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«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»

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Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the

Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems

Michael A. Surkes

A Thesis

In the Department



Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Educational Technology) at

Concordia University

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

April 2009

© Michael A. Surkes, 2009

1*1 Library and Archives Bibliotheque et

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Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. Surkes, Ph.D.

Concordia University, 2009 This dissertation research investigates current practices in a cross-section of Canadian university education departments, in order to glean information about pedagogical approaches, subject matter, and classroom methods being utilized to support higher-order cognitive development. Courses for preservice teachers that dealt with subject matter related to higher-order thinking were examined through two qualitative empirical research studies, in order to find out what these students were learning about developing higher-order cognitive skills. Sixteen education instructors and fourteen students were interviewed, fourteen class sessions were observed in four courses, and sixty-seven students were surveyed, to solicit their views on learning and teaching with regard to complex networks of


ideas. Perceptions of outcomes, both favourable and unfavourable, were gathered. The results indicate that university education departments have implemented curricula that describe the cognitive elements, critical discursive processes, and learning theories that contribute to the development of higherorder thinking processes. However (according to the evidence described here), relatively little attention was paid to developing the philosophical perspectives, or the critical dispositions, that facilitate the creation and the maintenance of deeply and broadly

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construed, and six pedagogical objectives are described that instructors can target to support their students' development of widely reflective and dynamic systems of coherent thought.

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me. Without their willingness to take part, this project would not have been possible.

I acknowledge the support of the four faculty advisors who contributed to the conception and the production of this dissertation. The combined expertise (and the patience) of Dr. Gary Boyd, Dr. Richard Schmid, Dr. Johannes Strobel, and Dr. Bryn Holmes were extremely valuable to a newcomer in their field. I am also grateful to Dr.

Evgueni Borokhovski for his thoughtful opinions, and to my fellow doctoral candidates, Larysa Lysenko and Rana Tamim, who provided steady moral support and excellent technical assistance.

Before I began this new career, and ever since, Michelle Kusters has been my most constant and active supporter. I acknowledge that this project would never have been born had she not aligned her life with mine, and that her collaboration is my greatest asset.

I also acknowledge the contributions of my first teachers, Ruth and Edward Surkes, who taught me that education is the most essential of human endeavours.

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Interview A-3. Principles of Teaching. (~ 36 students, 2 semesters) 305 Interview A-4. Educational Psychology (~ 30-35 students, 1 semester) 305 Interview A-5. Psychology of Learning Math (-40 students, 1 semester) 306

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Interview A-9. Development and Exceptionality (-35 students, 1 semester).... 309 Interview A-10. Philosophy of Education (-70 students, 1 semester) 310 Interview A-l 1. Senior Secondary Education (-35 students, 1 semester) 311 Interview A-12. Senior History Education. (2 sections, - 35 students each, 2

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Interview A-13. Teaching Secondary Science. (-30 students, 1 semester) 312 Interview A-14. Educational Philosophy ( - 100 students, 1 semester) 313 Appendix B. Case Study: Initial Interviews with Education Instructors 315

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Table 2. Studies reviewed, showing publication type (J -journal article, R - professional report, D - doctoral dissertation), treatment duration and instructor training 43

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Table 7. Methods: major sub-categories, specific methods and frequencies 163 Table 8.

Obstacles: major sub-categories, specific challenges and frequencies 165 Table 9. Outcomes: major sub-categories, specific results and frequencies 167 Table 10. Instructor positions: major sub-categories, specific ideas and frequencies.... 169

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The purpose of this research is to contribute to the improvement of the teaching of higher-order thinking in university education faculties, by examining current practices, and then proposing strategies and techniques that can support and facilitate higher cognitive development. This dissertation is designed to inform policy makers, educators and students on the state of the art of education with regard to the dynamic development of widely coherent cognitive/conceptual frameworks of understanding. Theories, tools and techniques for supporting advanced cognitive development are examined, and education instructors were asked to describe the methods that (in their experience) have produced the best results.

Since instructors at institutes of higher education seek to support their students in generating clear and comprehensive sets of ideas, this area of educational research should be of great interest to university faculty of all stripes, and especially to professors of education. This dissertation project investigates current practices in a cross-section of Canadian university education departments, in order to glean information about pedagogical approaches, subject matter, and classroom methods, have been used to support higher-order cognitive development. My intention is to promote recent developments in psychology and philosophy, in ways that can support other educators in their work; my mission is to demonstrate the pedagogical utility (or futility) of various approaches and methods with regard to teaching and learning complex sets of ideas. In particular, I targeted courses for preservice teachers that dealt with subject matter related to higher-order thinking, in order to learn what these students were doing to prepare themselves for their professional roles as mentors for young people who are developing their cognitive skills.

