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March 20, 2019 Wednesday 10:58:35 AM IST

Learn to Learn

Cover Story

In scientific terms, the meaning of cognition encompasses all dynamics of rational mind constituting perception, intuition, discernment, knowledge, learning, understanding, reasoning, thinking, decision making and what not... Cognition is the basis of all human behaviour.

Teacher cognition as a theoretical construct isused to describe the complexity of a teacher’s mental life. According to Cadlerhead, University of Lancaster, teacher’s beliefs,professional attitudes, preconceived notions about learning and teaching, and passion for professional growth-- all influence the profession-related cognitions of a teacher’s personality. Professor Simon Brog,School of Education of the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom,opines that teacher’s knowledge in his/her specialized area or pedagogy constitutes only a small part of the entire panorama of teacher cognition.

One can say that teacher cognition initiates and directs teacher’s behaviour. In the same vein, the development of a teacher along the requisite pathways of her professionis something that segues from continuous refinement of her cognitive mechanismsbehind the act of teaching.

Simon Brog argues that teacher’s experience as a learner is the fundamental factor which influences teacher cognition. Memories from past experiences (as a student) act as a filter while teachersattribute meaning, interpret, and draw conclusionsfrom various classroom situations.

How a teacher is going to view or approach a particular student is strongly determined by themental schema of a teacher about learning/teachingwhich she had ratcheted up during her lifein school as a student. Teacher perceptions about learning act as solid software (schema) which prepares her to perceive the learner and the learning context through some predetermined notions. A schema--regarding anything-- is a rigid mental frame acquired through past life experiences and isso deeply ingrained in the basic psychologicalstructure of an individual. Its effect on the personality of the individual is not always volitional.It is nearly impossible to change them unless the individual makes a conscious (deliberate) attempt.

Does this mean, a teacher’s past experience as a learner is likely to limit/restrict her capacity to comprehend students’ learning activities objectively?More or less..Yes!.

Rigid cognitions

Often bringing changes in professional attitudes is an uphill task.Even after passing through well-intended training programmes designed to alter teachers’ unproductivebeliefs and attitudes, many teachers relapse into their old ways.Even if a change occurs in the level of attitudes and beliefs, it often fails to manifest in teacher-behaviour. What is the reason? Is it always due to the ineffectiveness of suchtraining programmes? Not always.

One reason is, much of the teacher cognitions are automated and so ingrained in the personality of the teacher that a change will be impossible if teachers themselves are not initiators of it. Any attempt that does not arise from the felt need of the teacher for a change will never bring forth desired outcome. Moreover, habitual automated teacher cognitions function like compulsions.Such compulsions pose a real threat to the effective professional growth and development of teaching community.

Once secured in a job, like any other professionals, most teachers lose interest in seeking new information and updating themselves in the latest research revelations/trends in education and related human sciences. They become receptive only to the concrete experiences coming in their way on a daily basis. They think that daily dose of classroom/ teaching experiences will spontaneously update their teaching skills and the wisdom got from the day-to-day experience in teaching is enough to fuel their professional growth.

Experience in teaching verily guarantees professional improvement. But experience becomes a source for learning and self-improvement only if the person can sense something new in those experiences. If a teacher keeps on interpreting everyday experiences in the same manner even after years and years ofher professional experiences, there is no scope for growth. Teacher’s experiences arising from the classroom and student interactions are to be interpreted in the backdrop of ever-changing dynamics of society and culture.  Interpretation of new experienceswith the samefixed mould of teacher cognitions results in the stagnation of teacher personality and the ensuing rigidity in teacher cognitions is incurable.

Cognition-shaping projects

Teacher training programmes, intended for the professional development of teachers, whatever it might be, must target at refining and re-structuring teacher cognitions. Given the fact that the teacher’s past experience as a learner is the foundation upon which teacher cognitions are operating, convincing the teacher’s rational mind about the necessityof altering their way of thinking demands a great deal of time and effort from teacher trainers.

The science of education has not yet attempted to discriminate ineffective teacher cognition from effective ones. Any programme intended to alter or refine teacher cognition must be able to identify aberrations in teacher cognition and suggest alternatives which commiserate well with prospective changes.

The government’s mission for raising the standard of school education to the international level is moving at a snail’s pace. Why?  One of the reasons is, teaching community, who are supposed to be the proponents of the change has not yet begun the journey. They do not have a “felt need” to accelerate the change. Many of them are still at their starting point. They need something different to push the momentum of change forward. 

 One can see that teacher training programmes organized by Kerala governmenthave not yet hit teacher cognitions. Those programmes lack a scientific rigour. No programme conducted so far depended on the scientific facts to convince the logical mindset of teaching community about the need for the change. 

Teacher trainers must aim at aligning the objectives of the teacher training programmes to the latest research revelations made in the field of psychology and education. For example, to alter the cognitions of teachers who believe in corporal punishment (psychological control), well convincing, evidence-based research findings, which refutethe teacher's old beliefs are to be presented. In other words, teacher training programmes must be data-oriented. Research outcomes corroborating the urgency and rationality behind targeted changes in the mindset of teaching community must be an integral part of all programmes organized for professional development.


1.   Calderhead, J. (1996). Teachers: Beliefs and knowledge. In D.C. Berliner & R.C. Calfee (Eds.),Handbook of educational psychology(pp. 709± 726). New York:    Simon & Schuster Macmillan.

2. MarilisaBirello (2012). Teacher Cognition and Language Teacher Education: beliefs and practice. A conversation with Simon Borg           MarilisaBirelloUniversitatAutònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.

3.  Simon Brog (2006).Teacher Cognition and Language Education.

Dr. Jeny Rapheal

The writer is a Teacher and Psychologist Read more articles..