Over the past half-century, psychologists and neuroscientists have learned a great deal about the way our brains work. These discoveries have revolutionized our understanding about how people learn. We now know that academic achievement is greatly influenced by students’ abilities to apply thought processes in a systematic way. In education, terms often used are cognitive strategies (we use the term assets) and metacognition.
Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists may use the term executive functions or skills to describe similar functions. For example, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists may all speak of the importance of capacities such as working memory, selective attention, and metacognition with regard to learning. All three groups of professionals are talking about skills that are linked to the brain's prefrontal region, as well as other areas of the brain depending upon the specific skill. Ongoing research continues to increase our understanding about related structures and functions.
Some students arrive at school with most of their cognitive assets (or executive functions) in place. They have the capacity to benefit from standard teaching practice if they are motivated to do so. Other students do not arrive with all these assets in place. They may start school motivated, but they can quickly lose ground as their reading, writing, and computing skills fail to develop at the prescribed rate.
One response is to require them to repeat the grade, which is both financially costly and largely ineffective, In our book, Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement by As Much as 30 Percent, we cite studies that show that students who are held back do not gain the skills they need to perform at grade level and that grade retention is highly correlated to dropping out of school.
A more proactive and effective solution is to cultivate the cognitive assets students need to do well in school and in life so that they can become more positive, healthy, and productive citizens. Our approach focuses on cultivating cognitive assets in students, allowing teachers to effectively move toward the mission that all students will succeed in school and in life.
A key component of this approach is what sets out the process of purposeful cognition by gathering information, processing information, and applying information to achieve desired results. This approach supports academic achievement, encourages a safe school environment, and can be the framework for a lifetime of successful thinking.