Components of Cognitive Apprenticeship: Modeling

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This page was originally authored by David Macdonald (2007).
This page has been revised by Susan Wilson (2008).
This page has been revised by Kelly Kerrigan (2009)

Modeling to Teach and Learn

Back to Cognitive Apprenticeship

Components of Cognitive Apprenticeship: Modeling

The pedagogical model of Cognitive Apprenticeship stemmed from the work of Collins, Brown and Duguid on “situated cognition” (1989). While the theoretical concepts of situated cognition have a basis in the works of John Dewey and Jerome Bruner (Wineburg, 1989, p.8), apprenticeship is an ancient educational model (Collins, Brown & Holum, 1991) in which the apprentice is given a series of authentic tasks and activities by a ‘master’ with an eye to learning all aspects of the craft. With practice, the apprentice requires less and less guidance from the master, eventually achieving mastery on his or her own.

In Cognitive Apprenticeship, like traditional apprenticeship, learning is “embedded in activities and which makes deliberate use of the social and physical context” (Järvelä, 1995, p. 237). The methods of Cognitive Apprenticeship include modeling, coaching and scaffolding on the part of the teacher, articulation and reflection by both the teacher and the student, and further exploration on the part of the student (Cennamo & Holmes, 1999).

Theoretical Foundation of Modeling

Collins, et al. (1989), and Järvelä (1995), both refer to Schoenfeld’s (1985) teaching of problem solving in mathematics. Schoenfeld not only modeled strategies for problem solving, but also brought his students to thinking like professional mathematicians, enculturating them in the field of mathematics (Collins, et al., 1989, and Järvelä, 1995). A successful model not only illustrates one or more ways to solve a problem, or complete a task; it also illustrates the “expert’s performance, tacit knowledge as well as motivational and emotional impulses” (Järvelä, 1995, p. 241).

This article looks at both traditional and technological modeling.

Traditional Practice of Modeling

Collins et al (1989) refer to the traditions of craft apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is also a tradition in musical performance teaching and modeling plays a central role in teaching a new piece of music. The introduction of the following new piece of music often involves this sample thought modeling by the teacher:

Wikipiece for Cello.JPG

DGM: Okay, we’ve got a new piece here. What are some of the things we’re going to look at before we start playing? Hmm…the first thing I’ll look at, after maybe the title and composer, is the clef. Right – this piece starts…and the whole piece is written in bass clef. Good, that means I won’t likely be changing my left hand position much.
Well, what’s that beside the clef? A key signature, with three flats. This means the piece is either in E-flat major or C minor. Let’s see – the piece starts and ends with C, and there’s an accidental for B-natural – so, this piece is most likely in C-minor. Now, what does that mean for fingering – let’s look ahead a bit.
I’m looking at the first measure, and there’s an E there – no, it’s an E-flat because of the key signature – so that means every time I see this E-flat, I’ll have to remember to extend my first finger back a semitone.

The articulation of the teacher's thought processes will continue. Subsequent lessons will involve less detail as the student is able to fill in more of the pieces of information on their own.

Modeling in Educational Environments (Classroom)

There are two types of modeling teachers use in educational settings:

1. Modeling from the outset: teacher will demonstrate task first, with student to follow.

2. Modeling after student has attempted the task: student will attempt the task, teacher/student will discuss task (think-aloud) and then teacher will demonstrate task.

Both forms of modeling have merit within the classroom, though modeling from the outset favors a more traditional approach to learning. In order to be successful, modeling in the classroom will need to have the teacher verbalize their thought processes, encourage the student to verbalize their own thought processes and to allow both teacher and student to make mistakes in order to further the learning process.

The success of cognitive apprenticeship in the elementary school classroom first requires teachers to reflect and analyze their own practices, notably in writing and mathematics. If a teacher can first be aware of what practices they use and then be able to articulate their practices and processes, success will be seen at the student level.

For writing, teachers will first model their own writing process either on a board or using an overhead. When modeling writing, teachers must have this visual component along with the oral explanation (think aloud) of the thought process. Think aloud modeling reveals the most complete description possible of their cognitive activities and strategies, while providing organizational scaffolds for the students (Duncan, 1996). Think aloud modeling has the teacher outlining orally the thought process required for a certain task. This method has also seen success when teaching students reading strategies. The objective is to show students how to ask themselves questions as they comprehend text (Montgomery, 2001). Instructors describe what they are thinking and doing, why they are doing what they are doing, and verbalize their self-correction processes (Duncan, 1996). The learners, the students, watch the teacher at work and in turn learn themselves.

Example of Modeling in the Writing Classroom

(taken from Collins, Brown, and Holum, 1991)

Teacher was given a topic created by the students that would seem difficult for her to write.

Students: Write an essay on the topic "Today's Rock Stars Are More Talented than Musicians of Long Ago.'

Teacher: I don't know a thing about modern rock stars. I can't think of the name of even one rock star. How about, David Bowie or Mick Jagger ...But many readers won't agree that they are modern rock stars. I think they're both as old as I am. Let's see, my own feelings about this are... that I doubt if today's rock stars are more talented than ever. Anyhow, how would I know? I can't argue this ... I need a new idea ...An important point I haven't considered yet is ... ah ... well ... what do we mean by talent? Am I talking about musical talent or ability to entertain-to do acrobatics? Hey, I may have a way into this topic. I could develop this idea by ...