Specifically, I am investigating theoretical and practical questions involving the ways that people can learn to develop complex and coherent systems of thought. While it is widely understood that one of the most important purposes of higher education is to promote, support and facilitate higher-order cognitive development (including critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving), there has been a great deal of controversy about how this aim can be achieved. While some theorists (e.g. McPeck,

1981) have claimed that thinking skills cannot be taught except in terms of domainrelated conceptual analysis; others (e.g. Sternberg, 1987, 2001; Ennis, 1989; Paul, 1993;

Lipman, 2003) have posited that thinking skills and dispositions should serve as subject matter for instructional practices.

In this dissertation I develop and evaluate a theoretical interdisciplinary pedagogical framework that is intended to support the intellectual development of higherorder conceptual frameworks. This model is built around the notions of metacognitive self-regulation (MSR), critical thinking (CT), critical dispositions, epistemological sophistication and dynamic (transformative) learning. To assess the utility of this integrative framework, I conducted interviews with a broad sample of faculty from Canadian university education programs to explore their perceptions of their curricula on these topics, and to examine their theories and practices with regard to facilitating higher cognitive development. I also produced a multi-case study of practices in one university's education department.

A New Theory of Mind Donald (2002) claimed that, "We need a framework for learning that... goes beyond the acquisition of knowledge to encompass ways of constructing and using it in the disciplines" (p. xii). Carl Bereiter, in Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age (2002), has provided a highly erudite account of the justifications for the thesis that educators need to educate themselves in contemporary accounts of cognition. In particular, this author has claimed that "educational reform needs a new theory of mind" which enables educators to teach for the type of "deep understanding" that supports learners in coping with the ill structured problems that are encountered outside of schools. While he decries historical efforts to teach students how to think, he nevertheless holds out the promise that educators may indeed "contribute to students' lifelong ability to think productively" (Bereiter, 2002, p. 362).

As Bereiter points out, "The most basic of [educational] tools are our conceptions of mind and knowledge" (2002, p. 4). While folk theories have been adequate for many of our historical purposes, the theory of mind as a container of knowledge objects is insufficient to support the flourishing of future citizens. Current social problems are unlikely to be solved through historical knowledge; only by cultivating the disposition to investigate the world of conceptual artifacts (Karl Popper's "World 3"), and to construct their understanding of knowledge objects, can students be prepared to adapt continually and dynamically to the unpredictable circumstances which they will encounter outside of their classrooms.

In championing "progressive discourse" as the means by which learners and instructors deepen their understanding of understanding, this author warns that the reduction of knowledge to mere subject matter, activities, or self-expression devalues both individual understandings (Popper's World 2) and the socially constructed World 3 (theories, plans, models, etc.). He promotes the value of science as an exemplar of knowledge improvement; his commitments to fallibilism, constructive criticism, and nonsectarianism (Bereiter, 2002, pp. 87-88) stand as examples to any who wish to understand how knowledge may progressively be deepened.

Bereiter's pragmatic analysis of understanding is consonant with contemporary treatments of collaborative learning and situated cognition. He recommends that the teaching of conceptual tools can proceed in a way that is roughly analogous to the teaching of a motor skill (for example, skating on an ice rink): the learner must develop a relationship with the objects in question, must examine how they have been designed and used and how they relate to each other, and must discern how she or he must relate with them in order to produce desirable outcomes and avoid unwanted results. In this scheme, education is acculturation into the understanding and usage of conceptual objects, and the object is to learn to relate with these tools in such ways as to promote social flourishing.

While immersion in a background of facts and skills is acknowledged as a prerequisite for expertise in a given field, it is the implicit relationship of these facts and skills with each other, as embodied in an expert's analyses of problematic situations which enables and facilitates productive thinking. In practice, teams of experts, whose progressive and dynamic discourses are interdependently interwoven to elaborate potential solutions, are typically called upon to address the most difficult of problems.

The metacognitive regulation of such conversations is provided by common historical understandings of concepts and theories with which the discussants are familiar; the background of social knowledge determines the validity of the justifications for any proposed solution. According to Bereiter, "We must... recognize that [the] ability to participate in and contribute to the success of progressive discourse... is a vital part of learning to be a thinker in the contemporary world" (Bereiter, 2002, p. 353).

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