Cognitive activation as a dimension of instructional quality characterizes the encouragement of students to think and reflect deeply about the content of instruction (Lipowsky, 2009, S. 93). It comprises methods of instruction that enable a deeper understanding of targeted concepts, principles, and strategies (Mayer, 2004). As cognitive activation covers different meanings depending on the subject of interest, there is a need for domainand subject-specific concretion of the concept cognitive activation. However, there are only few large observational studies about first grade reading instruction. Additionally, researchers in educational and psychological science alike have long since claimed a lack of domain specific studies on instructional quality (e. g. Bremerich-Vos, 2002). Therefore, the overall aim of the study is to conceptualize cognitive activation for reading practices in the first grade of elementary school. A theoretical model of both core features and framework conditions of cognitively activating reading practices was developed based on the theoretical and empirical background. The framework conditions which should ensure a high amount of active learning time comprise an effective classroom management, a relaxed learning atmosphere and differentiated learning. The core features of cognitive activation are analyzed in the phases of task implementation, task processing and task reflection. In the phase of task processing, it is assumed that the following aspects are relevant for cognitive activation: teacher questions, the encouragement to use reading strategies, individual learning support for the students, and teacher feedback.
Within three part studies the following three main questions were analyzed: (1) How can cognitive activation for reading practices in first grade instruction be operationalized based on the theoretical model – in a way that allows a precise description of the reading practices as well as conclusions regarding instructional quality? Is it possible to assess the videotaped lessons objectively and reliably? (2) How are the videotaped reading practices arranged concerning the different features of cognitive activation? (3) What is the interrelationship between the different features of cognitive activation?
Embedded in the longitudinal survey PERLE (Personality and Learning Development of Elementary School Children) a quasi-experimental video study was conducted in German classes. To ensure comparable conditions, the teachers were given some guidelines for the arrangement of a 90-minutes lesson with one of their tasks including the realization of a reading exercise. Within the presented study low inferent category systems and high inferent rating schemes were combined to describe instructional aspects of reading exercises and to assess cognitive activation. After several observer agreement tests, all 48 reading practices were analysed by trained observers.
The first study showed that it was possible to code and assess the videotaped lessons objectively and reliably. The descriptive results in study 2 showed that most of the teachers succeeded in realizing the framework conditions of cognitive activation: in general, classroom management and a relaxed learning atmosphere were assessed positively. The teachers applied many individualizing practices, but the quality of the differentiation was mostly low. In contrast to the framework conditions, the core features of cognitive activation were considered generally as inferior since simple tasks and questions were predominant. There was merely an indirect encouragement to use basal reading strategies. The teachers did support their students but their guidance was rather directive. Even though the teachers gave a high amount of feedback the type of feedback was also mostly simple. Furthermore, reflection phases were not given much importance. In the third study, the items of the high inferent rating scheme could be grouped to five components of instructional quality. These components cover both features of cognitive activation in a narrow sense and its framework conditions. It was possible to validate these five components by setting them in correspondence with low inferent data.
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