«Facilitating Higher-Order Thinking: Synthesizing Pedagogical Frameworks for the Development of Complex and Coherent Conceptual Systems Michael A. ...»
Also, students came from different academic specialties, allowing for a useful variation in ideas. "I wanted to emphasize that; emphasize the different perspectives. So we would bring up different theories, and try to discuss them from these multiple perspectives. How would a sociologist think of this? What would an economist say? How does this theory relate to your area of interest?... I'm very happy that I did that. I identified these different backgrounds and I emphasized it, so that they could see these different perspectives. I think it also had an impact on their self- esteem, or confidence in the course, in that their opinion (even though their perspective is different from others) is important."
In future courses, "I would have a bit more online stuff, that I didn't have as much as this time. I did have some, but not as much...they had a few discussion questions, but I think they were pretty overwhelmed with their other courses, that didn't really take off.
So I'd like to figure out a way to allow it to take off a little bit more... I would offer additional quizzes (that I didn't do this time), just so they could feel, like a knowledge check...They were concerned that they weren't being tested enough."
The most important thing that this respondent learned was, "That some students are very resistant... [T]he A is the most important thing - any way that they can get that A. Some of them feel very comfortable with: 'Just give the material, tell me what I need to know, and give me the exam. That's all I'm really interested in.' They're just not interested in the process, and what they're going to take away from the course in the end.
Interview G-17. Initial Interview, Instructor 3, Course 4 (Philosophy of Education) Instructor 3, who was teaching for the second year (after receiving an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a doctorate in education), planned to support and encourage higher order thinking in this philosophy of education class, but did not intend to spend time talking about thinking processes. "The critical thinking tradition in philosophy of education is a strong one; there's a lot of people that work in that field. I'm not really one of those people... I think that there's a tremendous amount that we don't know about thinking."
It was projected that emancipative learning, and learning strategies, would be discussed as subject matter. Planned course topics also included teacher neutrality, multiculturalism and indoctrination; the instructor suggested that these would be fruitful areas for stimulating cognitive activity. "We certainly are going to be dealing with what you might call higher-order thinking... in the second half of the class we're going to be looking at contemporary controversies in education... [WJe're going to be looking at different perspectives in education, asking the students to sort out these different perspectives... We also have two perspectives on multiculturalism that we're going to be looking at, so that should be an interesting debate..."
This instructor follows Dewey in encouraging students to think critically, defining the process with some diffidence: "Higher order thinking is distinguished by deliberate and systematic effort to work through a problem...That would be my definition. Is that a good definition? I don't know. Would it hold up? Who knows?" When asked to describe the most important thinking skills, the reply was, "You question received assumptions, you examine the premises of an argument very carefully, you actively look for new ways of seeing."
In addition, "Thinking skills are certainly going to be implicit in the curriculum, but not explicit. There is going to be virtually nothing that's dedicated specifically to critical thinking.... however, hopefully this class is designed to get students used to different ways of thinking about education, to get them to think carefully about controversies in education, and hopefully in that way their critical thinking skills will develop, their educational assumptions will be destabilized. That's my goal." However, this is not to say that it's always a mistake to discuss thinking. "It's fine to talk about critical thinking explicitly, especially if you're an educator, because we need to think about these things; how do we foster critical thinking skills in young people... I prefer to do it implicitly. So I prefer to get them to think about educational controversies carefully, and in that way foster critical thinking skills, as opposed to talking about critical thinking specifically." As for the critical dispositions, "We foster critical dispositions by enacting the kinds of activities that would lead towards those dispositions in the classroom."
Epistemology is "Not a priority for this class... I'm not convinced that epistemology is really going to fire up these undergraduates. This might be the first class they've ever had in philosophy, so I want to try to keep things as close to the ground, educationally speaking, as relevant to classrooms, as possible." As for the possibility of discussing transformative and emancipatory learning theory, the answer was, "Yes.