  • Bolded parts are cues that the teacher had previously described to the students when introducing how to write an opinion essay.

Benefits of Modeling in the Elementary Classroom

As seen in the above example, the teacher used planning cues to stimulate her thinking about the assignment. She modeled how the cues could develop an opinions essay. Since the teacher showed difficulty in developing her ideas, she showed the students that most writers do not come up with their work easily. There are false starts and internal struggles when writing. A smooth and easy writing process is not always the case for those seen to be “good” writers. Live modeling helps to convey that this is not the case.

The modeling step of cognitive apprenticeship is one of the most successful in the classroom. By first thinking aloud thought and self-correction processes, the students are able to then practice the same methods in both partners and small group work. Many teachers have students work in partners and small groups while outlining their own thought process to further the think aloud model.

Modeling, specifically the think aloud strategy, is not limited to one subject area. Teacher and peer think aloud is repeated in writing, reading, mathematics, and problem solving. The teacher models expert strategies in a shared problem context of knowing that they, the students, will soon undertake the same task (Collins, Brown, and Holum, 1991).

Modeling in Technological Environments

Technology provides rich opportunities for modeling. Modeling applications afford interactive demonstrations, simulations and experiments that can be helpful in scaffolding students' understandings.

Through Information and Communication Technologies, students are able to access experts to mentor, guide or give them direction.

Screen recording and video streaming software enables educators to articulate their thoughts and processes as they model for thier students. The video output can then be viewed by students as they need it, when they need it, and as often as they need it.

Constructivist philosophies are being implemented through technology; tangible manipulatives, models and experiments are being replaced by virtual versions.

Simulation applications model authentic problems and situations to facillitate experimentation and discovery.

  • Interactive "Gismos" available through Explore Learning use printable Student Exploration Guides to facillitate the [scaffolding] of student experiences and understandings.
  • Modeling Across the Curriculum, MAC studies the impact of computer modeling tools on secondary-level science learning. Students manipulate models and probeware to create, refine, and apply mental models to improve their understanding of science (The Concord Consortium, 2008).
MAC Model

We can see an example of modeling in an online environment with the Wikipedia: Annotated article, in which text bubbles are used to illuminate the structuring of a real Wikipedia article, much in the same way that an elementary teacher might speak aloud his reading strategies to his class.

IBM Corporation has utilised the pedagogy of Cognitive Apprenticeship in its “technology-enabled training program for Project Executives (PE’s)” (Snyder, et al., 2000). Using a Lotus notes discussion database to mediate asynchronous mentor-protégé communication, the mentors use “think-aloud protocols to model the strategic thinking required to solve…a variety of real-world complex customer problems” (Snyder, et al., 2000). Snyder et al. found this approach to mentoring to be successful, noting that protégés “quickly adopted the habit of thinking about problem-solving from a strategic perspective” (2000).

Works cited

Cennamo, K. & Holmes, G. (1999). "The Instructional Technology Clinical Experience: Expectations and Realities" in Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Papers Presented at the National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 21st, Houston, TX. pp. 29-37.

Collins, A., Brown, J., & Duguid, P. (1989). "Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning" in Educational Researcher, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 32-42.

Collins, A., Brown, J., & Duguid, P. (1989a). "Debating the Situation: A Rejoinder to Palincsar and Wineburg" in Educational Researcher, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 10-12, 62.

Collins, A., Brown, J., & Holum, A. (1991). "Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible" in American Educator, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 6-11, 38-46.

Conway, Judith. May, 1997. "Educational Technology's Effect on Models of Instruction" Retrieved January, 2008 from

Darabi, A. (2005) "Application of Cognitive Apprenticeship Model to a Graduate Course in Performance Systems Analysis: A Case Study" in Educational Technology Research & Development, Vol. 53, No. 1, pp. 49-61.

Duncan, S. L. S. (1996). Cognitive apprenticeship in classroom instruction: Implications for industrial and technical teacher education. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 33(3), 66-86.

Järvelä, S. (1995). "The Cognitive Apprenticeship Model in a Technologically Rich Learning Environment: Interpreting the Learning Interaction" in Learning and Instruction, Vol. 5, pp. 237-259.

Montgomery, W. (2001). "Creating Culturally, Responsive, Inclusive Classrooms". Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(4), 4-9.

Murphy, Elizabeth. 1997. "Constructivism: From Philosophy to Practice" Retrieved January, 2008 from

Schoenfeld, A. (1985). Mathematical problem-solving. New York: Academic Press.

Snyder, K., Farrell, R., Baker, N. (2000) "Online Mentoring: A Case Study Involving Cognitive Apprenticeship and a Technology-Enabled Learning Environment" in Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2000, World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications. Retrieved 4 March 2007, from

Wineburg, S. (1989). "Remembrance of Theories Past" in Educational Researcher, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp. 7-10.

External links

Wikipedia: Annotated article - a good example of modeling

Wikipedia: Cognitive Apprenticeship

Creating an Effectice Foreign Language Classroom

Virginia Tech designSHOP - lessons in effective teaching: Cognitive Apprenticeship

Minnesota Model for Large Introductory Courses: Implementing the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model

CamStudio is an open source screen recording application.

Explore Learning Gizmos are online simulations that promote inquiry and understanding.

Cognitive Apprenticeship as an Instructional Model A look at Cognitive Apprenticeship in two classrooms.