«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»
Bereiter acknowledges that learning to think effectively may include cognitive training, which is especially useful in the remedial treatment of poorly trained learners, and he claims that wave after wave of educational reforms in the last century have been either reactionary ("back-to-basics") or cosmetic (administrative). Rather than improving the quality of teaching, what is needed is a transformation of the educational process, so that practices will be focused upon teaching for understanding. This "would mean organizing all aspects of the teacher education program so as to make the ability to teach for understanding definitive of teacher competence... The criterion for selecting expert teachers as mentors would be not only that they are good at teaching for understanding but also that they are actively engaged with problems of understanding" (Bereiter, 2002, p. 412).
While the "container theory" of mind permits the reduction of understanding to subject matter and activities, it does not allow for the "direct pursuit of understanding [which] is characteristic of real scholarship and science" (Bereiter, 2002, p. 436). On the other hand, contemporary theories of cognition and mind (which view the notion of mental content as metaphorical) describe our interactions with abstract objects of knowledge in ways that allow us continually to deepen our understanding of how they relate to us and to each other, so that we can use our discourses to produce more and better educational and social benefits.
Understanding these issues in cognitive development enables educators to provide access for their students to progressive and dynamic forms of discourse which, in practice, facilitate higher-order cognitive development and the construction of complex (yet coherent) conceptual frameworks. This thesis is intended to clarify these issues, and to describe these processes in action to illustrate their educational benefits.
The Need to Teach Thinking Skills Educational psychologist Robert J. Sternberg (1987) has recommended that thinking should not only be infused into school curricula as subject matter is being taught, but that explicit instruction in thinking skills should be provided at all levels of education. Sternberg points to three types of thinking skills (executive metacomponents, performance components, and knowledge-acquisition components), all of which must be integrated to support higher-order cognitive development. If optimal conditions for learning are to be met, then background knowledge and appropriate mental representations must be combined with the motivation to use thinking skills and with workable strategies for solving problems. "I believe that if a school system is serious about teaching thinking, it should dedicate special time to it, at the same time that workshops and seminars should be made available to all teachers so that they can reinforce rather than extinguish or even undermine what is being taught in the thinking skills curriculum" (Sternberg, 1987, p. 255). Furthermore, he points out the importance of evaluating student development as a function of cognitive skills, claiming, "A comprehensive formal evaluation should include... standardized thinking skill and intelligence tests, measures of achievement, measures of attitudes towards thinking and learning, measures of study habits, and the like" (p. 256).
Sternberg (2001) also claims that wisdom should be taught in schools, defining this construct as the application of tacit (as well as explicit) knowledge, as mediated by values, to achieve a common good through a balance of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and societal interests in both short and long terms to achieve a balance between (a) adapting to existing environments, (b) shaping existing environments, and (c) selecting new environments. He denotes sixteen principles for teaching wisdom, which include demonstrating the benefits of thinking outside of one's own needs and interests, role modelling, reading about wise judgments, teaching the use of independent thinking, recognizing other people's interests and acknowledging one's own values, thinking dialectically and dialogically, recognizing a common good, monitoring events and thoughts, and resisting undue influences.
Based on scholarly literature in the fields of education, cognitive psychology, and philosophy, I developed a pedagogical framework that integrates the psychological constructs of critical thinking, affective dispositions, self-regulation and transformative learning with the philosophical notion of epistemological sophistication (the awareness of how knowledge is well, or poorly, justified). The model is depicted in Figure 1; wide dynamic reflective equilibrium (Rawls, 1999), or WDRE, is a construct that describes broadly coherent systems of understanding.
To investigate the utility of this model, I interviewed sixteen education instructors who teach in universities across Canada, to ask them about their perspectives on the value of instruction in each of these topic areas, and about the methods and techniques that they have used to support their students' development of higher-order thinking. I also observed fourteen class sessions in four courses, surveyed sixty-seven students and interviewed fourteen of them, to solicit their views on learning and teaching with regard to complex networks of abstract ideas.
My intention is to create coherent descriptions of the manifold and complex teaching and learning processes that result from the interdependent interactions of students, teachers, and educational materials. Such descriptions should explain which approaches and techniques are more (or less) effective in various pedagogical situations, and are intended to support the work of educators whose objectives include providing interventions that are designed to facilitate their students' development of more and more complex sets of coherent ideas.
My Perspectives My view of the pedagogy of higher-order and complex cognition holds that instruction in the subjects described above is essential with regard to understanding the notions of coherence and justification, and to appreciating the nature, and the limits, of human understandings. I believe that these are useful ideas for students of education to comprehend, to consider, and to apply in their discourses.
Since one aspect of qualitative research is controlling for researcher bias (and since all researchers are biased in various ways), I begin by acknowledging that I am an advocate of thinking skills instruction in schools. My own educational background has taught me that recently emergent theories in philosophy and psychology can support and facilitate the learning of complex cognitive processes, and my mission is to synthesize these findings and to advertise the pedagogical utility of various applications of these subjects with regard to learning, and teaching, complex sets of ideas.
