Dror Dotan

Tel Aviv University

Research Focus

Dror Dotan is a researcher of cognition and education, who focuses on abilities of numerical literacy: reading numbers, writing them, understanding them, and performing arithmetic calculations. He investigates the cognitive processes that underlie these numerical-literacy abilities; he examines how individual differences in these cognitive processes result in some children being better than others in math; and he creates methods and tools for assessment of mathematical learning disorders (dyscalculia). Based on all these, he develops personalized math education methods tailored to each child’s cognitive profile. 

My plans for the fellowship period

An important way for cognitive research to improve education is by personalization of the learning process: if we adapt the teaching method and the teaching pace to each child’s individual cognitive abilities and cognitive development, learning should become easier and more effective. In the near future, I aim to apply the “cognitive personalization” approach to fundamental math-related skills learned in elementary school: reading numbers, writing numbers, and knowing the multiplication table.  

Applying such cognitive personalization involves three stages. The first stage is to create a “cognitive map” – to reveal the cognitive processes and representations that enable each numerical-literacy skill (reading, writing, multiplication). For example, I ask how precisely the multiplication table is represented in long-term memory. The second stage uses this “cognitive map” to create assessment tools that can examine whether a child has already developed each cognitive representation and process. The third stage is to develop educational programs for teaching the numerical-literacy skills in a personalized manner: the learning will be guided by continuously assessing the child’s cognitive development. 

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

Education systems around the globe are increasingly looking for ways to personalize the education, as a better alternative to the centuries-old educational approach of “one size fits all”. I aim to achieve personalization by adapting math education to a child’s cognitive abilities and cognitive development stage. This approach may create faster and easier learning, and a better learning experience. The approach is particularly important for children with learning disorders: we cannot just expect these children to keep up with the rest of the class on their own; instead, we should be able to offer them specific help, adapted to their personal needs and difficulties. Moreover, if personalized-teaching methods of basic cognitive skills (reading, writing, arithmetic, etc.) are defined in a precise and concrete manner, they can be implemented in computerized tools. This could make personalized teaching methods more accessible, including in communities in which teachers are not continuously trained in the newest pedagogical methods.