Maybe... It all depends on what we mean here by transformative learning, emancipatory learning... I am going to talk about how Dewey wants to liberate students, how Dewey wants to create citizens who are powerful actors who can help create a new society. I'm going to talk about the problem of alienation in Marx; I'm going to talk about how that problem transfers over to schools, and what we could potentially do about it." Social learning is a topic of interest, but not a centrepiece of the course. "We're going to talk about it with Dewey, certainly... I have them reading a couple of period pieces about nineteenth century education which are absolutely horrifying, and so (by contrast, I think) we'll emphasize the value of collaborative learning. It's not going to be a specific topic of conversation, but it will probably come up."
With regard to teaching methods that facilitate higher order cognition, "What doesn't support higher order thinking are memorization and regurgitation tasks. There's no way that I would get the kids to write a multiple choice test about great philosophers of education and what they thought... So I'm going to try to get the students to do tasks that are fairly conventional, reaction papers, essays, which pose questions that get them to reflect, that get them to say, 'OK, is this guy right or not?'... So I try to ask them questions that get them to reflect, that get them to really dig in, and think carefully, and compare opposing viewpoints."
Finally, we discussed the learning objectives for the course, and the instructor's expectations. "Getting students excited about the history of education, and getting them to understand the history of education. The second part of the class, I really want them to think carefully about education; I want to destabilize their assumptions about education. I mean, what should education look like? This is a really big question...So I want these kids to think adventurously about education, and that's what the second half of the class is designed to do... I'm hopeful, but, the first time through, teaching a course, you make mistakes... My emphasis is 'How do I learn from my mistakes? How do I improve my own practice here?' That's what I've got to do; I'm pretty new to this, and although I've taught before, I have a tremendous amount to learn."
Interview G-18. Student K, Course 4 Student K wants to teach theatre and English, and is studying creative writing.
Asked about specific skills or dispositions associated with higher order thinking, this participant replied, "In my mind, the only way to learn something complex is to engage with it critically until you understand it. I was working at a tutoring centre last week, and the kids do not know how to engage things critically. Or, they just don't want to;
probably because they didn't know how to. They don't know that it can be pretty neat...that it can bring you a lot of interesting things. So they just didn't get it... For me, in my own brain, critical thinking involves engaging with a subject, looking at different sides of it, contemplating implications of each aspect, and ultimately coming to some conclusion in which it fits coherently with my view of the world." Self-evaluation was named as an essential cognitive skill for this purpose. Important dispositions were, "Curiosity. A passion for learning... If you don't have a tenacity for learning, then you're not going to learn much."
With regard to metacognitive self-regulation, "I would define it as being aware, thinking about thinking. If I'm in a particular train of thought, it's being aware of what factors are influencing that, and ultimately thus step out of that in a rational way. To be able to look at it rationally." In response to a question about the relevance of philosophy of knowledge, the following questions were posed: "What is the universe, that we feel that we have knowledge about it? And how is it that we can decide what's really important (which is really more of a sociological question)?" The most effective ways to teach and learn higher order thinking are, "Through discussion. At the tutoring centre, the kids would come in and be like, "Oh, I hate [the main tutor] so much. She's such a skank." And I would say, "What about her? Why? Did you find that to be bad morally? Socially? What exactly is wrong with it?" And I would really ask them questions, why, and why, and why? And they got really excited about it, to the point where the next day one of the kids came in and asked, "Do you think the truth is subjective?" And he had clearly been thinking about it all the night before. It was really neat." Also important: "Providing really good readings. One thing that I thought was interesting that the instructor did was, he made it clear that all of our evaluation was going to be based on engaging the text critically, which [laughing] incited a lot of interest in doing so, even for people that wouldn't normally think of doing so."
Student K named critical thinking, epistemology, metacognition, self-regulated learning and transformative learning as topics in Course 3.
Interview G-19. Student L, Course 4 Student L has a degree in political science, is studying for a BEd in teaching English to second-language learners, and recalled having learned that higher order abilities (understood as the ability to solve problems, and to "figure things out") start around grade 5. This participant recognized critical thinking and critical dispositions as topics of the course.
