Pedagogical Techniques: Cognitive Disequilibrium an Goldilocks Principle

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Cognitive Disequilibrium

There will always be different kinds of intellects at classrooms. What are considered the worst students do not like to think through a problem or find out how a mechanism works, while some of the better students may understand the same concepts but do not think further about them once they are done learning what they had to learn. This is when the presence of a teacher asking them questions comes into play. A technique used to make students think further is called the cognitive disequilibrium. Cognitive disequilibrium is in charge of daring students to think of better ways why something works the way it does. The name itself points at imbalanced knowledge towards a certain topic. Let’s take for example a group of students leading an experiment where they are mostly sure of what the outcome will be. Their desire to find results that matches their theory will be biased, and if something in the experiment indicates their theory is not completely true there will be a moment of conflicting cognitions; this is what researchers call cognitive disequilibrium. Starting as early as the 1950’s, social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term “cognitive dissonance” in his book When Prophecy Fails. At the same time, developmental psychologist Jean Piaget realized his work in cognitive developmental theory, including a close approach to cognitive dissonance. He conceptualized that as a child grows up, he will constantly be finding new information that will challenge the former beliefs he had, thus making an imbalance in cognition and making the child adapt to a new set of ideas (Colombo, 2002). This kind of conflict affects learning the same way it can affect the process of gathering information. Much like in research, theories can change drastically based on how big the changes are when finding new data. According to Chin and Brewer (1993) there are seven different forms of response to inconsistent information, the unpredicted information that can possibly throw off one’s already learned knowledge: ignoring, rejecting, excluding, abeyance, reinterpreting, peripheral change, and theory change. Because of its ability to change theories and change our perception of beliefs, cognitive disequilibrium is not only a concept, but it also serves as a major pedagogical technique. In the context of educational psychology, cognitive disequilibrium can be used as a tool to defy students and their ideas. We can see instances where in class a teacher asks a student a question related to the material to see if the student is familiar with it, but that does not show understanding of the material. By asking more in-depth questions of why a student thinks he has the right answer or by asking about how he came about finding the answer we are solidifying a pathway that shows us why the answer is such. If there is not an exact pathway that could explain how one came to conclude that the answer is correct, there may be an error in between that could change the answer. In the case of our lecture class, Dr. Zola has made use of this technique in a couple of occasions to motivate students into thinking deeper about their answers to simple questions he makes. I remember at least one occasion where he asks a simple question about a student’s take on a subject, and when the student confidently answered, Dr. Zola asked follow-up questions that made the student rethink his response, and thus think better about his argument. Not only would he give follow-up questions, but introduce new ideas backed up by other researchers of prestige that could really change the way we think. The times he presents new information that unbalances our beliefs are just followed by very small pauses where we reconsider our ideas, until we have to discuss them with other students or we move ahead to new material. Every concept that we rethink due to new information presented should be given a good amount of time to break down what we know about the concept...
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