CIPs Teaching Tips – Fall 2012 #7 “Supporting Learning”

People actually build knowledge in their brains when they learn. This is what the students in our classes do too.  As students learn, they first reach the functional level of operation. This level is when they are still strengthening the neural strands and systems that constitute their newly acquired knowledge or skill. When they are in this stage, they can scallop backwards from appearing to have complete understanding or ability one minute to appearing to be confused or forgetful the next. Research shows that there are many things that can successfully support this early learning. Here are a few:

Peer Support – Allow students to support each other as they navigate a learning activity designed to help them “cement” their new understanding or skill. They will each have areas that are beginning to go beyond the functional to the optimal level of performance. They will also be able to help each other in those areas where one of them as scalloped backwards to uncertainty. This peer support also lessens stress which can have a negative effect on their learning.

Mentor Support – Facilitate student learning by making yourself available as a consultant in the classroom as students (individually, in pairs, or in groups) work on a learning activity. Students should feel free to consult you for clarification or brief re-teaching as needed. Remember the goal is to first build new understanding not to evaluate students. You are helping them to assess their own understanding and to revise it as needed.

Representations – Use metaphors or other representations of new concepts being learned that students (or you) can call up to refresh their understanding as they continue to use and apply their new knowledge or skills.

Context – Design learning activities that provide a clear context for applying new knowledge or skills. Make sure that the context is familiar to student so that their primary focus can be on using their new skills and knowledge not on trying to decipher the context.

Connections – Intentionally and transparently connect the students’ new learning and skills to the purpose of the particular class, the course, their future careers, and their lives as global citizens. Demonstrate why what they are doing matters. Increasing this understanding will increase their motivation which in turn will increase their learning.

Below are a few resources (with links) that explore the theory behind these suggestions.

May your learning designs prove to be optimal,

Resources for Building Knowledge (note the upper end of the age ranges mentioned):

Fischer, K. W. “Dynamic cycles of cognitive and brain development: Measuring growth in mind, brain, and education.” The Educated Brain. Ed. A. M. Battro, K. W. Fischer and P. Lena. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 127-150.

Fischer, K. W. “What’s the brain got to do with it?” Usable Knowledge. n.d.

Fischer, Kurt W. and L. Todd Rose. “Webs of Skill: How Students Learn.” Educational Leadership (November 2001): 6-12

CIP, Center for Instructional Practice

Cinse Bonino, Director

Located on the second floor of the Miller Information Commons (the library) across from the printer – MIC 205


Contact Director Cinse Bonino for a one-on-one CIP instructional design session:

Email: or Phone: 802 651 5965 Skype: cinse.cip



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