A Brief History of Cognitively Guided Instruction

by Tom Carpenter

As you know Eliz and I had our own separate programs of research during the first 10 years that we were together at UW.

Eliz was studying how students’ gender was related to their mathematical experiences, their knowledge, and their perceptions of themselves as learners of mathematics.

And I was spending my time talking with hundreds of first-, second-, and third-grade children trying to figure how they thought about addition and subtraction.

That is where our story of CGI begins:

Having found all to know about gender worth knowing,
Eliz might have sat by the lake and watched the grass growing.
But instead she thought that for a while
she’d help her colleague do something worthwhile.

He’d spent his life studying kids one on one.
And while she was sure that was oodles of fun,
in education what is important is classes,
where teachers teach children not alone but in masses.

Well we knew how children did add and subtract.
Could something of value be made of that fact?
What could we tell teachers to do with this stuff
that they would not just perceive as more fluff.

We racked our poor brains to come up with a plan
that teachers could implement to the last woman and man.
If we could just tell them just how to do it,
If we had tried that, we just would have blew it.

Having no success in planning instruction,
we thought why not make it the teachers’ construction.
Rather than attempting to preach
to them about how they should teach,

We decided to talk about kids’ math cognition,
and see how it fit with teachers’ intuition
about how to teach, after all they are pros.
And we know nothing of teaching, as everyone knows.

That’s what we did, and low and behold,
teachers knew what to do without being told.
Thinking back on it, why did we make such a fuss?
We should have known all along they were smarter than us.

They taught with intelligence, creativity, and grace.
And in so doing helped us to save face.
Now it was possible that we could pretend
that this was always what we did intend.

That my friends is the inside story
of CGI in all its glory.

Tom Carpenter, A Brief History of Cognitively Guided Instruction