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Information Processing
{{APA Citation|date=2001|author=Orey, M. |name=Information processing.|edited=March, 2005}}
<p align="center">In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology.<br/><br/>
Orey, M. (2001). Information processing. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Available Website: http://www.coe.uga.edu/epltt/InformationProcessing.htm.
{{Author|name=Michael Orey=Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia}}
Michael Orey
Information processing (IP) is a cognitive processing theory (see, Ashcraft, 1994). While other theories in this e-book are learning or instructional in nature, IP theory seeks to explain how the mind functions. Learning components such as rehearsal and elaboration are associated with IP; however, most emphasis is placed on understanding how information is processed rather than how learning happens.  
Information processing (IP) is a cognitive processing theory (see, Ashcraft, 1994). While other theories in this e-book are learning or instructional in nature, IP theory seeks to explain how the mind functions. Learning components such as rehearsal and elaboration are associated with IP; however, most emphasis is placed on understanding how information is processed rather than how learning happens.  

Revision as of 21:46, 12 March 2007

APA Citation: Orey, M.. (2001). Information processing.. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/

In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology.

Orey, M. (2001). Information processing. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Available Website: http://www.coe.uga.edu/epltt/InformationProcessing.htm. <p align=center> Michael Orey=Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia

Information processing (IP) is a cognitive processing theory (see, Ashcraft, 1994). While other theories in this e-book are learning or instructional in nature, IP theory seeks to explain how the mind functions. Learning components such as rehearsal and elaboration are associated with IP; however, most emphasis is placed on understanding how information is processed rather than how learning happens.

Another aspect of this theory is that it is explicitly analogous to a computer's processor. The basic IP model has three components: sensory register (SR), short-term memory (STM) or working memory, and long-term memory (LTM). The corresponding components of the computer are input devices or registers, the CPU, and hard drive storage, respectively. This metaphor is superficially valid, but as it is taken to its limits, the mechanical comparison breaks down. However, knowing that this model is a cognitive processing model and knowing that the model is based on an explicit metaphor with a computer is helpful in understanding IP theory.

Caption: The Inspiration web above shows how Information Processing can be likened to the model of a computer. The Sensory Register would include input devices like CDs. Short Term Memory includes the Central Processing Unit. Long Term Memory would be viewed as the hard drive or storage. By Tiffany Davis, Meghann Hummel, and Kay Sauers (2006).

Let's start with the model and an example. As I write this, I see my cup on my desk. Let's follow this image through the system.

The illustration abovel represents my coffee cup example. Light reflects off the cup and into the eye. The image is then transferred through the optic nerve to the sensory register. From the sensory register, the image is moved into Short-term Memory (STM) as information about the cup is drawn from Long-term Memory (LTM). The process of elaboration occurs when information is retrieved from the LTM in order to link to the new information. I would like to thank Liyan Song for her work on the Flash model shown above.

Sensory Registers. The best understood of the sensory registers (SRs) are for hearing (echoic) and seeing (iconic). Very little is known about tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste) SRs. In the cup example, light reflecting off the cup hits my eye; the image is transferred through my optic nerve to the sensory register. If I do not attend to it, it fades from this memory store and is lost. In fact, my cup is on my desk most of the day, and I see it without really "seeing" it many times during the day. Each memory stage has four attributes: representation, capacity, duration, and cause of forgetting. For the visual sensory register, for example, representation is iconic-- limited to the field of vision, and lasts for about 250 milliseconds. The main cause of forgetting is decay. Representation in the auditory register, is echoic (based on sound); its duration is 2-3 seconds, it is only limited to the sounds we actually can hear and decay is the primary cause for forgetting. As previously mentioned, much less is known about the other three register types.

