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Cognitive Foundations of Learning

building-a-houseLearning is like building a house. The first step is to lay a foundation. Unless there is a strong and solid foundation, cracks will soon appear in the walls, and with no foundations, the walls will collapse. In the same way one needs to lay a proper foundation before it becomes possible for a child to benefit from a course in reading, writing and arithmetic. If this foundation is shaky, learning “cracks” will soon appear.

Edublox offers unique developmental programmes, aimed at the inculcation of basic skills, which are necessary for school entry, for sustained achievement at school, and to overcome learning difficulties. Our programmes develop and automate the cognitive foundations of reading, spelling, writing, mathematics, and the skills required in the learning of subject matter.

A list of the most important foundational skills addressed by Edublox programmes include:

Attention

Attention or concentration (the words attention and concentration are used synonymously) is important to learning. Poor attention can be a key sign of behaviour and learning disorders such as hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder (ADD).

When it comes to attention, it is important to keep in mind that attention is a skill, and just like all other skills (riding a bicycle, driving a car) must be learned. There are three types of attention: When a child is easily distracted by a pencil falling off their desk or sounds outside the classroom window, they lack focused attention. Sustained attention is required to focus for long periods of time. Then there is divided attention, which is a higher-level skill where you have to perform two or more tasks at the same time. If the task is to write a story, a learner must be able to think about their characters and plot, as well as spelling and punctuation rules that apply.

Perception

Before one can learn anything, perception must take place, i.e. one has to become aware of it through one of the senses. Usually one has to hear or see it. Subsequently one has to interpret whatever one has seen or heard. In essence then, perception means interpretation. Of course, lack of experience may cause a person to misinterpret what he has seen or heard. In other words, perception represents our apprehension of a present situation in terms of our past experiences, or, as stated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): “We see things not as they are but as we are.”

The following situation will illustrate how perception correlates with previous experience:

Suppose a person parked his car and walks away from it while continuing to look back at it. As he goes further and further away from his car, it will appear to him as if his car is gradually getting smaller and smaller. In such a situation none of us, however, would gasp in horror and cry out, “My car is shrinking!” Although the sensory perception is that the car is shrinking rapidly, we do not interpret that the car is changing size. Through past experiences we have learned that objects do not grow or shrink as we walk towards or away from them. You have learned that their actual size remains constant, despite the illusion. Even when one is five blocks away from one’s car and it seems no larger than one’s fingernail, one would interpret it as that it is still one’s car and that it hasn’t actually changed size. This learned perception is known as size constancy.

Pygmies, however, who used to live deep in the rain forests of tropical Africa, were not often exposed to wide vistas and distant horizons, and therefore did not have sufficient opportunities to learn size constancy. Colin Macmillan Turnbull, an anthropologist and author of The Forest People, wrote about one pygmy who, when removed from his usual environment, was convinced he was seeing a swarm of insects when he was actually looking at a herd of buffalo at a great distance. When driven toward the animals he was frightened to see the insects “grow” into buffalo and was sure witchcraft had been responsible.

A person needs to interpret sensory phenomena, and this can only be done on the basis of past experience of the same, similar or related phenomena. Perceptual ability, therefore, heavily depends upon the amount of perceptual practice and experience that the subject has already enjoyed.

Visual perceptual skills involved in reading and spelling include the ability to discriminate, synthesise and analyse in terms of foreground-background, form, size, position in space and colour. Auditory perceptual skills include discriminate, synthesise and analyse in terms of sounds.

Memory

Visual memory involves the ability to store and retrieve previously experienced visual sensations and perceptions when the stimuli that originally evoked them are no longer present. That is, the person must be capable of making a vivid visual image in his mind of the stimulus, such as a word, and once that stimulus is removed, to be able to visualise or recall this image without help.

Various researchers have stated that as much as 80 percent of all learning takes place through the eye with visual memory existing as a crucial aspect of learning.

Auditory memory involves being able to take in information that is presented orally, to process that information, store it in one’s mind and then recall what one has heard. Basically, it involves the skills of attending, listening, processing, storing, and recalling. Because learners with auditory memory weaknesses pick up only bits and pieces of what is being said during a classroom lecture, they make sense of only little of what is said by the teacher. Afterwards they are able to recall only a small amount or none of what was said.

Logical thinking

In his book Brain Building Dr. Karl Albrecht states that logical thinking is not a magical process or a matter of genetic endowment, but a learned mental process. It is the process in which one uses reasoning consistently to come to a conclusion. Problems or situations that involve logical thinking call for structure, for relationships between facts, and for chains of reasoning that “make sense.”

The basis of all logical thinking is sequential thought, says Dr. Albrecht. This process involves taking the important ideas, facts, and conclusions involved in a problem and arranging them in a chain-like progression that takes on a meaning in and of itself. To think logically is to think in steps.

Logical thinking is also an important foundational skill of maths. “Learning mathematics is a highly sequential process,” says Dr. Albrecht. “If you don’t grasp a certain concept, fact, or procedure, you can never hope to grasp others that come later, which depend upon it. For example, to understand fractions you must first understand division. To understand simple equations in algebra requires that you understand fractions. Solving ‘word problems’ depends on knowing how to set up and manipulate equations, and so on.”

It has been proven that specific training in logical thinking processes can make people “smarter.” Logical thinking allows a child to reject quick and easy answers, such as “I don’t know,” or “this is too difficult,” by empowering him to delve deeper into his thinking processes and understand better the methods used to arrive at a solution.

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