When asked about specific cognitive skills required for higher order thinking, this student replied, "To figure out the problem." Relevant dispositions were a "more developed attention span. You need some form of discipline - you have to know how to...work things out on your own. Creative. The drive to learn, to go further than just what's there." The most important thing to know higher order thinking: "It's problem solving, finding the solution, different alternatives, creatively." Teaching and learning thinking involves presenting a problem, and providing guidance (or allowing students to work independently, without guidance). Evidencing a delicate balance of a paradoxical objectives, this student wants, "To give [students] more autonomy, like how they're going to do it. Give them more choices... but you give them a structure - you tell them what you want, and you want creativity."
Critical thinking is seen as one of the qualities of higher order thinking (along with problem solving and creativity). The disposition to go beyond basic ideas, and to think autonomously, were said to be important, while metacognitive self-regulation was viewed as a set of strategies for organizing one's planning and regulating the workload.
Self-regulated learning was not a topic in the course, "but as a student, it was in there in everything." With regard to understanding knowledge, several types of knowledge were named (memorization, life experience, spiritual knowledge), and 'truth' was seen as universal and objective, but very difficult to recognize, as, "I believe that there is one truth, but whether I know it or not? I don't know."
Interview G-20. Student M, Courses 2 and 4 Student M wants to teach and perhaps (eventually) do administrative work in education. For this participant, higher order thinking is, "Thinking where you already understand the basic concepts and you have to apply them within a practical context, " and it is recognizable when students' comments "demonstrate that they clearly understand the concepts, and beyond that, their comments generate new knowledge, or something beyond the basic definitional understanding of the concepts." Higher order cognitive skills include, "The ability to think abstractly; the ability to think creatively, to imagine scenarios, and bounce hypothetical situations off of those."
When asked what dispositions are important, the reply was, "Academic curiosity, which I guess ties in with motivation. You have to want to delve into a topic, you want to explore it. It's not a passive process."
Higher cognitive work "takes practice, repeatedly putting yourself in that situation, in order to analytically break down a problem... Higher order thinking involves stepping outside of your mindset and representing other opinions, or imagining other opinions (which ties in with creativity, and empathy, the ability to foresee or imagine someone else's position, in order to explore alternate scenarios). Ultimately thinking critically is matching up different mindsets, opinions, or philosophies one against the other."
This student pointed out that it may be very difficult for students to understand the various rationales which underlie complex theoretical frameworks, and the ways in which these ideas interact with each other. Effective ways to teach and learn cognitive skills include "a model where a teacher describes one particular viewpoint, describes the logical structure of that viewpoint, and then offers an alternate viewpoint, and once again structures that viewpoint....The discussions also have to have certain ground rules. One of the problems with discussions in class is you get a lot of opinion with very little support. Just because you don't have a textbook, or you don't have a lot of knowledge, doesn't mean you can't support your argument on a logical basis, offer logical support for your arguments." However, "I don't think it can be taught. Taught seems to imply something almost forcible. It's through doing essays, through seeing... a logical explanation of a person's perspective. It's modelling, and it's practice."
Instructor feedback is seen as an essential coaching tool. "The advantage of an essay vs. a classroom scenario is you get to sit down and formulate your thoughts, and you reflect more on the logical basis of your argument."
This student sees critical dispositions as related, but secondary, to a learner's motivation to succeed. "Motivation is essential, but not necessarily attitudes. You can have people kicking and screaming yet able to think critically to do their essay, as an external motivation...It's a reward system. Pragmatics. Either way, intrinsic or extrinsic, I think that motivation is the key factor." Philosophy of knowledge "could be" relevant to higher order thinking: "When you're dealing with critical thinking, you have to assume a certain fluidity, a lack of empirical truth. You're entertaining multiple perspectives...
you can have a couple of seemingly contradictory perspectives which may both be valid, according to the person's conception of it... The truth is fairly fluid... I don't believe in empirical truths, really; a lot of the subjects that you can engage with critically, those subjects, the reason we can engage with them critically is that there aren't that many empirical certainties."
Course 2 topics were seen to have included critical thinking, epistemology and self-regulated learning; Course 4 included critical thinking, critical dispositions, metacognition and self-regulated learning.