Short-term Memory: Short-term memory (STM) is also known as working memory, and is where consciousness exists. In the cup example, if I attend to the cup, it will be moved into STM. At this point, it is difficult to talk about the cup in STM memory without referring to long-term memory (LTM). For example, I might attend to the cup and think, "That's my cup. It has coffee in it. I poured that coffee 3 hours ago." Each of those statements draws on LTM. I know it is my cup because it is the one that a potter friend of mine made for me. I know it has coffee in it, because I remember getting it this morning. I know that I poured that cup at 9:00 am. The statement that the coffee is 3 hours old required me to look at the current time, and retrieve from LTM that subtracting the current time from pouring time tells me how old the coffee is. Performing the subtraction used no STM processing space, because experience in doing arithmetic allows me to do this automatically.

STM is where the world meets what is already known, and where thinking is done. You perceive and attend to stimuli; that information is then actively processed based on information stored in LTM. In terms of the characteristics of this memory stage, the representation is echoic. It is limited to 5-9 items, and it lasts only about 20 seconds. Interference is the principal cause of forgetting. The most important of these characteristics is the 5 to 9 items. A common example of this is calling information for a phone number. After the operator gives you the number, you begin repeating it to keep it in STM. This repetition is termed rehearsal. Rehearsal can also be used to get information into LTM, but it is very inefficient. Rehearsal primarily serves a maintenance function; it can be used to keep information in STM. In the phone number example, if someone interrupts you to ask you a question while you are rehearsing the number, responding interferes with rehearsal, and the phone number is lost. You must call information again.

Caption: Nikki is listening to the radio station when the DJ calls her name and announces that she has 2 minutes to call. The prize includes tickets to the Yankee game and a dinner date with her idol Derek Jeter. As the telephone number is announced on the radio, she pulls over to call. She has about 20 seconds to retain the number in her short term memory. She rehearses the number by repeating it over and over in an effort to transfer from short term to long term memory, but is interrupted by signs and commercials with numbers. The end of the clip is left open for the audience to decide whether or not she remembers the number and wins the date with her idol. Video created by Michelle Sampson, Michelle Venable-Foster and Melissa Madsen (2004).

Long-term Memory: The final stage in the IP model is long-term memory (LTM), which is typically termed call memory. LTM is everything we know and know how to do. For most cognitive psychologists the world of LTM can be categorized as one of three types of memory: declarative, procedural or episodic. Declarative knowledge can be defined as knowledge needed to complete this sentence. "Knowing that..." By contrast, procedural knowledge is, "Knowing how..." These two types of knowledge,account for most of what is learned in work and school. The remaining type of knowledge is episodic which might also be called anecdotal. This is memory for specific events in one's life: a memory of your first kiss or of your graduation. The personal stories in our lives comprise episodic memory. While this makes for a neat tautology, some have suggested that it is incomplete.

Caption: This Inspiration web illustrates that Long Term Memory consists of declarative knowledge ("I know that...even numbers end with the digits 0, 2, 4, 6, and 8!"), procedural knowledge ("I know how& to pronounce and comprehend new vocabulary!"), and episodic knowledge ("I remember when& I graduated from high school!"). By Tiffany Davis, Meghann Hummel, and Kay Sauers (2006)

Pavio (1980) has asserted that memory for images differs from memory for words. He offers a dual coding hypothesis asserting that when we see an image, both the image and a label for that image are stored in memory. He has extended the hypothesis, suggesting that dual codes may exist for the other senses as well. For example, the smell of an orange is stored along with its label, "orange."

Others have suggested that there are mechanisms that control thinking and learning. These control processes are called metacognition. Metacognition often takes the form of strategies. For example, learners attempting to master a complex topic might choose to use a strategy such as drawing pictures to help them understand the complex inter-relationships of the various components of the topic. Strategic readers might stop and mentally summarize what they have just read in order to ensure comprehension.

