THEORY: DAP Developmentally Appropriate Practice (Part 4): The Cognitive Domain


Cognition is the mental process of acquiring knowledge by the use of reasoning, intuition or perception.

Since the 1970’s, when Peter Mansfield and Paul Lauterbur were able to successfully show how to mathematically interpret radio signals in the brain using an MRI scanner and they worked to develop functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they have been able to measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow. This had opened up the studying of “cognition” and learning so that every good educator should have some understanding of children’s cognitive development and how it impacts teaching.

I found the biggest reminder in this chapter concerning children’s cognitive functions was their reliance on imitation. Research has been looking at mirror neutrons in the brain, for example, when children speak, clap their hands, show empathy.

As educators, how can we explicitly use imitation neutrons in the classroom? 


What are our students learning through imitation, both intentionally and unintentionally?

Beginning of school years/terms are always a good time to discuss class rules and essential agreements. Whilst many classes will have something about respecting each other as learners, I wonder whether as teachers we show that we respect other teachers. Do we show that we respect our learning environments? Coming from a school where our learning space gets utilised by others, I find it disheartening that whilst as teachers we have discussed guiding and demonstrating respectfulness to our students and each other, only two weeks into term and already some colleagues are unintentionally giving out the wrong messages to the children in their manner and behaviour.

As teachers we should be setting examples, be role models.

We are prominent figures in our student’s lives. Yes, they learn a lot from home (good and some not so desirable for school), but we should be practising what we preach. If you have an essential agreement at school, make sure you stick to it. If you believe in inquiry learning, make sure as a establishment you demonstrate that you believe in it. If you agree with Lave and Wenger’s community of learners, then as teachers we should be part of one too. Too often I see teachers with fantastic ideas keep their ideas confined to their classrooms. A friend recently started a new job but almost declined the other because of the intellectual property clause (she got it taken out as she felt it would prevent her practising what she believed in – the sharing and collaborating of ideas).


Stop for a second and think about the fact that:

Knowledge does not come in neatly packaged sets of understanding, passively given to children. 

If you agree/disagree with this statement, what are you going to do/not do to show it? And how will your doing or not doing affect your students’ learning?

Further thinking points:

  • What skills/attitudes/behaviours are expected for teachers to be teaching their students?
  • Should these skills/attitudes/behaviours be included in a curricula?

Below is a ‘cognitive wheel’ to show the 5 areas in which children’s learning should occur:

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