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Cognitively Guided Instruction Makes Math Approachable

Jamie Schroeder, ’23, a Wisconsin native earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, is determined to make math a more approachable subject in elementary schools.

“While you don’t hear highly intelligent people proclaiming that they can’t read, you do hear many of these same individuals talking about ‘not being a math person,’” Schroeder stated during her presentation at the BYU President’s Leadership Council last October. “This is something that we are working to change.”

Together with Brandon McMillan, assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education, Schroeder is working to reduce the anxiety caused by math instruction by implementing a method called cognitively guided instruction, or CGI.

According to Schroeder, the core precepts behind CGI echo the ministry of Jesus Christ, “the Master Teacher.” Much as parables were meant to be subjectively interpreted according to the faith and personal needs of the listener, CGI “guides students to understand math in a way that makes sense to them.”

“This type of instruction is based on the student’s way of thinking,” Schroeder explained. “The teacher poses a problem for the students to solve in whatever way makes sense for them. They are allowed to use any strategy to solve that problem, so they are really able to make sense of and understand the problem, the solution, and what actually happens when you add, subtract, multiply, or divide numbers.”

Parables met listeners where they were and helped them build upon a strong foundation of faith until they could understand more complex gospel principles. Similarly, a growing body of evidence shows that CGI motivates students to continue learning more advanced mathematical concepts.

“The Savior helps all who He teaches understand the gospel in the way that makes sense to them,” Schroeder says. “This is what cognitively guided instruction does as it guides students to understand math in a way that makes sense to them without explicitly telling them what they need to know or how they should be solving a problem. This way of teaching is teaching in the Savior’s way.”