Interview G-21. Student N, Courses 2 and 4 Student N is in the BEd program, and wants to become a pedagogical counsellor for young children. Higher order thinking means, "to think critically, and based on experience and knowledge... And apply it, use it in daily life... The processing of information. Not just memorizing it." Important dispositions or attitudes in the process of higher learning were motivation (the desire to learn, including high expectations for one's own learning), and the capacity to change one's mind. "When someone is motivated, they find a way to process information much better, and use it much better" Asked to name specific cognitive skills, this participant recalled analysis and synthesis (having learned Bloom's taxonomy in a prior class).
According to Student N, Course 2 topics included critical thinking, critical dispositions and self-regulated learning; Course 4 included critical thinking and selfregulated learning.
The most important thing in teaching and learning thinking skills is, "The subject must be interesting. For example, teaching mathematics to young children, or high school, the teacher should find a way to make it more interesting. And when it is more interesting, the children can comprehend it freshly, comprehend it in the best way...
[and] Asking them questions. Make them ask questions of themselves...Provide them a process of learning where, in each step, they see a little bit more complex situation or subject, and step by step they learn how to use their mind to process more complex information."
Philosophy of knowledge is relevant to the process because, "When someone knows what this process is, and how knowledge is constructed, they can manage it and do it much better."
Interview G-22. Teaching Assistant 3, Course 4 The teaching assistant for Course 4 was pursuing a Master's degree in Educational Studies. Higher-order thinking is critical thinking; however, "the current use of the term 'critical thinking' as something that can be performed and practiced as a regular 'skill' without context/knowledge is problematic and somewhat misleading...people want to 'practice' critical thinking separately without considering the importance of the necessary background knowledge needed to do this in a meaningful way." Offering a definition of the term, "My own personal definition would be the ability to analyze a situation thoroughly (with knowledge of the content, good knowledge of what you're looking at), and to look at opposing points of view, and draw rational conclusions based on that." Dispositions were also seen as crucial, as "Being openminded... the idea of accepting that you were wrong. If, at the end of the whole process, if you find that what you've discovered goes against what you previously knew, the willingness to face that fact."
Critical thinking, critical dispositions, epistemology, metacognition, self-regulated learning and transformative learning were all seen as topics in Course 4. Higher-order thinking is recognized when, "[Sjtudents kind of stop and start to question things that they took for granted as being true before, and as soon as they start asking more questions, and looking for evidence to support other viewpoints." Epistemology was also an important topic in the course; a moment's reflection on its relevance brought forth this observation, "I think that if people are made aware of different forms of knowledge, or of ways of understanding knowledge, or determining what is knowledge and thinking about those kinds of things, then they're more aware of the process they're participating in... You have to take an argument through its full process." Self-regulative learning strategies were also mentioned in class ("How to read, how to prepare for a test...").
Transformative and emancipatory learning was also seen as important, as "I think of it as empowerment through learning, and transformation in terms of individual and social transformation through the learning process."
According to this teaching assistant, if students are to learn to think critically, they must be provided with both sides of an issue (and this is a problem for instructors, who may not always do this). In addition, instructors must model the process of examining the evidence and the arguments for both sides, and being open to whatever may result. "[Pjeople take some evidence and some 'truths' (so to speak) and don't actually look at the other point of view, or the other evidence, in a serious way. They just kind of stop where they want to stop, and that's it. If you're really doing critical thinking, if you're really trying to engage in a critical process, well, you have to look at things you don't want to look at necessarily."
Teaching thinking requires engaging with the students. "I think you have to ask some questions; I think you have to make a link to something meaningful in their present experience. For example, if you're studying old philosophers -and I think [the instructor] was really good on this point - he really finds ways to bring it into a present context, to take the issue or the information that you're reading, and the questions that are being asked, and apply it to today... Because if it's not meaningful... they won't really care, if they're not interested - it needs to contextualized in some sort of meaningful situation."
Remarkable results were, "Seeing the students really change their opinions, and really questions things that they'd accepted as true. On an individual basis, that happened quite a few times I think the fact that the students loved the course generally... the reviews were really good; I think that was remarkable. Because (trust me), philosophy when students hear 'philosophy,' there's really a fear of that word."
