Teacher's Desk: Cognitive Lightning Bolt

Much has been said about the dumbing down of America. One look at the “Let’s Make A Deal” health-care reform process in Washington shows we are not teaching problem-solving skills. Indeed, helping students learn to problem-solve and “learn to learn” is something almost all schools are failing to do, according to Jack Elliott and Larry Hargrave in a Denver Post opinion piece on Dec. 19. My jaw dropped when I read their article. They discussed how teaching our students cognitive skills will improve the capacity of students to learn the learning skills many of our students need to improve in order to provide higher level cognitive skills and help more students graduate instead being left behind. Rather than a curriculum-based philosophy, Elliott and Hargrave suggest student awareness and oriented philosophy that improves learning skills.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to our psychologist who gives the type of test that shows the skill sets our teen students have or not: short term memory, long term memory, reading comprehension, reading fluency, math fluency, and decoding to name a few. Her testing also shows how a student learns best: auditory, visually, or kinesthetically. I asked her what she would think about testing struggling students not on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) so we could differentiate classes by student weaknesses and needs instead of MAPs scores. (MAP is a computer based assessment that informs us as to where students’ skill levels fall. We place students with like MAPs scores into classes.) She was both supportive and intrigued.

My next visit was with our principal. She liked it and wanted to meet further on this. With the information from not only this editorial, but the authors’ website, www.cog1st.org, I hope that we can not only put this program in place through assessment, but provide staff development to assist our educators in implementation!

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator at Colorado High School Charter with an MA in educational leadership and policy studies and a former candidate for the State Board of Education.