The 1970s saw great expansion of understanding of human learning. It became clear that there was no one method of teaching that ensured successful learning. Many researchers, especially in the field of second language (L2) acquisition, recognizing this fact, turned their attention to learners, attempting to answer the question, "Why is it that some learners succeed in learning regardless of the methods used to teach them?" Joan Rubin (1975) and H.H. Stern (1975) formulated lists of the characteristics and strategies that "good" language learners use in their study; Rubin and Thompson (1982) offered guidance to foreign language students on how to make themselves better learners. Extensive study of this notion of learning strategies in the 1980s led Michael O'Malley and his associates (1985) to formulate a list of 24 strategies used by English as a Second Language (ESL) students in their study. Perhaps most important, the strategies were classified into three categories, as follows:

Metacognitive strategies is a term borrowed from IP theory. These strategies, according to O'Malley et. al. (cited in Brown,1987), "indicate an 'executive ' function...that involve planning for learning, thinking about the learning process as it is taking place, monitoring...and evaluating learning (p. 94)..." Metacognitive strategies might include using advance organizers, self-planning, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation.

Caption: In the caption, Kelsey is having problems taking notes from the teacher� s lectures. Kelsey does her best at taking notes but when it comes time to study, her notes from the lecture are so poorly written that she becomes confused and frustrated and thus gives up on studying her notes. Since 50% of the test comes from the lecture material in class, Kelsey� s test grades are declining dramatically. Kelsey, adamant about making high grades, seeks counsel from the teacher on how she can improve her note taking skills. The teacher introduces Kelsey to the Cornell Note Taking method. He explains that she should divide her paper into three sections. One section of the page should be labeled MAIN IDEAS, one section of the page should be labeled DETAILS, and one section should be labeled SUMMARY. The teacher explains to Kelsey that she should write words such as terms and major topics under the MAIN IDEAS section, and then under the DETAILS section she should put the definitions of the terms or the supporting information about the major topics. The teacher stresses that the linked information in the MAIN IDEAS section and the DETAILS section should be lined up. The teacher then explains to Kelsey that when she goes to study she should fold the paper so that the MAIN IDEAS section is only visible on one side and the DETAILS section visible on the other. The teacher then explains how she can quiz herself on the notes taking by reading the information in the MAIN IDEAS section and give the definition or supporting information in the DETAILS section. Last the teacher explains that once she feels comfortable about the information in the notes she should write a summary of the information in the SUMMARY section. During the next several lectures Kelsey applies the Cornell Note Taking method during the teacher� s lectures. Kelsey the studies her notes just the way her teacher instructed her to do. When Kelsey received her grade from the test she had applied her new note taking skills on, she was very pleased. She had received an A. By Mari-Amanda Grigsby, James Holden, Aron Scott Foster, and Lucas Amaral (2006).

Main Ideas



Cognitive strategies are more task-specific, and often refer to "direct manipulation of the learning material itself (Brown, 1987)." Examples of cognitive strategies are note-taking, repetition, guessing meaning from context, or using mnemonic devices.

Caption: The animation illustrates the use of cognitive strategies to help solve a mathematic equation. The FOIL method, when used as a mnemonic, will take the student through the appropriate steps to solve the problem. The student has used a cognitive strategy to recall the mnemonic that is most useful in this situation. By Mari-Amanda Grigsby, James Holden, Aron Scott Foster, and Lucas Amaral (2006).

Socioaffective strategies refer to strategies that use association with or input from teachers or peers.

Caption: Mr. Stoll� s Science class is learning about simple machines. The caption depicts a scenario that Mr. Stoll has created for his class. Mr. Stoll takes his class outside to an open field behind the school and gives them a task of moving a 400 lb. object 25 yards using only materials found in the field. The class searches and all they can seem to find are large logs. Eddie suggests that the class puts the logs together, then the 400 lb. object on top and roll the weight the 25 yards. The logs will act like the wheels on a truck. The class now grasps the concept of this simple machine. By Mari-Amanda Grigsby, James Holden, Aron Scott Foster, and Lucas Amaral (2006).

O'Malley and his colleagues have gone on to suggest that these strategies can be overtly taught to learners, facilitating one of the most important goals of learning, learner autonomy.

