The mental processes in the Cognitive System take action from the knowledge domain. These processes give people access to the information and procedures in their memory and help them manipulate and use this knowledge. Marzano breaks the Cognitive System down into four components: knowledge retrieval, comprehension, analysis, and knowledge utilization. Each process is composed of all the previous processes. Comprehension, for example, requires knowledge retrieval; analysis requires comprehension, and so on.
Like the knowledge component of Bloom’s Taxonomy, Knowledge Retrieval involves recalling information from permanent memory. At this level of understanding, learners are merely calling up facts, sequences, or processes exactly as they have been stored.
At a higher level, Comprehension requires identifying what is important to remember and placing that information into appropriate categories. Therefore, the first skill of comprehension, synthesis, requires the identification of the most important components of the concept and the deletion of any that are insignificant or extraneous. For example, a learner learning about the Trekboers should bother to remember the route that the explorers took but not how many weapons they carried with them. Of course, what is considered important about a concept depends on the context in which it is learned, so the information that is stored about a topic would vary by situation and learner.
Through representation, information is organized in categories that make it more efficient to find and use. Graphic organizers, such as maps and charts, encourage this cognitive process. Interactive thinking tools such as the Visual Ranking Tool* which allows learners to compare their evaluations with others, the Seeing Reason Tool* which helps learners develop maps of systems, and the Showing Evidence Tool*, which supports the creation of good arguments, also serve the purpose of representing knowledge.
More complex than simple comprehension, the five cognitive processes in Analysis are matching, classifying, error analysis, generalizing, and specifying. By engaging in these processes, learners can use what they are learning to create new insights and invent ways of using what they have learned in new situations.
The final level of cognitive processes addresses the use of knowledge. Marzano calls these processes Knowledge Utilization, or Using Knowledge. The processes of using knowledge are especially important components of thinking for project-based learning since they include processes used by people when they want to accomplish a specific task.
Decision-making, a cognitive process involves the weighing of options to determine the most appropriate course of action.
Problem-solving occurs when an obstacle is encountered on the way to achieving a goal. Sub-skills for this process include identification of and analysis of the problem.
Experimental inquiry involves generating hypotheses about physical or psychological phenomena, creating experiments, and analyzing the results. Grade 3 learners designing bean plant experiments and analyzing ideal conditions for growth are conducting experimental inquiry. For more information on this project, see the Project Plan, The Great Bean Race.
Investigation is similar to experimental inquiry but involves past, present, or future events. Unlike experimental inquiry which has specific rules for evidence based on statistical analysis, investigation requires logical arguments. In an experimental inquiry, learners observe and record direct data about phenomena. In an investigation, the information is less direct. It comes from the research and opinions of others through their writings, speaking, and other work. High school physics learners who research current physics issues and use what they learn to persuade lawmakers to fund particular types of research are conducting investigations. See Help Wanted! Physicist for details on this project.
The metacognitive system is the “mission control” of the thinking process and regulates all the other systems. This system sets goals and makes decisions about which information is necessary and which cognitive processes best suit the goal. It then monitors the processes and makes changes as necessary. For example, a senior phase learner who is contributing to a virtual museum about different rocks first establishes the goals of what his/her webpage will have on it and what it will look like. Then he/she chooses what strategies he/she will use to find out what he/she needs to know in order to create the page. As he/she implements the strategies, he/she monitors how well they are working, changing or modifying how he/she is working in order to complete the task successfully.
Research on metacognition, particularly in literacy and mathematics, makes a convincing case that instruction and support in the control and regulation of thinking processes can have a strong impact on achievement (Paris, Wasik, Turner, 1991; Schoenfeld, 1992).
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