reflective process, good reflective activities encourage students to do more than simply "analyze their performance, contrast their actions to those others and ... compare their actions to those of novices and experts" (Goodman, 1998, p. 242). According to Mezirow, making use of the existing knowledge of peers and experts without attempting to appraise that knowledge based on one's thoughts and feelings does not fall into the realm of reflective action. Instead, reflective actions have the learners taking the time to pick apart the "content" of what they think, feel, or do. Alternatively, the learners can look at the "process" of how they actually execute the acting, thinking, or feeling. The third and most transformative of Mezirow's active reflections involve learners who analyze the "premise" on which they base all these thoughts and feelings. Perhaps the easiest way to think about these modes of Reflection is to try to answer the questions "what?" , "how?" , and "why?" in relation to a problem. By providing opportunities for learners to examine these questions, the teacher gives them a chance to examine their context in relation to society (Kember, Jones, & Loke, 1999).

Mrs. Smart first has her students form an opinion on the new law being considered by the state requiring students to maintain a 2.0 GPA to obtain their driver's license. She provides the actual House Bill for the students to read and also any newspaper clippings and videotape of opinions already formed about the bill. Her students must keep a journal and reflect and react to the actual piece of legislation as well the opinions they see and hear from the newspaper and television reports. Based on this reflection, students should develop their own opinion about the new law.

What is Articulation?

At its core, Articulation is the actual process that a learner goes through to explain to other learners what problem solving activities have occurred. This explanation can also include future recommendations and perceived consequences (Goodman, Soller, Linton, & Gaimari, 1998). Like Batman needs his trusty sidekick Robin, Reflection cannot exist without Articulation, for together they provide learners with opportunities to be active participants in a "risk free environment" (Derrick, 2005, p.5). Once learners become comfortable with the skills necessary for Reflection and Articulation, they can find that Articulation can lead to a different level of Reflection.

This cycle can occur repeatedly during a discussion or problem-solving event among peers and teachers. For example, a student could develop a theory about why the sky is blue and then explain the theory to another student. In turn that second student might reflect on this theory and then articulate one of their own. The focus of this activity would not necessarily lead to the correct scientific theory, but it would provide an opportunity for the student to use abstract critical thinking skills and practice communicating the process of arriving at their theory through discourse with another student. Thus, Articulation not only helps learners retain information, but it also "illuminates the coherence of current understanding" (Koschmann, 1995, p. 93). By forcing the student to actually commit to her knowledge of a subject, Articulation sets the stage for future opportunities of assessing and evaluating that knowledge (Koschmann, 1995).

Some of the best activities for Articulation simply provide opportunities for learners to participate in dialogue or discourse. Good Articulation requires time and practice.

Although this seems rather natural, Articulation is a skill that must be developed. Opportunities for Articulation in a safe educational environment with ample time to explain ideas can help develop learners' Articulation skills.

When done well, the dialogue can play an "important role as part of an interactive learning mechanism (Cook, Oliver, & Conole, 2001, p. 2). Learning occurs through Articulation within groups of learners when they have the time to share interpretations of what they are learning. In these "communities of practice" learners have the opportunity to challenge each other through discussions or presentations as "learning becomes a process of reflecting, interpreting, and negotiating meaning" through narratives (Stein, 1998, p.3-4).

After her students formed their opinions about the new law, the students will give speeches articulating their position on the new driver's license law. Students will have the opportunity to discuss the impact of the new law with each other in small groups, creating a "community of practice" within the classroom. Mrs. Smart will focus on creating a conducive environment for her students to continue the reflection and articulation process.

Benefits of Articulation & Reflection

Enhancing Learning

In any type of learning situation, Articulation and Reflection can enhance the learning of every student. Articulation and Reflection force learners to examine the learning experience and to verbalize what they have learned. Using this teaching method in conjunction with modeling, coaching, scaffolding, and exploration can enhance learning of the engaged student. The learning process can be enhanced by encouraging students to reflect on what they have learned and be able to communicate what they are thinking.

(Goodman, Soller, Linton, & Gaimari, 1998). Yet, teachers must provide learners with the opportunity to utilize these skills on a regular basis. In order to support students during the learning process, reflective activities can be used to evaluate their performance. These activities can also be used to compare and contrast their actions to those of other novices and experts. (Collins, 1990, Goodman, Soller, Linton, & Gaimari, 1998).

Improving Critical Thinking Skills

Articulation and Reflection can be used to improve learner's critical thinking skills. Students should be able to ask questions, solve problems, investigate, analyze, and develop new knowledge. Reflection and Articulation are methods which are designed to help learners focus. By allowing them to focus, the teacher encourages the learner to more closely observe expert problem solving and to understand their own problem-solving strategies. This process encourages students to "develop a 'reflective practitioner' stance and to think critically about what they do" . (Kraus, 1996, p.20).

