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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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Some educational techniques have been developed specifically to exploit the possibility of self-reflection in group environments; the use of group therapy has long been recognized as an invaluable tool in psychology and psychiatry. Carl Rogers developed the idea of group awareness training in order to make use of the social {intersubjective) aspects of the learning process; more recently Revans (1983) has promoted a theory of action learning, which calls for a group of associates, led by a trained facilitator, to clarify common problems, examine alternative actions, and work through their difficulties in communication (logical, philosophical or psychological) in order to learn how to improve their performance. Boyd (1989), in order to support adult educators in facilitating transformational learning ("a fundamental change in one's personality involving the resolution of a personal dilemma and the expansion of consciousness resulting in greater personality integration" p. 459), describes a model of group dynamics, which incorporates adaptive psychological elements, structural factors, and developmental processes.

Leonardo (2004) promotes critical social theory as an approach to learning that rejects any radical distinction between theory and practice; he promotes transformative learning as that which broadens and deepens students' thinking to promote emancipation from oppressive knowledge. According to Leonardo, criticism targets the institutional arrangements that systematically distort communication, allowing us to confront such issues as social inequality. He values debate, openness to different ideas, and commitment to democratic processes, claiming that, "Quality education is proportional to the depths of one's analysis" (Leonardo, 2004, p. 14), and that the critical process (synonymous with quality education itself) creates a "never-ending process of liberation, of deferred and multiple emancipations" (p. 16).

Transformative learning theorists warn of two sets of difficulties which are often encountered when we recontextualize our historical understandings through reflection without a reliance on foundational epistemologies, and it is important that educators and their students are aware of these potential pitfalls when engaging in communicative action with the intention of altering meaning perspectives. The first type of difficulty is psychological: it can be very difficult for people, who are used to relying on hegemonic presumptions based on authoritative and reliable absolute truths, to form coherent ideas outside of the foundationalist frame. Boler (1999) has described how emotional attachments to our historical understandings may pose barriers to learning new perspectives; when faced with evidence contrary to their ideas, we may retreat to dogmatic certainty, dismissing the evidence without reflecting upon potential alternative explanations that would be inconsistent with their already-understood ideas. Committed fundamentalist thinkers can become very skilled at justifying every possible circumstance on the basis of a few ungrounded assumptions. Even if learners are sincere about their intentions to restructure their ideas, facing a disorienting dilemma (which, to a learner experienced in transformative thinking, calls for reflection and recontextualization) can result in a discomfiting uncertainty (perhaps rising to the level of anguish), which might compel one to escape a potential learning situation and to avoid educational environments where reflection would be beneficial.

The second set of difficulties is political; many university professors and administrators are committed to foundational principles (Sterman, 2001; Halpern, 2002;

Scanzoni, 2005; Inderbitzen and Storrs, 2008; Condon, 2008). Until theories of transformational learning are fully accepted in the academic mainstream, they may be viewed with suspicion (or rejected outright) by those who are unacquainted with its discursive roots in philosophy and psychology, or by those who are adamant in their opposition to departures from traditional curricula.

Empirical Work My literature searches of educational research on transformational learning did not uncover a large number of empirical studies; however, the ERIC database revealed several examples of qualitative investigations of related phenomena.

In a study of graduate students who took a course in Theory and Dynamics of Intercultural Education, Greenman and Dieckmann (2004) reported on interviews of seven students and their instructor, who were asked about their experiences with regard to the efficacy of criticality (identifying critical issues, discussing them in depth, and applying the critical lens to practical issues) and its relationships with transformative learning. Qualitative data analysis revealed that the professor was conscious of a "zone of discomfort" in pursuing deep inquiries into students' thinking; one student reported that the discomfort was "sometimes overwhelming." The results also indicated course design elements that facilitated deep reflection; these included combining rigour with joy and humour, applying flexibility in negotiating the syllabus, and creating psychologically safe opportunities for student engagement. Students reported "profound and often painful shiftfs] in, and understanding of, personal identity" (Greenman and Dieckmann, 2004, p.

250); the process opened new ways of seeing and understanding their lives and their relationships with others. In addition, these new understandings were applied to their work as teachers; as the researchers reported, Students realized the naivete in their initial attempts to fix what was broken as they were more able to identify hegemony in context and were battered against structural barriers; students quickly realized the boundaries of their human agency within schools and institutions.





Eventually, each former student gravitated toward a piece of the perplexing equity puzzle, striving to grasp, grapple with, and integrate their constantly changing insights about culture as a pivotal dimension to their work. (Greenman and Dieckmann, 2004, p. 251) Brown (2006) describes a pedagogical approach in which, "Transformative learning is a process of experiential learning, critical self-reflection, and rational discourse that can be stimulated by people, events, or changes in contexts that challenge the learner's basic assumptions of the world. Transformative learning leads to a new way of seeing" (p. 706). Her purpose is to apply critical social theory to critical reflection, rational discourses and policy praxis; she claims that, "Before future educational leaders for social justice can take action, they need to increase their awareness of sociopolitical and sociocultural constructs and then acknowledge the importance of understanding and discussing such difficult issues related to race, class, gender, and difference" (Brown, 2006, p. 712). Brown studied forty graduate students enrolled in a course called The Social Context of Educational Leadership by examining 1200 weekly entries in their reflective analysis journals; she found, During a 2-year period, students wondered, questioned, and hesitated.

