Cognitive Augmentation Training

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series The learning brtain

Cognitive Augmentation Training

Chinien, Boutin & Letteri conducted a study designed to assess the effectiveness of a Cognitive-Based Instructional System (CBIS) as a dropout prevention strategy for students who were experiencing difficulties in coping with the information processing demands imposed upon them by school learning. These students were empowered to succeed in school learning through cognitive skills augmentation and transfer training. Cognitive-based research over the last 15 years has demonstrated that one of the most important factors contributing to achievement differences is the profile of cognitive skills that a student brings to academic tasks (Letteri, 1992). Letteri further argued that in order to succeed, a student “must possess a repertoire of thinking skills that meet the cognitive demands of learning and performance tasks. Without appropriate cognitive skills, students can never be self-directed and independent in academic tasks” (p. 59). Chinien, Boutin and Letteri (1997) have identified seven cognitive skills that can contribute to effective learning:  Analytical, Focus, Reflective, Narrow, Complex, Sharpener  and Tolerant. These seven cognitive skills facilitate the acquisition and deployment of essential skills. Following is a brief description of these cognitive skills:

  •  Analytical: Overcoming the influence of an embedded context and viewing items as separate from the background (analytic).
  •  Focus: Maintaining attention to the specific and important part in the problem and disregarding all irrelevant data.
  •  Reflective: Taking sufficient amount of time to make a complete and accurate comparison between the given problem and prior problems for correct identification.
  •  Narrow: Selecting from alternative solution strategies the one which most accurately satisfies the problem task.
  •  Complex: Defining the problem accurately by specific category for the purpose of selecting appropriate solutions.
  •  Sharpener: Comparing a problem with all other problems in a similar category and applying solution procedures, which have been successful in the past.
  •  Tolerant: Having the ability and willingness to deal with information that may not be consistent with what they know, to explore novel areas of learning.

These seven cognitive skill dimensions have been found to determine and predict with high accuracy learners’ levels of success in academic learning and performance tasks. The aim of Chinien, Boutin and Letteri’s project was to provide cognitive augmentation and transfer training to at risk students.

The target population for this study consisted of 175 junior-high school students who had been identified as potential dropouts. Four junior-high school sites were included in this demonstration project. All participating teachers (n=7) received seven full days of training in the CBIS. The CBIS teachers also received on-site individualized training and coaching while they were working on the augmentation strategies with their students. These project activities spanned the entire school year.

The Cognitive Profile Assessment Instrument (CPAI) was used to assess the cognitive profiles of all 175 students at the beginning of the project. The CPAI consists of seven different sections, each designed to measure one of the seven cognitive skills: analytical/global, focus/non-focus, reflective/impulsive, narrow/broad, complex/simple, sharpener/leveller and tolerant/intolerant. The CPAI sorts the student population into three large categories (Types I, II, and III), which are called Cognitive Profile Types as described below:

Type I Profile: These students show evidence of strength in a majority (four or more) of the seven cognitive skills. They are typically in the top 15-18% of the population in academic achievement;

Type II Profile: These students do not demonstrate particular strengths or weaknesses in the controls included in the cognitive profile. They tend to be highly inconsistent and are usually of average (mediocre) academic achievement. Type II students comprise 60-70% of the population.

Type III Profile: These students demonstrate a major deficit (4 or more) in terms of the cognitive skills as indicated by their cognitive profiles. These students typically present severe learning problems and are several grade levels below their placement grade in all areas of standardized testing. These students usually have long histories of failure and, as research indicates, no amount of assistance has been able to rectify the situation. Type III students represent 15-18% of the school population.

The CPAI was administered at the beginning and at the end of the school year as pretest and posttest to the treatment (n = 45) and control (n = 45) groups. Students were classified as Type I, II or III according to their performance on the CPAI. All Type III and extreme Type II students (n = 45) were selected for the CBIS cognitive augmentation and transfer training. The 45 students selected for the CBIS training were assigned to the classroom teachers who were involved in the project. The augmentation training treatment was administered to students on a one-on-one basis. Each student received an average of 20 hours of CBIS training during the school year. The teachers used CBIS basic augmentation strategies to modify the cognitive profile of their Type II and III students. The objective was to enable Type II and III students to perform as Type I on cognitive tasks. Students were given training and practice in the skills of monitoring, directing and controlling their information processing system sequentially for each of the seven cognitive skills. Once the students had acquired a degree of comfort with specific cognitive skills, these guiding principles were used to assist them in transferring the newly acquired cognitive skills to various subject matter that they had to learn at school. This was achieved by showing the students the relationship between the augmentation exercises and the cognitive skill requirement for academic tasks. Students were also coached to apply the augmented cognitive skill to complete academic tasks. Authentic materials such as homework and other assignments were used to increase the meaningfulness and effectiveness of the transfer process.

In general, a large percentage of the treatment and control groups did not experience any change in cognitive profile, a moderate number demonstrated a positive change, and fewer showed a negative change. The greatest gain for both treatment and control groups was on sharpener. The treatment group showed substantial gains on four of the cognitive skills (complex, analytical, reflective, and narrow), while very little gain was observed on tolerance. The positive and negative changes among the control group were unexpected. Finally, analysis of the nature of change by overall cognitive profile type for the treatment group revealed that 46% experienced no change. Data indicated that 38% of the treatment group experienced a positive change in overall cognitive profile type, 20% moved from Type II to I; 2% moved from Type III to I; and 16% moved from Type III to II. Seven percent experienced a negative change, moving from Type II to III. Results also indicated that 44% of the control group students moved from Type II to I and 11% experienced a negative change moving from Type I to II.

A follow-up study was conducted two and one half years after the initial project implementation. The purpose was to provide additional evidence regarding the effectiveness of the CBIS as a dropout prevention strategy. All four schools involved in the CBIS project were surveyed in order to determine the status of the CBIS students. Three out of the four schools responded to the follow-up survey. Therefore, data were available for 30 out of the 45 CBIS students. Only 3 out of these 30 (9.9%) at-risk students had dropped out of school. One of these students had been required to withdraw because of irregular attendance, although he was performing well academically and socially. The other two students had behavioral problems and one of them had encountered problems with the law. Further analysis of the school survey indicates that nearly all of the other 27

CBIS students were doing well academically and only four were experiencing some difficulties with their schoolwork. The majority of these students was demonstrating a positive attitude toward school and were not experiencing significant behavioral problems. These results support the contention that cognitive skills are modifiable through augmentation and transfer training. A somewhat significant number of students did not register an overall change in profile designation. The lack of significant difference may suggest that the instruments used in this study were not sufficiently sensitive to detect small but important changes in cognitive profile. Furthermore, these results cannot be attributed exclusively to a lack of effectiveness of the augmentation and transfer strategies. Post-debriefing interviews indicated that many teachers believed that they needed more training and practice in cognitive-based learning in order to be able to fully implement the program. Many teachers also reported that they did not have sufficient time to cover the augmentation and transfer training for all seven cognitive skills.

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