Interview G-23. Final Interview, Instructor 3, Course 4 In recounting the events of the semester, this instructor felt that "many of the lectures that I gave went well. They were successful both in terms of students coming to think more carefully about things in education: various concepts, various key authors in education, and they were successful at engaging students in a questioning/thinking process in engaging with these texts." However, there were also "...some significant failures amongst the readings, amongst the lectures that I gave." In addition, "A lot of people wrote good critical reaction papers. A lot of people got excited about philosophy of education...The students (according to the evaluations) were almost unanimously pleased with the class (at least those who filled out the evaluations)... People really talked to each other in the class (usually productively, sometimes not). My favourite part of doing philosophy has always been the discussions, and I think that we did have some good discussions in that class. That was probably my favourite part of it. That really did produce learning for some people." When asked what was the best results, the response was, "Getting students excited about philosophy of education, getting students thinking critically about philosophy of education, about how should education be."
The plan for teaching critical thinking implicitly was modified somewhat during the semester. "I guess I did talk a little more deliberately about fostering higher order thinking than I anticipated, because I did not anticipate that people wouldn't do it... In this class, I had some students who just did not know how to follow my instructions...1 had to talk about that in a much more deliberate and specific way than I ever had to do before. I had to produce recipes for reaction papers, I had to show examples of students who had done it successfully... Some students clearly did not grasp what I was wanting them to do...There were some students who were far less prepared than I anticipated they would be, both in terms of thinking critically, and in terms of in terms of basic English language skills, which is a significant problem." On the other hand, "Some students exceeded expectations wildly."
The class discussions included "What does it mean to think critically about a concept, how we might want to escape indoctrination, how is indoctrination a problem?
All of these things relate to the idea of critical thinking." The disposition to think critically was also described, as the students were told, "You have to be on the lookout.
You have to be reading with a critical eye, waiting to pounce on weaknesses. This is in the finest tradition of philosophy... A critical disposition is an important thing for you to cultivate." As for epistemology, "I was talking about how the Ideals are real in Plato's Republic. We had some points about social construction, too." In discussing the question of critical objectivity. It was noted that "This idea of being unbiased, of being perfectly neutral, is a very strong one in our society. It's normative in the sciences, it's normative among the judiciary... Can a person actually attain this? And I think the answer to that question is clearly no. Did everybody understand that? I think that at least a few people got that idea. I think some people didn't really know what I was talking about when I was having this discourse about whether it's really possible to be neutral...Certainly (hopefully) I did manage to persuade people away from this idea that true neutrality is a fact (at least)."
Having asked about lessons this instructor took away from the experience, I was told, "I've learned...that the texts mean a great deal, the texts that one assigns. If the texts engage the students, it's a lot easier to get them to think critically about the texts, to actually care about what they're talking about. If I have to make great efforts to sell a text (as I did in the case of [author] I just don't seem to be able to get that far.. I also learned that sometimes a good visual is very important... sometimes visual representations can make a big positive difference."
Learning strategies were also discussed in class. "I was worried about the students, because even with my [other university] kids I definitely get students who panicked when they'd get to philosophy... It's completely different from reading prose;
it's very unfamiliar. So I talked about learning strategies a lot; I talked about my own experiences as a college freshman when I first had to grapple with philosophy. I talked about how much difficulty I had with it; I talked about how much time you need to allow to process this stuff. I talked about how important it is to read it carefully... I provided them with [some] reading guides to try to shepherd them through [the most difficult] stuff successfully and stem their panic. I tried to anticipate some of the learning difficulties they would have and provide for them... I told them [about] skimming.... Some things you can just zip right through, just kind of grab the topic sentences and paragraphs, see what's going on. You can do that with some things and you can't do it with other things... I tried to communicate that. I don't know how successful I was; I would say that I had limited success on that front."
Asked to recap the most important things to learn about thinking, this respondent replied, "A disposition to question, an ability to construct dissenting arguments... A significant thinking skill is the ability to dialogue with another person in a civil, nonconfrontational way... Explanatory skills, argument construction skills. Both of these are very important, and many of my students (it seems to me) are somewhat deficient in those skills. They are not used to constructing a narrative, an argumentative narrative of some kind... It does speak to their preparedness. They are not well prepared in this regard."
Appendix H. Data Analysis: Open Coding