Cognitive Science Connections Part II

#1: Strategy instruction works – for all kids. Both cognitive and metacognitive strategy instruction have plenty of research to back their efficacy (Luke, 2006). A large chunk of my instruction in Tier II reading interventions is on strategies. Things like how to write a summary are actually cognitive strategies.

Anchor chart detailing the steps in writing a summary.
Anchor chart detailing the steps in writing a summary. Modeled after the chart from Stephanie Harvey’s and Anne Goudvis’s “Comprehension Toolkit” lessons. Excuse the blue painters tape – it’s all we’re allowed to use on our walls 🙂
summary color coded example
Students color coded a sample summary written with the group. This example lives in their reader’s notebooks as a visual reminder of how to organize a summary


Charts, graphic organizers, and plenty of modeling and practice give students the strategies efficient readers have naturally.





This video is a great example of explicit strategy instruction in intermediate grades. The film makers captioned the teacher’s steps in the lower left hand corner – quite convenient!

#2: Everyone has an attention “budget.” Humans have a certain amount of attention. We can spread our attention among a number of tasks, or we can focus it on one task. Yet we can never increase our total amount or capacity of attention – our attention budget (Novella, 2011). So, in order to help our students focus in on what’s important, we need to minimize other demands on their attention: distractions, diversions, interruptions (Gazzaley, 2011; Nordgren et al., 2011). This could mean having a quiet environment, or it could mean narrowing the focus of the lessons to concentrate on just one task or strategy.

#3: Transfer is the ultimate goal of education. After all, if our students don’t use what we teach them outside of the classroom, we’ve failed at our jobs. But that doesn’t necessarily mean applying new knowledge to new situations; it can mean transferring in your background knowledge and “wrapping your whole existence around new knowledge” (Perkins, 2009). This quote is from Peter Doolittle’s TED talk which you can find here.

A Final Note on “The Game”: Remember to make the game whole – bring the discreet skills back to the whole game, even if it’s a junior version. Working with struggling readers means I’m often focusing on individual skills – asking questions, cause and effect, determining the main idea, oral reading fluency, etc. In actuality, this isn’t far removed from the mini lesson portion of the reader’s workshop – a focused modeling and practice of one aspect of reading by the whole class. We must keep in mind that the lesson focus is just a piece of the whole puzzle of reading. The “whole game” of reading is understanding, learning, and enjoyment either as part of a group or on your own. If we return our attention to that goal, combining the discreet lessons along the way, our students will be playing the game. What would this look like? In a primary age classroom, it might be discussions about their favorite parts of a story. In an intermediate classroom, the whole game might look more like this…

Doolittle, P. (2013, November 22). Peter Doolittle: How your “working memory” makes sense of the world [Video file]. Retrieved from

Gazzaley, A. (2011, April 17) TEDxSanJoseCA Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD – Brain: Memory and multitasking [Video file]. Retrieved from

Graves, E. (2012, July 3). 5th grade book discussion blub on The Giver [Video file]. Retrieved from

Knatim. (2009, March 5). Summarization 2 explicit teaching [Video file]. Retrieved from

Luke, S.D. (2006). The power of strategy instruction. Evidence for Education, 1(1).

Nordgren, L.F. & Dijksterhuis, A. (2011). Introduction: Still thinking different. Social Cognition, 29(6), 625-628.

Novella, S. (2011, April 18). Attention and memory [Web log]. Retrieved from

Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can transform education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.



One thought on “Cognitive Science Connections Part II

  1. Hi Maureen –
    I love your post! I found the video by Peter Doolittle very informative (and more than a bit amusing!) and a great explanation of working memory. I was only able to remember four words, though – maybe my attention and focus strayed a bit, which is my explanation for why my working memory is not what I thought it was! I also liked the examples you included from your own classroom. Overall, a very nice summary of the information presented in our class over the last few weeks.


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