Improving Writing and Verbal Skills

Articulation and Reflection can be used to improve a learners' writing in many different areas. There are several strategies in A&R that encourage learners to express their knowledge and understanding of a topic. Students may gain additional insight while participating in cooperative learning activities. Strategies such as journaling, written problem-solving analyses, and critiquing others allow students to compare knowledge in any context. (Collins, 1991, Kraus, 1996, p.20). Teachers can incorporate these strategies into their lessons to enhance the learners writing skills. Verbal skills can also improve as students become used to articulating their understanding of the lesson with their peers and teacher. These methods encourage students to explain and reflect on their knowledge, ideas, goals, and problem-solving efforts. For example, group discussion and reflection seminars allow thinking to be observed and shared with group members (Kraus, 1996, p.20).

Improving Decision-Making Skills

In a cooperative learning environment, decision-making skills are crucial. A&R provides a context for students to use decision-making skills when analyzing their own performance as well as the performances of their peers, questioning what was learned, and deciding what other alternatives to the problem are possible. According to Goodman, Soller, Linton, & Gaimari, reflection enhances the learning of an exercise because it gives students an opportunity to review their previous actions and decisions before proceeding, enabling them to make more educated decisions later (p.242).

Challenges of Articulation & Reflection

Insufficient Research:

There is negligible current research published about Articulation and Reflection as a pertinent teaching method in education. Most existing research pertains to Cognitive Apprenticeship. More research is needed to show the effect of A&R in subjects such as math, social studies, and even in career-based programs. It would be interesting to see the use of A&R in these programs and the insight given by the teachers and the students. "The minimal amount of research on Articulation and Reflection in mathematics opens the door for further research in this area. In general, writing and Reflection are considered to worthwhile endeavors, but formal research is difficult to find" (Derrick, 2005, p.5).

Applications of A&R

K-12 Gifted education

Diezmann and Watters (1997) propose that Articulation and Reflection are key to meeting the needs of the gifted child because they provide opportunities for the learner to go beyond the normal classroom experience and become an actual generator of knowledge. In their proposal they recommend the use of Cognitive Apprenticeship because it "implies responsibilities for both the learner and the teacher". For Diezmann and Watters, a dialectic is created within Cognitive Apprenticeship, balancing the ability of the teacher to model, coach, and scaffold against the motivation of the learner to participate in articulation, reflection and exploration. The result is the acquisition of knowledge as synthesis. (Diezmann & Watters, p.9 and p.11)

Mathematics Education

Derrick (2005) used journal writing and sharing to explore whether Articulation and Reflection affected the amount of information learners retained from mathematics lessons. Again, by incorporating Cognitive Apprenticeship methods, the hope was that students would retain more of what they learned. The study was constructed using a pretest and posttest and concluded that the students who submitted journal responses did see an increase in their scores. The sole complication of this study emerges from the construction of the study itself, which cannot isolate Articulation and Reflection as the only reason for the increase in score.

The Natural Learning Environment

Creating a natural learning environment also utilizes Articulation and Reflection. According to Stein, a natural learning environment engages learners in solving authentic, non-routine problems likely to be encountered back on the job. Problem solving is collaborative, with participants contributing to the dialogue and constructing novel solutions. Articulation and Reflection can occur in any type of learning situation. It is very important for learners to be able to articulate what they are learning and to be able to reflect on their learning process and their learning outcomes. Cognitive apprenticeship, situated cognition, and natural learning environments allow for Articulation and Reflection to exist as learning strategies or approaches that are necessary to the learning environment.

Sample Application of A&R in Mrs. Smart's AP class

Mrs. Smart created a lesson that would incorporate Articulation and Reflection. Mrs. Smart obtained a copy of the gubernatorial debates that were previously televised. The students were given a brief biography of each candidate before viewing the debate. Mrs. Smart and the students held a discussion about the qualifications needed to become governor and the responsibilities of the position. After the discussion, the students viewed the debates.

During the debate, Mrs. Smart had the students to write down one of the questions posed to the candidates. At the end of the debate, the students reflected on what they learned about each candidate's platform. The students wrote whether they agreed or disagreed with the candidate's responses to the questions that were posed and how they felt about the candidate. After they completed their journal, students began to share their reflections with their peers.

Mrs. Smart set up a mock election and debate within her classroom. Some students volunteered to run as candidates in the mock election. The students had to campaign, hold a primary election, and develop questions for the debate. Mrs. Smart believed that this activity will enhance the students learning and provide them with an authentic learning experience. The students will be able to articulate what they learned in the unit and reflect on their experience through the use of the mock election and debate.


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APA Citation: Harkness, T., Porter, C., & Hettich, D. (2001). Articulation and Reflection. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from