Research Questions To explore how pedagogical interventions designed to facilitate the development of cognitive skills have been implemented in education programs in Canada, this project is designed not only to describe recent research in this pedagogical area, but also to examine how Canadian universities have implemented the relevant theories and practices in their programs.
The research explores the following general question: From a pedagogical perspective, how can educators support the development of complex ("higher-order") and critical human cognition? In terms of ecological psychology, what affordances (including opportune theories, tools, and facts) may be provided to students to support their continuing development of higher-order thinking skills, and what effectivities (readiness to recognize and exploit affordances) can learners develop to facilitate analytical thinking and complex problem solving?
More specifically, the following research questions will be explored:
Which philosophical and pedagogical perspectives on instructional design and cognitive development are likely to facilitate higher-order intellectual development?
What empirical research has provided useful guidance for teaching and learning the processes of higher-order thinking?
A qualitative empirical investigation will explore the following questions:
What course materials, are currently being provided to education students in Canadian universities with regard to higher cognitive development?
How do the course materials provided to Canadian education students relate to contemporary research in this area?
What do Canadian university education instructors and students understand with regard to teaching and learning higher-order cognitive processes?
2. Literature Review Cognition and Metacognition Understanding Thinking Since the aim of this work is to inform educators and policy makers at all levels of schooling, the following review of literature includes descriptions of what is needed to prepare elementary and secondary students for the complex cognition that may be developed during post-secondary education.
The past century has brought forth a great deal of research into thinking by philosophers, psychologists and educators; yet, the literature on the assessment of cognitive practices (which includes the explication of such philosophical variables as rationality, coherency, cogency, validity, soundness, and justification) exhibits a great deal of confusion with regard to the definition and the evaluation of cognitive skills.
Moseley, Baumfield, Elliot, Gregson et al. (2005), who reviewed dozens of theoretical frameworks for describing thinking, argue that "When a theoretical framework is used consistently and explicitly, it is likely that communication within an educational or training setting will be enhanced, as well as communication with the outside world" (pp. 296-297). To understand the difficulty more deeply, we may examine the following statement written by Peter Facione (1990), who led 42 educators (half of whom were philosophy professors) in a yearlong study of educational applications of the construct 'critical thinking' (CT). As a result of these efforts, Facione described six cognitive skills (explanation, interpretation, inference, analysis, evaluation, and selfregulation), broken down into 16 nominal sub-skills, and 19 "affective dispositions" (such as flexibility, intellectual honesty and inquisitiveness), which characterize the critical thinking process (for a total of 35 ostensibly distinct properties). Yet, even while describing this comprehensive scheme, the author took pains to distinguish his subject from several other forms of higher-order thinking, writing, The experts are clear on the point that not every useful cognitive process should be thought of as CT. Not every valuable thinking skill is CT skill.
CT is one among a family of closely related forms of higher-order thinking, along with, e. g., problem solving, decision-making, and creative thinking. The complex relationships among the forms of higher-order thinking have yet to be examined satisfactorily. (Facione, 1990, pp. 12-13) Understanding our judgements, and formulating methods for deciding what is valuable and what is negligible in our discourses, can allow us to provide prescriptive methodologies for analyzing our cognitive activities. Metaphilosophical consideration with regard to the best methods of dealing with problems can lead to systems for managing information in ways that lead to optimal results.
Scientists endeavour to construct coherent and insofar as possible predictive models of the underlying generative processes which give rise to all that we observe. This is a daunting task for the physical sciences and a much more daunting task for the psychological and social sciences. Insofar as education is an applied science, a technology to be more precise, it must make do with the best that the social sciences can currently offer it.
Project management is another form of problem solving, which has been designed to supervise resources, planning, and human performance in ways that are likely to lead to the successful execution of complex social activities. In this vein, we may develop methods for the development and maintenance of consistent judgements and evaluations in all our philosophical activities. Sidney Hook (1939) explained this scheme
How does such a method proceed? Primarily by the clarification of meanings - a process in which their contexts are laid bare, their operational correspondences established, their implications and consistencies explored, their obscurities and ambiguities reduced... This is particularly true of the terms that are called basic or fundamental in special modes of inquiry, and of almost all terms which express evaluations and appraisals, (p. 39) Dewey warned, "[A] n act of controlled inquiry demands a rich background and a disciplined insight" (1939, p. 263). When comparing values, the development of clear standards is paramount. Standards of value must be distinguished from standards of measurement; the latter provide methods for dealing with physical facts, the former specify how to assess individual (qualitative, abstract) ideas. Judgements of value rely on the qualities of individual assessments (of objects, events or situations). While our standards cannot be universal (since our judgements are relational), they may provide baselines, guides for comparing ethical, epistemic and aesthetic assessments.
In the last half of the twentieth century, psychologists and educators picked up on philosophical examinations of rationality, and they began to employ sets of terms that were intended to characterize the nature of effective thinking. In the 1950s, Benjamin Bloom (1956) described cognitive processes in terms of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation; since that time, a great deal of educational effort has been expended on attempts to clarify the workings of these (and other theoretical) processes, in order to facilitate the teaching and learning of practical and effective cognitive functioning. Many educators have worked to establish the relationships of these processes, and have described the possibility of teaching thinking skills in academic settings.