«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»
Higher cognitive development is apparently facilitated through the creation of progressive social discourses. While the evidence demonstrates that it is possible to produce successful results by teaching students to think critically, and while we can glean some hints about how to succeed in such efforts from the most successful interventions published, the quantity of high-quality empirical studies has not been sufficient to demonstrate exactly how to teach higher-order cognitive skills. The complexity of the subject, the variety of instructional methods, and the multiplicity of assessment instruments have produced a research environment that generates a lot of statistical noise, and no clearly consensual sets of guidelines. Until educators understand how best to teach complex and higher-order ideation, prospective teachers in teacher education programs cannot effectively be instructed in the means to facilitate their students' higher-order cognitive development.
To be more helpful in this area, researchers must not only execute well-designed empirical studies, but they also must describe the conditions of their studies as fully as possible. Without clear and complete descriptions of any non-standard assessment instruments used, and without explicit detail about the participants, the settings, the methods, and other features of the contexts of research studies, systematic reviews of literature cannot produce clear inferences about when, how and why CT instruction is more (or less) effective.
To support researchers in being effective, granting agencies should specify not only which subjects need to be investigated, but (more specifically) which independent and dependent variables are most important to the field, which populations most need to be studied, and which settings are likely to yield the most useful results. While the notion of academic freedom implies to many that researchers can arrange their projects as they like, the quantity of poorly designed and badly reported publications indicates that an increase in regulation of the quality, and the relevance, of research proposals which receive funding is required if the quality of evidence produced is to be increased. To produce clear evidence to practitioners and policy makers (as well as each other), educational researchers must operate within consensual frameworks with regard to which research is most needed and how it should be performed.
Apparently, few qualitative studies are available that describe the perspectives of teachers and students with regard to the development of higher-order cognitive/conceptual frameworks. While quantitative research has clearly demonstrated that many cognitive skill instructional interventions have been successful, it should be noted that qualitative research methods are also suitable (and perhaps more suitable) for describing, interpreting and evaluating the processes involved in learning and teaching about complex cognition and problem solving. The complex psychodynamics involved in instruction cannot be described in terms of third-party observations; how learning occurs is best described by learners themselves, and the ways in which teachers are inspired to ask students questions that prompt breakthroughs in their inquiries cannot be learned from summative assessments (but only from probing the participants' experiences of the processes involved). Programs of research in higher-order thinking should not ignore the value of qualitative research into the individual experiences which underlie, and which drive, the processes of teaching and learning.
In considering the experiences of those who engage in teaching and learning situations designed to promote and facilitate deep thinking, it is essential to consider the motivations, the attitudes and the dispositions of the participants. As Facione (1990) and his Delphi panel of forty-two expert educators pointed out, "To the experts, a good critical thinker, the paradigm case, is habitually disposed to engage in, and to encourage others to engage in, critical judgment... Although perhaps not always uppermost in mind, the rational justification for cultivating those affective dispositions which characterize the paradigm critical thinker are soundly grounded in CT's personal and civic value... CT promotes rational autonomy, intellectual freedom and the objective, reasoned and evidence based investigation of a very wide range of personal and social issues and concerns" (pp. 12-13). Yet, the dispositional component of higher-order thinking is not well studied; of one-hundred seventeen studies analyzed by Abrami et al, only eight measured changes in CT dispositions. It seems that the importance of deep motivation (as described by Biggs, 1985) has not been emphasized by many researchers in this field, who seem to have ignored the idea that the intent to apply CT is at least as important as one's skill set. Until educators understand the importance of promoting their students' commitments to think critically, to analyze deeply, and understand the differences between well and poorly justified conclusions, all the knowledge that we gain about how to teach CT will be irrelevant to students and teachers who manifest little commitment to the development of higher-order conceptual frameworks.
Motivation and Affective Dispositions Motivation is a hypothetical construct, an intervening variable that represents any theoretical force that stimulates or inhibits behaviour. Extrinsic motivation refers to environmental factors, forces that are not generated by organisms; intrinsic motivation refers to the cognitive and affective (organismic) processes that contribute to the likelihood that behaviours are manifested. Extrinsic motivation is of special interest in the psychological framework of behaviourism, in which relations between behaviour and environments are the main focus of study; however cognitive psychologists attend to motivation of the intrinsic sort (including desires, dispositions, attitudes and commitments to act in particular ways).
Biggs (1985) referred to three levels of (intrinsic) motivation (and three types of learning respectively associated with each level) that relate to the pedagogy of cognitive development. Surface motivation is the lowest level of interest in a subject; it is characterized by rote strategies (remembering and repeating information). Deep motivation refers to an interest in gaining competence with a subject, and it includes integrating and synthesizing material from different sources to create coherent sets of understandings; achievement motivation represents the commitment to excel in cognitive work, to learn things as well as they can be understood. Clearly, surface learning is an inferior method for facilitating cognitive development, and students who intend to work hard and learn deeply are more likely to achieve broader and more coherent understandings of their subjects (Boekaerts, 1995). Pressley (1995) maintains that social support systems are essential in supporting students' motivation to implement selfregulated learning practices.
