National Academies Press: OpenBook

Education and Learning to Think (1987)


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Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Research Council. 1987. Education and Learning to Think. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1032.
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Education and Learning to Think INTRODUCTION The question of whether schools can do a better job of teaching American children "higher order skills" is very much in the air. It arises in Congressional hearings, where calls are heard for school graduates better able to take on work that requires responsibility and judgment. It is reflected in public concern that changing employment demands are not being met, students' preparation for college is less than satisfactory, and general problem-solving abilities remain Tow. Yet beyond the agreement that our schools ought to be doing better than they are at building the intellectual capabilities of American young people, it is extremely difficult to discern what really should and can be done. The first difficulties arise with the very question of what is meant by the term "higher order skills." Many candidate definitions are available. Philosophers promote critical thinking and logical rea- soning skills, developmental psychologists point to metacognition, and cognitive scientists study cognitive strategies and heuristics. Educators advocate training in study skills and problem solving. How should we make sense of these many labels? Do critical think- ing, metacognition, cognitive strategies, and study skills refer to the same kinds of capabilities? And how are they related to the problem- solving abilities that mathematicians, scientists, and engineers try to teach their students? Are intelligence tests and scholastic aptitude tests good indicators of higher order skills, and if so, should we be 1

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The economic and social challenges confronting the nation today demand that all citizens acquire and learn to use complex reasoning and thinking skills. Education and Learning to Think confronts the issues facing our schools as they take on this mission. This volume reviews previous research, highlights successful learning strategies, and makes specific recommendations about problems and directions requiring further study. Among the topics covered are the nature of thinking and learning, the possibilities of teaching general reasoning, the attempts to improve intelligence, thinking skills in academic disciplines, methods of cultivating the disposition toward higher order thinking and learning, and the integral role motivation plays in these activities.

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