Finally, there is another viewpoint that offers the notion of concepts. For example, there exists a concept called "bird," which can be reduced to declarative statements such as: "It has feathers;" "It has wings and flies;", "It lays eggs," and the like. The concept of "bird" can also include our episodic experiences with birds--the parakeet I had when I was a child, the sparrow I found dead by the fence one morning, etc. It can also include the hundreds of images that we have seen of birds, as well as all instances of real birds we have seen. All of this collectively is what we know of as "bird." It is the concept of bird, the tightly woven collection of knowledge that we have for birds.

In the end, there are five types of knowledge in LTM--declarative, procedural, episodic, imagery, and strategic knowledge; there also exists one collective type called conceptual knowledge. For the LTM stage, the representation is semantic (based on meaning). Capacity and duration are considered unlimited in LTM, and the cause of forgetting is failure to retrieve.

The final issue regarding the IP model is how information gets into LTM. This primarily takes place through a process called elaboration. When I think about teaching learners, I need to know what they already know so that they can relate the new information to their existing knowledge. This is elaboration. While teachers can do some of that for learners, elaboration is an active process. The learner must be actively engaged with the material that is to be learned. This does not necessarily mean that the learner must be physically active; rather, it implies that they should to be actively relating this new piece of information to other ideas that they already know. LTM is often regarded as a network of ideas. In order to remember something, ideas are linked, one to another until the sought-after information is found. Failure to remember information does not mean that it has been forgotten; it is merely the procedure for retrieval has been forgotten. With more elaboration, more pathways to that piece of information are created . More pathways make retrieval of the information more likely. If it is found, it is not forgotten.

We have two educational stories to help you, the reader, understand how information processing, particularly metacognition, can be applied in the classroom.

Language Learning

Teacher Practice

Conscious Instruction in Metacognitive and Cognitive Learning Strategies: A Classroom Example of the CALLA Model


Pete Roach

The scene is a sheltered language arts class in a suburban American high school. The 12 students are of mixed language and cultural backgrounds—about half are Spanish speakers from Central and South America; the remainder are from Asia (Pakistan, Korea, and Vietnam). Their grade level is also mixed, as placement in the class is determined by the students’ level of language proficiency. The class is early in their study of the Realist school of American literature. Today they will begin Kate Chopin’s short story “A Pair of Silk Stockings.” On the classroom walls are posters with a Victorian theme—the streets of New York and other cities, as well as large advertisements for products of the day—some with contemporary prices, and the well-known Vogue posters. Many of the wall decorations show men and women in the high collars, button shoes, and long dresses of the era.

The class begins with a brainstorming session. The teacher, Mr. Van Nostrand, writes down the students’ comments. The class is reminded that their prior knowledge about Victorian America will help them to understand the text they are to read. The class is then divided into groups of 3 to create a “mind map” of what they know about life in America of the 1890s. Because the students have read the historical background for the unit, and have also covered the era in their U.S. history class, a substantial amount of information is generated. After the information has been shared with the class, Mr. Van Nostrand directs the class’s attention to the “Literature and History” selection in the Literature textbook which discusses the dress of 1890s America. After a brief preview of some vocabulary from the day’s listening/reading passage, the class prepares to listen to the first selection.

Mr. Van Nostrand then asks the students to examine the artwork in the textbook: the painting A Cup of Tea (showing a Victorian woman sipping tea), several 1879 dollar coins, Mary Cassatt’s 1891 print The Fitting (a woman being fitted for a new dress), and clothing advertisements from the historical period. He says: “Before you read a story, you should think about its title and look at the illustrations. Try to guess what will happen in the story—it will help you to understand better. As class members offer their predictions, they are recorded on the board. Mr. Van Nostrand reminds the class that, as they read, it is not necessary to understand every word in order to enjoy the story—they can still get the main idea of the selection. An audiotape of the text is to be played as the students read the story in sections. “A Pair of Silk Stockings” is the story of a struggling mother of three who finds herself “the unexpected possessor of fifteen dollars.” She had planned to spend this large sum (for the times) on practical items—clothing for her children—but instead (largely on impulse) she spends it all on herself for luxuries.