Intrinsic motivation is a hyper-complex construct described in the educational literature as a set of sub-constructs that include self-efficacy, mastery beliefs, selfregulation, goal-setting, attributions, needs, emotions and achievement strivings (O'Donnel, D'Amico, Schmid, Reeve and Smith, 2008). Motives are manifest in attitudes (or dispositions), which represent tendencies to behave in particular ways. The nineteen "critical dispositions" described by Facione (1990), provide a motivational framework that is well suited for initiating and maintaining the deep learning that leads to higher cognitive development; the author makes this point in describing the "ideal" critical thinker.
The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fairminded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider... diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal.
(Facione, 1990, p. 3; emphasis added) In addition, critical thinkers are "understanding of the opinions of other people" (Facione, 1990, p. 25).
Siegel (1991) proposes a similar view of the notion "critical spirit," writing, There is yet a further component of critical thinking - the 'critical spirit'which has been by and large ignored in recent discussion of the generalizability of critical thinking...The 'critical spirit', as I am using the term, refers to a complex of dispositions, attitudes, habits of mind, and character traits. It includes dispositions, for example the dispositions to seek reasons and evidence in making judgments and to evaluate such reasons carefully in accordance with relevant principles of reason assessment; attitudes, including a respect for the importance of reasoned judgment and for truth, and a rejection of partiality, arbitrariness, special pleading, wishful thinking, and other obstacles to the proper exercise of reason assessment and reasoned judgment; habits of mind consonant with these dispositions and attitudes, such as habits of reason-seeking and evaluating, of engaging in due consideration of principles of reason assessment, of subjecting proffered reasons to critical scrutiny, and of engaging in the fair-minded and non-self-interested consideration of such reasons; and character traits consonant with all of this. People who possess the critical spirit value good reasoning, and are disposed to believe, judge and act on its basis. It is this genuine valuing, and the dispositions, attitudes, habits of mind, and character traits which go with it, which constitute the core of the critical spirit. (Siegel, 1991, p. 26, original
Paul and Elder (2002) have described nine dispositional "intellectual"
characteristics which they consider as indispensable to the critical thinking (CT) process:
integrity, humility, sense of justice, perseverance, fair-mindedness, confidence in reason, courage, empathy and autonomy. These authors note that the consideration of intellectual standards (including logic, and accuracy of reporting) is essential for fair-minded thinking. They emphasize freedom from bias and prejudice, perseverance, humility (the acknowledgment of fallibility), honesty and autonomy; these dispositions allow for the development of reasonable discourses. Yet, "these traits... are rarely taught... [BJecause they are largely unrecognized, these traits are not commonly valued. Yet each of them is essential to fair-mindedness and the development of critical thinking" (Paul and Elder, 2002, p. 21).
Paul and Elder have done an excellent job of describing CT in relation to discursive practices. They elaborate upon the purposes involved in CT (including the achievement of clarity, significance, consistency and justifiability), and they stress the possibility of the reconciliation of various points of view (which requires flexibility and breadth of vision). In addition to the requirement for confirmation of the accuracy of information used in inquiry, they describe the need for the clarification of the concepts and the assumptions (as well as the implications) used by any line of thought, and they acknowledge the importance of validation of inferences and interpretations, which follow from a line of reasoning.
Paul and Elder also explain how critical thinking applies to decision-making.
Effective and rational decision-makers are aware of (and are able to re-evaluate) their "most fundamental goals, purposes, and needs" (Paul and Elder, 2002, p. 149); they describe situations and alternative courses of action as precisely as they can, and they consider the consequences and the implications of each alternative. They actively seek relevant information, which they analyze and interpret carefully, evaluating each option in the light of circumstances, and adopting an appropriate strategy, which considers all of the above. Finally, competent decision-makers monitor and evaluate the consequences of their actions, and are ready to modify their analyses and change their strategies as more information becomes available.
In consideration of the above perspectives, the individual commitment to inquiry may be seen as an essential disposition for higher-order cognitive development. Aulls and Shore (2008) claim, "Promoting a more inquiring public, and especially teachers who are capable of using inquiry to develop as a professional and to build the independence of students as learners, should be a central goal of education... Making inquiry an imperative in our formal curriculum at every level has not yet been systematically done, but we see no reason that it cannot be accomplished by a significant proportion of the teachers whom our children encounter" (p. 290).
Ennis (1987, 1998) added another interpersonal dimension to our lists of critical dispositions; he acknowledged the importance of caring for people other than oneself, including taking into account others' feelings and being concerned about their welfare.
This is an ethical dimension, which relates morality to critical thinking; although we may consider higher-order thinking as an individual project, which is sometimes practiced in isolation from others, descriptions and assessments of thinking are social phenomena, and they should be considered in terms of social relations. Relationships, communities and societies depend on ideas and actions that are acceptable to more than one individual;
therefore one of the motives that enable perspicuous thinking is the consideration of the needs and the interests of (more or less diverse) others. Thus we need not only to listen to other people, but also to consider their ideas, their discourses and their habits of behaviours in accordance with contexts that supersede our individual interests. This type of broad and open-minded consideration of social factors is essential, not only in learning to expand one's thinking beyond narrow personal/historical frames of reference, but especially in supporting others in doing so.