How to manage cognitive differences in students
Understanding the logic of the thinking process of our students allows us to adjust the teaching process. Although cognitive development follows a universal pattern, it’s not strictly related to the chronological age of the children.
THE ABILITIES OF OUR STUDENTS ARE THE SUM OF PREDETERMINED BIOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT AND SOCIALLY MEDIATED DEVELOPMENT.”
Psychologists distinguish three aspects of human development: chronological age, mental age and "the social-emotional age." Within the same individual, these three aspects do not necessarily advance at the same rate. A student can understand certain abstract concepts even before reaching the average age corresponding to the next stage of cognitive development, while his or her social-emotional function remains below the expected for that age.
FOUR FACTORS INFLUENCE THE EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF ADVANCED REASONING SKILLS
1. the existence of an early competence or innate talent in an area of knowledge,
2. the familiarity or experience with the concepts of an area of knowledge.
3. the interaction with those who have more knowledge in an area or with stimulating materials, and
4. learning in a familiar sociocultural context.
Current global educational policies insist that education promotes cognitive development while social-emotional development continues to be in the second place. But are we even sure that we know how to stimulate the cognitive part properly?
THE TEACHERS HAVE TO DETECT THE CHALLENGES THAT EACH STUDENT CAN OVERCOME WITH A LITTLE HELP, AND FOCUS THEIR WORK ON THEM.”
The difference between a task that a student can do without help and what he or she cannot achieve even with much help marks the zone of proximal development. In other words, teachers have to identify the challenges that each student can overcome with a little help and focus on those until the student overcomes the challenge on their own. Any teacher knows that his or her students have different zones of proximal development, but being able to meet such variability is very difficult and requires many specific adaptation and instruction skills, which very few are born with.
One of the biggest challenges for teachers is to provide a sufficient variety of materials that meets the needs of their students and keeps each of them motivated to learn. The formula is simple: provide each student with materials that are neither too easy nor too difficult for their level of cognitive development. However, the situation becomes complicated when applying the formula to a class larger than 30 students, where the material is quite limited.
RESPONDING TO THE COGNITIVE NEEDS OF ALL STUDENTS IN A CLASSROOM
When planning classes, teachers should consider the following:
1. The evaluation of prior knowledge, being aware of what concepts the students already know is crucial.
2. Cognitive development and the zone of proximal development should not be estimated according to the age of the students, but according to their abilities.
3. Reasoning should be strengthened in fields of study and contexts that are familiar to the students.
4. New topics should be presented in a moderate level of difficulty, so they are neither too easy nor too hard for the students.
5. Classroom materials should vary, from the very simple to the more complex and profound.
6. Work groups should be heterogeneous, so that each member of the group has a different level of abilities and competencies.
7. The interaction with older students or experts in certain areas of studies should become a routine in the teaching process.
This article has been translated into English by Tina Chang from an original in Spanish titled Siete claves para afrontar las diferencias cognitivas de los alumnos.