Although the story is in the course text, students have been given a printed copy that has breaks at strategic points in the narrative. (Click here to see the story text) After listening to and reading the first two paragraphs of the story, the students are placed in small groups. Mr. Van Nostrand asks the students to predict what Mrs. Sommers will do with the money, and to give reasons for their predictions. These predictions are then shared. One student says that she will buy clothing for herself and her family. Another guesses that she will buy toys for her children; A third predicts that she will spend the money on gifts for her husband and children. Again, their responses are recorded for comparison with the actual plot.

Next, Mr. Van Nostrand writes on the board: Summarize. Ask Questions. Identify difficulties. Predict. He asks three students to come to the front of the class, and sits with them in a circle. He says,” Each one of us is going to read the first part of ‘A Pair of Silk Stockings’ a section at a time. Then we’ll each take turns teaching a section to the rest of the group. Pay close attention to the strategies we use to teach each other.” The rest of the class follows along in their story texts as the demonstration progresses. Mr. Van Nostrand and his group read the first section of the passage—ending when Mrs. Sommers sits down at the counter. Mr. Van Nostrand has divided each passage of the story into four sections. The model group reads the first section, and the teacher then teaches it, using the four learning strategies (written on the board). The group then reads the next section, and a student assumes the role of teacher by briefly summarizing, asking one or two questions about the reading and identifying and then discussing any difficulties encountered by group members. Finally, the “teacher” predicts what she thinks will happen next. As the groups work through the story, they complete a set of comprehension questions that involve factual and evaluative questions, as well as items requiring them to infer the meaning of unfamiliar words.

Mr. Van Nostrand instructs each of the groups to select three unfamiliar words. Then, the class, in groups of four, read the rest of the story using the techniques modeled for them. After he writes each group’s selections on the board, he asks the students to make guesses about the new words’ meanings based on the context of the story.

Mr. Van Nostrand reviews with the class the elements of narrative fiction—setting, point of view, characterization, conflict, plot, and theme. Still in their groups, the students complete the Short Story Analysis sheet.

As a group the class compares and contrasts “A Pair of Silk Stockings” with the other stories in the unit, which is thematically organized and titled “Shackles.”

To close the instructional phase of this unit, each student completes a “Learning Log” in which they must assess their success in mastering vocabulary, the genre, and learning strategy use. The results are discussed as a whole class.

Future class sessions will explore the story’s main theme (emancipation), as well as alternate plot lines and endings, students will address questions such as:

When she was spending the money, was Mrs. Sommers really free?

What do you think happened to Mrs. Sommers after she went home?

Students will be allowed to explore alternate scenarios by “rewriting” the story:

What if Mrs. Sommers had stopped after she bought the silk stockings?

What if, at the end of the story, Mrs. Sommers had really not gone home?


The preceding example portrays the CALLA (Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach) model of learning, devised by O’Malley and Chamot (1994). Although it is aimed specifically at learners of English as a second Language, it is important to note that it is premised on the idea that students can explicitly be taught to use learning strategies to learn more efficiently.

The instructional sequence of the CALLA model is comprised of five steps, which are explained below as they relate to the above scenario. Multiple cycles of the first three steps on the sequence (preparation, presentation, practice) may be necessary in a single lesson before the final two (assessment and expansion) are reached.

1. Preparation In this stage, emphasis is on bringing out and highlighting students’ existing knowledge. The posters on Mr. Van Nostrand’s classroom walls, the textbook artwork, and the brainstorming session are intended to achieve this aim. The model also stresses that the students be alerted that this elicitation of prior knowledge (elaboration) is an effective learning strategy.