They reportedly stretched themselves, pushed their boundaries, grew, and developed. Many of the learner responses were emotionally laden. At times, they revealed being amazed, enthralled, awakened, and grateful. At other times, they were afraid, stressed, angry, and guilt ridden. Some of the students described the strategies used as growth inducing, perspective shifting, and life changing. And although certain experiences were meaningful to certain individuals for certain reasons, collectively, the andragogical processes and strategies used seemed to have a transformative impact on the majority of the students. (Brown, 2006, p.

712) Brown noted that, "The process of transforming meaning structures is a complex, arduous task" (p. 721), and, "Establishing a dialogic context...can be complicated, difficult, and frightening for students and professors alike" (p. 725). However the results indicated that the students made great strides in recontextualizing their experiences, and in realizing the value of changing their perspectives.

By assessing and examining current procedures and then reordering and restructuring their practice according to a new agenda of social action, some of the preservice leaders reportedly began to engage in a developmental process of 'deconstruction and reconstruction.' Their implementation efforts yielded mixed results in terms of behaviors, boundaries, alternatives, and consequences. The students struggled with their role as student-intern, with their ability to be proactive versus reactive, and with their willingness to embrace conflict rather than avoid

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Brown concluded, "preparation programs must expose preservice leaders to critical social theory and its influence on the purposes of schooling" (p. 731).

Inderbitzen and Storrs (2008) reported on their attempts to implement a transformative pedagogy to create a collaborative learning community at Oregon State University. Implementing a yearlong course on educational issues in America, the authors wanted to "emphasize educational inequalities and the relationship between education and society, including the bureaucratization, rationalization, and McDonaldization (Ritzer 2000) of education, and to examine social interactions within schools" (p. 48). Following Giroux (2001), they intended to question the practices used in public, and higher, education in American schools. The researchers found that Students came to a better understanding of the power of social structure to shape an individual's educational experience and identity... The most unexpected finding for us, as university professors who sometimes chafe under the constraints of working in bureaucratic institutions of higher education, was the intractability of the instructional paradigm. In debriefing the simulation, we learned that our state university students ultimately found comfort in the dominant learning structure and would be at least initially resistant to moving toward a more flexible learner-based curriculum. (Inderbitzen & Storrs, 2008, p 49) Sockman and Sharma (2008) reported on Sockman's experiences of moving her instruction style from a transmitter model to a transformative model of thinking (with the guidance of her co-author) while teaching educational technology to 14 undergraduate students. Her insightful autobiographical narrative relates the difficulties that she encountered as she found herself enmeshed in transmitter thinking; her struggles triggered extensive self-reflection as she worked to reveal the preconceptions, and the entrenched habits of action, that resulted in failure after failure to question her students thinking, or to allow them to articulate their assumptions, their experiences, and their logic. By examining her beliefs and her practices, Sockman was able to deal with her own resistance to change; by submitting herself to questioning, she was able to undergo deep learning, and model the process to her students. "However, the self-examination took intellectual courage... [T]he instructor needed to make her academic-self vulnerable to the emotions of inward struggle in order to improve pedagogical practice" (Sockman & Sharma, 2008, p. 1080).

Inferences Regarding Transformational Learning I infer that learning is sometimes discontinuous rather than incremental;

breakthroughs in thinking are achieved through changes in perspectives (changes in the meanings of ideas), which produce disorientation (disequilibration), accommodation (recontextualization), and re-equilibration (the restoration of consistency through the resolution of dissonant cognitive elements). Breakthroughs are facilitated through detachment from linear ("single-minded") approaches and the synthesis of alternative perspectives; they can be facilitated through discursive support from mentors and peers.

It also seems that attachments to (that is, identification with) dysfunctional ideas may result in cognitive self-transformation sometimes being accompanied by emotional discomfort (which I represent as cognitive growing pains). It also appears that institutions that are well entrenched in social infrastructures (such as universities) do not easily transform their structures to accommodate new operational paradigms.

Designing Instruction to Facilitate Higher-Order Thinking Learning Environments The practices of instructional design have progressed past the ancient paradigm in which instructors present information and students store it (the "banking," or transmission, model of instruction). While this form of instruction has its place in schools (especially for young learners or introductory lessons, where students need to acquire information before they can consider its implications), advanced instruction for higher learning requires deeper inquiry, and more (analytical and progressive) discussion, on the parts of both teachers and students. The learning and teaching of higher-order networks of ideas require a more complex and dynamic paradigm than the transmission paradigm;

fortunately, recent work in educational psychology has provided a wealth of contemporary theoretical frameworks as resources for instructional designers.



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