When I hear the word cognition, or cognitive, as used more frequently, an image of a bespectacled Swiss man automatically manifests himself into my mind’s eye. The father of cognitive science, Jean Piaget, has given a wealth of knowledge to parents and educators, and he has given rise to the numerous studies based on his developmental theory. As a boulder rolling down a slope gains momentum, so have the areas of cognitive science, neuroscience, and information processing including Artificial Intelligence.
But what does “cognition” mean? According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2010), “Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of mind and intelligence, embracing philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, linguistics, and anthropology.” So dude, cognition is all in your mind! It’s how you think what you think when you think it and why you do so. It’s the pictures or images you see when you hear a story and try to comprehend it by using logical tools such as inference and deduction. It’s the comparisons you make by relating two apparent dissimilar items, say, a car to the human body or fuel to food, using analogies. It’s the routine we create for ourselves because that is what works for us in our daily lives-the rules we follow. Simply speaking, cognition is all the processes our mind endures to help us live and learn.
I want to differentiate between the mind and brain though because the mind encompasses other parts of our bodies and experiences not limited to the brain or to electrical impulses. The mind implies that we incorporate our bodies and our environment when we learn something as in the case of a sport. Your body isn’t simply responding to a ball based on the brain’s directive. Your body and brain are working together, a team (the mind), to accomplish the task but also to create a memory or an emotion. In the instance of children, one of the reasons we adults encourage team sports is because we see the value in the lessons learned. But let’s also consider some cognitive skills that will help in a science class. When the child kicks the ball, he/she learns the concepts of inertia (Tomecek, 2010). He/she also learns the valuable skill of observation, as well as cause-effect relationships. When parents read that a certain toy/book/lesson/insertactivityhere helps with “cognitive skills” what they are hoping is that their child’s intellect and critical thinking skills develop and improve.
There are a myriad of ways to accomplish this and schooling, whether at home or elsewhere, seeks to do so. One of the best ways to begin thinking about what or how to teach, is to first consider the individual and his/her learning style. Howard Gardner proposed that we all have strengths and preferences in how we learn or as he called it, Multiple Intelligences. When we recognize how we best learn with new information presented to us, we can better assimilate and accommodate the new knowledge a la’ Piaget. As parents and educators, it is our responsibility to incorporate activities and methods that allow the child to thrive. The chart below briefly details the intelligences.
So, you have a kid who just can’t sit still? He/she most likely would benefit from a literal “picture walk” before reading a story to aid in literacy. Have a visual learner? He/she might like a KWL chart while reading the aforementioned story.
If you’re privy, take your test!
But these are just ways to think about cognition in the context of teaching and learning with promising instructional methods. What about developing cognition for overall well-being and influence on all daily learning. Are there ways to promote the brain to make new connections through synaptic development while also developing our emotional intelligence-something that computers and AI cannot achieve? Why yes. As humans, we are tragically, or fortunately (depending on your outlook) self-aware. This is why in the field of neuroscience, cognition, is often diminished to the physical, in so far as to discuss the brain or it’s inner-workings as simple biochemistry. It’s also the reason why many people believe AI can be as interactive, important or as useful as the human brain and therefore try to replicate it ! The problem is that computers do not have bodies that lend themselves to emotive experience nor do they have true “memories” made by the realization of the intricacy of the world (Lehrer, 2007).
Through mindfulness we can achieve greater cognitive ability by way of a strong mind-body connection that embraces our emotional humanity and self-awareness. Yoga and meditation strive to improve our overall health and mind by providing clarity. It helps in the “why” equation of what we think by providing a moment of non-judgemental presentness. Many schools now are including yoga in their curriculum and seeing positive results through higher grades and lower rates of behavioral issues. As a matter of fact, one study that employed mindfulness training found that it had a substantial effect on self-regulation (a critical component for effective learning and healthy behavior) by way of the prefrontal cortex (Zelazo & Lyons, 2012).
In addition, according to Zeidan et. al (2010), ” Mindfulness meditation teaches you to release sensory events that would easily distract, whether it is your own thoughts or an external noise, in an emotion-regulating fashion. This can lead to better, more efficient performance on the intended task.” I use yoga daily with my homeschooled children and it has become our tool in dealing with breakdowns and inconveniences. You know, just in case you needed anecdotal evidence!
As a homeschooling mom, I see the value in doing things a little differently as I believe, per the research, that individuals require custom-made instruction that utilizes a multitude of modalities that enhances their cognition and gets them thinking. Their answers to their self posited questions may not always be correct, but at least they are asking questions and using the mental representations of logic, concepts, rules, analogies, and images to come to their conclusions. I use instructional methods often used in public school such as think-pair-share, but I also indulge their unique learning styles and encourage them to teach me after reflecting and finding that quiet space in which to connect everything they see, do, and ultimately, learn.
My philosophy filters onto the mat too. While people may not go to a yoga class to pass a test, their goal is to become the best them they can possibly be. By providing that safe space where people can be, well…people, they come out of the studio refreshed and ready to live in a world that requires constant attention. If you believe the mind and body are one, it is pretty easy to see that we are vastly individual. And human. Always, uniquely human.
Cognitive Science. (2010). In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cognitive-science/
Lehrer, J. (2007). Hearts and minds. The Boston Globe. Retrieved January 26, 2014 fromhttp://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2007/04/29/hearts__minds/
Tomocek, S. (2010). Experimenting with Everday Science: Sports. New York: Infobase.
Zeidan et al. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 2010; DOI:10.1016/j.concog.2010.03.014University of North Carolina at Charlotte. (2010, April 19). Brief meditative exercise helps Cognition. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2014 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100414184220.htm
Zelazo, P., & Lyons, K. (2012). The potential benefits of mindfulness training in early Childhood: a developmental social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Child Development Perspectives. 6(2), 154-160.
http://moleskinelovers.tumblr.com/post/24201317326/open-your-mind-colour-pencils-on-moleskine Retrieved on January 26, 2014.