2. Presentation The second phase of the sequence calls for students to deal with an authentic text—one that has not been modified for ESL students—in this case, the listening text handout of the story. O’Malley and Chamot suggest that student interaction with this text may be in written, audio, or video format; it may involve silent reading or reading aloud. In the vignette above, this occurs when the class reads and hears the first part of the story. Learning strategy instruction is again included when the teacher reminds the class to use graphics and titles to make predictions. Further, the strategies used should be modeled and explained.

3. Practice Here, according to O’Malley and Chamot, learners “discuss, investigate, and reflect on the text they have read, listened to, or viewed.” This may involve beginning a composition based on a class discussion, or, as in the scenario, simply completing a set of questions. The authors again include strategy instruction; learners should be made conscious of their thought processes as they work.

Throughout the model, regardless of the subject matter, Cooperative Learning techniques are used whenever possible. In this scenario, the students guide themselves through the text through a method termed Reciprocal Teaching; the learners take turns teaching each other.

4. Evaluation In the CALLA model, this stage refers not to conventional assessment of learning through tests, but to self-evaluation of learning through dialogue journals, self-checklists of achievement or objectives, which the authors term “Learning Logs.” This is consistent with the rest of the model in that students are overtly monitoring and assessing their learning through metacognitive strategies. This occurs in Mr. Van Nostrand’s class when the reading has been completed, discussed, and compared to other examples from the thematic unit.

5. Expansion The final phase of the sequence, as its name implies, allows students to use what they have learned in new contexts. Rewriting or retelling stories, as was done in the case above, are one example; however, CALLA’s designers assert that expansion may occur in less structured ways. Students might independently seek out more examples of the same genre, theme, or author. The most important aspect of this phase is that learners think critically and find personal meaning in what they have learned.

Assessment of learning in the CALLA model varies with the subject area under study. For literature and composition, O’Malley and Chamot suggest portfolios that include Learning Logs, “Story Maps” similar to the Short Story Analysis Sheet above, teacher-created assessment forms, and, of course, student writing samples.

Research has yet to prove conclusively and measurably that metacognitive abilities can be significantly improved by instruction. Many studies involve "deconstruction" of mental processes used by already-successful learners. There seems to be agreement that cognitive variations within learners play an important role in successful learners. Because of the almost endless number of possible cognitive variable combinations--learning styles, left- and right-brain functioning, and reflectivity/impulsivity to mention but a few, it does seem sensible to do all that is possible to help students become aware of their metacognitive and cognitive processes as they process information and strive to become independent managers of their own learning.

Metacognition: One Teacher's Journey


Ann LoCicero

As Mrs. Smith walks down the main hall in the middle school where she teaches "computers," she is greeted by a group of energetic seventh-grade girls who simultaneously chime, "Mrs. Smith, we want to come back to YOUR class."

They had been in Mrs. Smith's connection class during the previous rotation. Mrs. Smith knows that the girls are sincere. She also knows that the reason why students want to come back to her class is because she teaches students how to learn.

You could say that an evolution has occurred in the way Mrs. Smith has incorporated metacognitive skills into her lessons using computers over the years. But, it has been a very s-l-o-w evolution at that.

Mrs. Smith began teaching in 1991. She taught third grade. There was one computer lab in the school. There were no computers in teachers' rooms. Mrs. Smith, like so many other teachers at that time, had no previous experience with computers, let alone using them in instruction. She took her class to the computer lab every week when it was their scheduled time and had students work on skills drill programs in reading and math. There was no "teaching." There certainly were no metacognitive skills being developed either on the part of Mrs. Smith or her students.

As time passed and productivity software such as Microsoft Works became available, Mrs. Smith moved away from using skills drill programs exclusively and began having her students use the computers to "type-up" final drafts of their creative writing and research papers. Eventually, Mrs. Smith began having her students use the programs Hyperstudio and Powerpoint for reports. Still, these programs, like Microsoft Works, were used only in the "publishing" stage of students' writing. They were used to "make a project pretty," but that's all.

