Cognitive Lift

Learners do the majority of the cognitive lifting — explaining, making connections, addressing questions, etc. — during written work and discourse.


icon of person at desk pointing up with a lightbulb, indicating an idea

Explain, make connections to ideas, share their ideas and opinions, and address questions during spoken discourse

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Contribute to a class discussion through questions or responses to prompts

  • Challenge the argument or thinking of peer or learning facilitator during a classroom discussion

  • Offer opinions and follow up questions about a topic or text that relates to larger themes

Questions to Ask Learners

  • For this learning experience, how will you share your thoughts during class?

  • How often do you get to share your learning with peers?

icon of a paper with writing and a pencil

Explain and make connections to ideas during written work

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Discuss how they use collaborative written formats (i.e. group chart paper, Google docs or slides, etc) to contribute thoughts and ideas to a group or class discussion

  • Use feedback and annotation structures (i.e highlighting, inserting comments, Post-its, etc.) to offer feedback and ideas on written work with group members or classmates

Questions to Ask Learners

  • How do you work with peers to discuss ideas in written work?

  • Do you give each other feedback and idea on each others' written work?


Learning that is driven by the learner allows individuals to take responsibility over their own cognitive development. When learners make active choices, they are motivated to learn and develop a sense of ownership.


Learning facilitators create the conditions and culture to ensure learners carry the cognitive lift. A sense of ownership for learners can support high expectations, creating opportunities for active learning, encouraging productive struggle, and ensuring deliberate practice.

Educator Actions

Learning facilitators ensure learners have the opportunity to take on the majority of the work of learning and facilitate consistent and varied opportunities for active learning.

CSTPs: 1.5, 2.4, 3.1, 3.3, 4.4

Ribbon icon


At the TK-5 content levels, use instructional protocols during Guided Reading to have learners share their thinking and make connections during the book preview or comprehension activities. This could also be number talks in math that ensure they explain their thinking and challenge the ideas of peers.

At the 6-12 content levels, design tasks that learners can provide written feedback to each other on via Google Docs or other interactive methods.

This will ensure the learners do the lifting and learning!


  • Employ inquiry-based and investigative learning that is driven by learner questions (P)

  • Provide plentiful opportunities for deliberate practice (P)

  • Anticipate learner thinking in advance and develop complex extending questions that probe and guide learners (P)

  • Ensure educator talk only occurs when necessary and is clear and concise when it occurs, in order to prioritize learner processing (P/F)

  • Distribute questions across multiple learners (P/F)

  • Ask for multiple, diverse examples or supporting evidence (P/F)

  • Ask learners to explain their process versus only sharing their product (P/F)

  • Prompt learners to respond to one another’s thoughts and answers instead of the educator doing this, when appropriate (F)

  • Encourage learners who are passively and/or actively disengaged from learning activities (F)

  • Ensure whole group instruction time, when used, is dynamic and engaging by, for example:

    • Leveraging learner voice during whole group experiences

    • Building community through the whole group experience

    • Building excitement or engagement about the content or project

    • Creating shared understanding or clarifying a shared misunderstanding, mindful of not “imposing misunderstanding” in cases where learners bring different reality-grounded perspectives

    • Celebrating growth or achievement

P = planned F = facilitated spontaneously