A Theoretical and Methodological Approach to Examine Young Learners’ Cognitive Engagement in Science Learning

A Theoretical and Methodological Approach to Examine Young Learners’ Cognitive Engagement in Science Learning

Meng-Fang Tsai (Chung-Yuan Christian University, Taiwan) and Syh-Jong Jang (Chung-Yuan Christian University, Taiwan)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2809-0.ch004


Children start learning science in formal school settings as early as kindergarten ages. Scientific literacy is an essential component in forming science curriculum for students’ knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts across grades and with different scientific disciplines. Students’ cognitive engagement is displayed through different levels of cognitive processes involved during their knowledge construction. Much of the research in students’ cognitive engagement of science learning focuses on older students and the use of self-report measures on their cognitive strategies. Research on young learners’ cognitive engagement in science learning is missing in current literature. Part of the reason may be young learners are just beginning to develop a repertoire of cognitive strategies as well as lacking sufficient linguistic competence to accurately articulate the cognitive strategies involved in their science learning. The chapter introduces a theoretical and methodological approach, quantitative content analysis, to fulfill the gap. The chapter manifests the approach through three perspectives: (a) methodological approaches being employed in current studies of cognitive engagement in science learning, (b) the need for a different methodological approach for young learners, and (c) how this particular approach can be adopted in future research on young learners’ cognitive engagement in science learning.
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Theoretical Framework

Definition of Cognitive Engagement

Academic engagement is defined as students’ commitment or investment in school and is thought to influence students’ task management, classroom behaviors (Greenwood, Horton, & Utley, 2002), motivation (Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2003), science attitudes, and academic achievement (Singh, Granville, & Dika, 2002). Cognitive engagement is originated from school engagement that includes three types of engagement: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). Behavioral engagement is defined as students’ behaviors identified in relation to their engagement such as school attendance, and participation in school activities. Emotional engagement is defined as students’ affective reactions to classroom such as happiness, sadness, and anxiety. Thirdly, cognitive engagement is defined as the students’ psychological investment in learning. Pintrich and Schrauben (1992) defined cognitive engagement as to include cognitive and motivational component. Motivational components include expectancy, value, and affect. Cognitive components include knowledge, learning strategies, and thinking strategies. Other researchers specifically view students’ self-regulation of their use of cognitive and metacognitive processes during acquisition and transformation of knowledge as a form of cognitive engagement (Corno & Mandinach, 1983; Mandinach & Corno, 1985). Therefore, cognitive engagement has been studied with different constructs such as motivation (Greene & Miller, 1996; Meece, Blumenfeld, & Hoyle, 1988; Walker, Greene, & Mansell, 2006) and perceptions of classroom tasks (Greene, Miller, Crowson, Duke, & Akey, 2004). Since cognitive engagement is defined and studied differently with disparate constructs by researchers, in this chapter, we adopt the definition by Fredricks et al. (2004) and Dole and Sinatra’s descriptions of levels of information processing during knowledge construction, to discuss the issue on examining young children’s cognitive engagement in science learning.

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