Eventually, Mrs. Smith was able to get a computer for her classroom. It was a discard, but it was better than nothing. She continued "begging, borrowing, and stealing." until she actually had four computers in her room. And, as more and more software became available, Mrs. Smith found programs such as the Living Books for reading, the Math Blaster series for math, and Crosswords and More to help students with their vocabulary in all content areas. She even heard about a program called Co:Writer which she thought would have a positive effect on students' spelling. Mrs. Smith felt good about the many "computer" learning opportunities she was providing for her students.

Mrs. Smith did not know NOT to feel good. She was using technology more in her classroom than most teachers and receiving kudos from the administration. At that time, the focus on "effective use of computers in the classroom" was years away. Most school districts were still focused on accessibility.

In her professional development classes, Mrs. Smith was learning about Cooperative Learning, Thematic Units, and Motivation. She began to examine her own teaching practices. In her classroom, her students (at least most of them) were doing what they were told to do: listening to her lectures, doing the activities that she had planned for them, and then regurgitating the information that they had "learned" on tests. She wanted her students to be more responsible, independent, and self-regulated learners. She decided to make some changes.

She assigned her students to research a topic and do a multimedia presentation using Powerpoint. She thought that this would force her students to be actively involved in their learning. Through experience, she learned differently.

Instead of her students becoming actively involved and taking responsibility for their learning, they wasted an enormous amount of time on the Internet and "played" with the program's fonts, backgrounds, and transitions. They cut and pasted information with little regard for content (or copyright). And, when they were finished, they believed that they had completed quality work (and, of course, that they deserved an "A.")

Mrs. Smith began reading everything she could about how to teach students to take responsibility for their own learning. She learned the difference between active and passive learning, and she learned about metacognitive strategies.

She kept a journal of all of the new activities and lesson plans that she tried out with her class reflecting on the effectiveness of each. She made adjustments to her lesson plans as a result of her reflections.

Years passed and Mrs. Smith was offered the opportunity to teach in a computer lab. She began by teaching computing as a survey course. She incorporated basic computer skills into her teaching, and eventually began teaching specific software programs. She still wanted her students to be more responsible, independent, and self-regulated learners, but they weren't. They came to class and did what they were told to do, but they had no spark. They were not actively involved in their learning.

After much trial and error, Mrs. Smith decided that teaching "computers" isn't about teaching discrete computer skills, nor is it about teaching specific computer programs. It isn't about teaching discrete metacognitive skills as they apply to computers. It's about setting up learning environments in which computer skills and metacognitive skills become invisible. Both are simply tools that lead to effective learning. The way to set up learning environments in which computer skills and metacognitive skills become invisible is to structure lessons around solid instructional models that have at their foundation the principals of metacognition:

1. Connecting new information to former knowledge

2. Selecting thinking strategies deliberately

3. Planning, monitoring, and evaluating thinking processes

Today, Mrs. Smith teaches "computers" by focusing on teaching students how to learn. The content area of her lessons varies: social studies, science, etc. but she plans her lessons with specific instructional models in mind. Why? Because several of the instructional models such as Project-Based learning, Problem-Based learning, Learning by Design, and the Six C's of Motivation focus on making sense of the topic at hand, self-assessment, and reflection; teaching practices that manifest a metacognitive approach to learning. Computer skills and instruction on specific computer programs are taught as needed and in support of the lessons.

Besides planning her lessons with specific instructional models in mind, Mrs. Smith also models various metacognitive strategies. She guides her students by "thinking aloud" questions that they should be asking themselves; and eventually will. For example, when a student asks a question that has a factual answer, instead of giving the student the answer, Mrs. Smith might respond by saying, "Hmmm, where can I go to get that information? I know! I can do a quick Google search."

Mrs. Smith teaches students how to use graphic organizers such as the KWL (what the student Knows, Wants to know, and has Learned) chart to help them access their prior knowledge. As she does so, she talks about thinking and she asks questions about why the KWL chart is helpful and how it can be used in other situations.

