Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The excerpt below looks how to teach better thinking skills to
students and the different strategies used by expert and novice
thinkers. It is from "BETTER TEACHING, MORE LEARNING: Strategies for
Success in Postsecondary Settings," by
James R. Davies. Copyright ? 1993 by American Council on Education,
Series on Higher Education Published by ORYX Press, 4041 North
Central at Indian School Road, Phoenix, AZ 85012-3397.
http://www.oryxpress.com/ All rights reserved. Reprinted with
UP NEXT: Planning the Successful Federal Proposal
Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
----------------------- 777 words ---------------------
If there are many types of thinking and many reasons for engaging in
thinking, it is not surprising that people ask if such an important
activity can be taught. The prospects for teaching thinking depend,
once again, on what is meant by "thinking," and how thinking is
related to intelligence.
As Raymond Nickerson points out, "intelligence" and "thinking
ability" are not necessarily synonymous. "Intelligence relates more
to the 'raw power' of one's mental equipment. Raw power is one thing,
and skilled use of it something else."1. Thinking involves not only
the raw power of intelligence, but tactics and knowledge of content
(the subject one is thinking about) as well.2. Or put still another
way, thinking involves operations, knowledge, and dispositions.3. If
a distinction can be made among the various elements of thinking, it
would appear that even if nothing (or very little) can be done to
improve the raw power of intelligence, perhaps something (or very
much) can be done to improve operations, use of relevant knowledge,
and dispositions. If thinking is seen as a complex skill or set of
skills, it is reasonable to assume that "thinking is something that
may be done well or poorly, efficiently or inefficiently, and also to
assume that how to do it better is something that one can learn."4.
Nickerson compares learning to think, to learning a complex athletic
skill, i.e., enlarging "the number of pre-coded motor programs that
the player can call upon to meet the demands of the moment...If
thinking skills are really learned behavior patterns, we might expect
an analogous effect of training, namely an enlarging of one's
repertoire of pre-coded intellectual performance patterns that
function relatively automatically in appropriate contexts."5. Seen
this way, thinking skills appear to be something that can be learned
and, therefore, taught.
If thinking skills can be learned, it may be instructive to examine
what differentiates skilled thinkers from novice thinkers. What do
good thinkers do? A significant amount of research compares what
novice and expert thinkers do. Citing many of these studies as
evidence, Joanne Kurfiss summarizes the findings as follows:
Novice-expert studies reveal striking differences between the
and striking similarities within groups, regardless of discipline. For
example, experts work at the level of principles and plans before
plunging into the intricate details of a solution. They may explore a
number of possible representations of a problem before they commit to a
particular solution....Experts treat a solution plan as a hypothesis,
checking their progress frequently to avoid a "wild goose chase."
Experts also use heuristics to advance understanding of the problem.
Successful problem solvers aggressively seek connections between the
present problem and what they already know. Novices, in contrast,
exhibit tendencies that preclude success, such as categorizing the
problem on the basis of superficial features, failing to include all
elements of the problem in their representation, using trial and error
instead of analysis and quitting.6.
Two concepts embedded in this summary of findings deserve further
elaboration-"heuristics" and (though not mentioned specifically)
"meta-cognition." Heuristics are general "rules of thumb" that can be
used for guiding the thinking process.7. For example, "try to find
out first what kind of problem this is, before seeking a solution,"
may be regarded as a heuristic, a rule of thumb that usually works.
Expert thinkers use heuristics. Furthermore, expert thinkers become
aware of their own thinking through an overall monitoring process
known as meta-cognition, which has been defined as "the use of
strategies to monitor and control attention and memory, and to make
decisions about how to proceed on a task.8. Stated more simply,
meta-cognition is "being aware of our thinking as we perform specific
tasks and then using this awareness to control what we are doing.9.
Examples of meta-cognition include "planning, predicting, checking,
reality testing, and monitoring and control of one's own deliberate
attempts to perform intellectually demanding tasks."10. Expert
thinkers, as opposed to novices, have learned to be effective in
using heuristics and in employing meta-cognitive skills.
In recent years, a number of formal "thinking skills programs" have
been developed and deployed, mostly in school settings, but also in
postsecondary settings.11. Some of these programs emphasize thinking
skills in general (such as employing heuristics or using
meta-cognition skills), whereas others emphasize thinking within a
particular discipline or field of study. Can thinking skills be
taught without using a formal program? Although formal programs
provide a specific, well-thought-out structure and often include
carefully developed and well-tested materials, surely any teacher who
is determined to teach thinking skills can begin to do so by using
inquiry and discovery strategies. To do so, however, one must begin
by arranging classroom settings so that thinking can occur.
1) Nickerson, Perkins, and Smith, Teaching of Thinking, p. 44.
2) D.N. Perkins, "thinking Frames: An Integrative Perspective on
Teaching Cognitive Skills" in Baron and Sternberg, Teaching Thinking
Skills, p. 57.
3) Barry Beyer, Practical Strategies, p. 20, 25.
4) Nickerson, Perkins, and Smith, Teaching of Thinking, p. 45.
5) Ibid., p. 46.
6) For a detailed listing of the studies from which this summary
of findings is drawn, see Kurfiss, Critical Thinking, pp. 30-31.
7) Beyer, Practical Strategies, p. 19.
8) Kurfuss, Critical Thinking, p. 42.
9) Marzano, et al., Dimensions of Thinking, p. 9.
10) Nickerson, Perkins, and Smith, Teaching of Thinking, p. 103.
11) Some of these thinking skills programs include Feuerstein's
"Instrumental Enrichment" Program, the "Structure of Intellect"
Program based on the work of Guilford, Science...A Process Approach,"
"BASICS," "LOGO," "Philosophy for Children," and many others. Among
those programs specifically designed for higher education settings
are "project Intelligence," a collaborative project involving a
company, Harvard University, and the Venezuelan Ministry of
Education; "Patterns of Problem Solving," developed by the Psychology
Department at the University of Cincinnati; the "Cognitive Studies
Project" at Manhattan Community College; the "Portable Patient
Problem Pack" (P4), developed by Burrows and Tamblyn for medical
students; ADAPT," developed by a group of professors at the
University of Nebraska, Lincoln; "DOORS," patterned after ADAPT;
"COMPAS," a cooperative project of a consortium of seven community
colleges; "SOAR," developed for the sciences at Xavier University;
"DORIS," used with freshman at California State University,
Fullerton; and a number of programs that deal with written and spoken
language. For a useful brief description of these and other thinking
skills programs, see Nickerson, Perkins and Smith, Teaching of
Thinking, Part II, Chapters 6-10. See also Paul Chance, Thinking in
the classroom: A Survey of Programs (New York Teachers College Press