Cognitive Status definition

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How does the mind work—and especially how does it learn? Teachers' instructional decisions are based on a mix of theories from teacher education, trial and error, craft knowledge, and gut instinct. Such gut knowledge often serves us well, but is there anything sturdier to rely on?

Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field of researchers from psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, philosophy, computer science, and anthropology who seek to understand the mind. In this regular American Educator column, we consider findings from this field that are strong and clear enough to merit classroom application.

By Daniel T. Willingham

Question: I have read that the mind treats stories differently than other types of information. It seems obvious that people like listening to stories, but it's not obvious how to use that in the classroom. Is it really true that stories are somehow "special" and, if so, how can teachers capitalize on that fact?

Answer: Research from the last 30 years shows that stories are indeed special. Stories are easy to comprehend and easy to remember, and that's true not just because people pay close attention to stories; there is something inherent in the story format that makes them easy to understand and remember. Teachers can consider using the basic elements of story structure to organize lessons and introduce complicated material, even if they don't plan to tell a story in class.

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Everybody loves a good story. Even small children who have difficulty focusing in class will sit with rapt attention in the presence of a good storyteller. But stories are not just fun. There are important cognitive consequences of the story format. Psychologists have therefore referred to stories as "psychologically privileged, " meaning that our minds treat stories differently than other types of material. People find stories interesting, easy to understand, and easy to remember. To understand why these benefits accrue, it is necessary to understand the underlying format of stories.

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