To help students plan a writing assignment, Mrs. Smith shows them the program, Inspiration. As she does so, she talks about how Inspiration can help you organize your thinking. She asks students how they might use Inspiration in other situations.

Following each project, Mrs. Smith guides her students through a debriefing. They review the thought processes that they used as they progressed through a project and evaluate those that were successful and those that were not.

Truly, you could say that an evolution has occurred in the way Mrs. Smith has incorporated metacognitive skills into her lessons using computers over the years. In the beginning, her lessons included no metacognitive skills. Now, they provide the foundation of her lessons. Her students are actively involved in their own learning.

Still walking down the main hall in the middle school where she teaches "computers," Mrs. Smith is almost to her room. She turns the corner and sees Mario, an energetic 7th grade boy, waiting in front of her classroom door. "Hi, Mrs. Smith; Mrs. Jones wants to know if you have an extra mouse." And, almost in the same breath, Mario says, "Can I come back to YOUR class?"


Why do students want to be back in Mrs. Smith's class? Students want to be back in Mrs. Smith's class because she teaches them how to learn. Mrs. Smith examined her own teaching methods and decided to make some changes. Those changes led to incorporating metacognitive strategies in her teaching which then led to her students becoming more responsible, independent, and self-regulated learners.

Metacognition, as illustrated in this story, includes both executive control and strategies. Executive control is evident in this story as it tells about one teacher's journey from using computers in her classroom with no thought of incorporating metacognitive skills into her lessons, to an awareness that she could use computers more effectively than she was using them, and finally to making changes in her teaching methods by planning her lessons with specific instructional models such as Problem-Based learning in mind while using metacognitive skills as the foundation.

Examples of the metacognitive strategies used by Mrs. Smith with her students include:

Modeling thinking aloud

Accessing prior knowledge through the use of graphic organizers (KWL chart)

Using the program Inspiration in the planning stage of writing

Debriefing-- review the thought processes


Ashcraft, M.H. (1994). Human memory and cognition (2nd Ed.). NY: Harper Collins. Brown, H. Douglas (1987). Principles of Language Teaching and Learning (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NY: Prentice-Hall.

O’Malley, M., and Chamot, A., 1994. The CALLA Handbook. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

O'Malley, Michael, Chamot, Anna U., Stewer-Manzanares, Gloria, Russo, Rocco P., and Kupper, Lisa (1985). Learning strategy applications with students of English as a second language. TESOL Quarterly 19:557-584.

Rubin, Joan (1975). What the "good language learner" can teach us. TESOL Quarterly 9:41-51.

Stern, H. H. (1975). What can we learn from the good language learner? The Canadian Modern Language Review 31:304-318.

Cognitive Learning Theory http://java.cms.livjm.ac.uk/local/uid/uid2/COGNI.HTM

Cognitive Learning Theory Terms http://mse.byu.edu/ipt/ipt301/jordan/learnterm_c.html

Cognitive Views of learning http://courses.dsu.edu/epsy302/Chapter7-InformationProcessing/sld001.htm

Dual Coding Theory http://www.educationau.edu.au/archives/cp/04e.html

The Information Processing Approach http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/cogsys/infoproc.html

Information Processing Disorders (Visual and Auditory Processing Disorders) http://www.ld.org/info/indepth/processing.cfm

Information Processing Theory http://www.educationau.edu.au/archives/cp/04h.htm

Information Processing Theory http://tip.psychology.org/miller.html

Information Process Theory of Learning http://tiger.coe.missouri.edu/~t377/IPTheorists.html

Pavio, A. (1986). Mental representations: A dual coding approach. NY: Oxford Press.

Reciprocal Teaching


Additional Information

Here is a nice chapter from a book by Lloyd Rieber about the IP model and graphics. The title of the chapter is, "Psychological Foundations of Instructional Graphics" Lloyd has also made a nice interactive model for the dual coding theory. You can get to that module by clicking here.