National Academies Press: OpenBook

Education and Learning to Think (1987)


Suggested Citation:"CULTIVATING THE DISPOSITION TO HIGHER ORDER THINKING." National Research Council. 1987. Education and Learning to Think. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1032.
Suggested Citation:"CULTIVATING THE DISPOSITION TO HIGHER ORDER THINKING." National Research Council. 1987. Education and Learning to Think. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1032.
Suggested Citation:"CULTIVATING THE DISPOSITION TO HIGHER ORDER THINKING." National Research Council. 1987. Education and Learning to Think. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1032.
Suggested Citation:"CULTIVATING THE DISPOSITION TO HIGHER ORDER THINKING." National Research Council. 1987. Education and Learning to Think. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1032.

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40 ED USA TION AND LEARNING TO THINK avoid such fallacies in their own thinking. Without careful attention to this problem, informal logic could become just another body of knowledge perhaps judged valuable in its own right but without claim to a special role in the genera] development of higher order thinking and learning capabilities. We need, then, substantial new research, requiring the collaboration of philosophers and cognitive scientists, to identify approaches to teaching reasoning that actually improve reasoning performance either in academic clisciplines or in practical situations. CULTIVATING THE DISPOSITION TO HIGHER ORDER THINKING It has been convenient to exarriine teaching programs in several distinct categories. Yet there are striking points of similarity among those programs that have shown some promising results. Many such programs rely on a social setting and social interaction for much of teaching and practice. Although one can imagine individually worked exercises designed to improve aspects of thinking skill, very few programs in fact propose such activities. Instead, students are 1 . 1 _ _ L 1 ~ 11 ~ T_ I encouraged to work pro Hems in pairs or in small groups. 1ns~ruc tors may also orchestrate special discussion and practice sessions. When investigators of different theoretical orientations and disci- plinary backgrounds converge on a common prescription in this way, we should consider what shared intuition may be at work. What roles might social interaction be playing in the development of thinking? The authors cited in the preceding pages mention several possibili ties. First, the social setting provides occasions for modeling effec- tive thinking strategies. Skilled thinkers (often the instructor but sometimes more advanced fellow students) can demonstrate desir- able ways of attacking problems, analyzing texts, and constructing arguments. This process opens normally hidden mental activities to inspection. Through observing others, students can become aware of mental processes that might otherwise have remained entirely im- plicit. Research suggests, however, that modeling alone does not produce very powerful results. If students only watched more skilled thinkers perform, they would not substantially improve their own thinking. Apparently there is more to learning in a social setting than watching others perform. Thinking aloud" in a social setting allows

LA UREN B. RESNICK 41 others peers or an instructor-to critique and shape one's perfor- mance, something that cannot be done effectively if only the results but not the processes of thought are visible. The social setting may also provide a kind of scaffolding for an individual learner's initially limited performance. Instead of practicing smaI! bits of thinking in isolation with no sense of each bit's significance to the task as a whole, a group solves a problem, or writes a composition, or analyzes an ar- gument together. Within the group, extreme novices can participate in performing complex tasks. If things go well, they can eventually take over most or all of the work themselves, with a developed ap- preciation of how individual elements in the process contribute to the whole. This theory, adapted from Vygotsky (1978), is embodied explicitly in the reciprocal teaching of Palincsar and Brown, and variants of it have been proposed by a number of other investigators (e.g., Collins et al., in press). The social setting may also function to motivate students. Stu- dents are encouraged to try new, more active approaches, and they receive social support even for partially successful efforts. Through this process, students come to think of themselves as capable of en- gaging in Independent thinking and of exercising control over their learning processes. The public setting also lends social status and validation to what can perhaps best be called the disposition to higher order thinking. The term disposition should not be taken to imply a biological or inherited trait. As used here, it is more akin to a habit of thought, one that can be learned and, therefore, taught. Engaging in higher order thinking with others seems likely to teach students that they have the ability, the permission, and even the obli- gation to engage in a kind of critical analysis that does not always accept problem formulations as presented or that may challenge an accepted position. We have good reason to believe that shaping this disposition to critical thought is central to developing higher order cognitive abilities in students. Research on strategy training shows that, if instruction is to work at all, it often works very quickly in just a few lessons or sometimes with little more than directions to use some strategy. However, people induced to use a particular learning strat- egy will often do so on the immediate occasion but will fail to apply the same strategy on subsequent occasions. Both of these recurrent findings serve to remind us that much of learning to be a good thinker is learning to recognize and even search for opportunities to apply one's mental capacities (cf. Belmont et al., 1982~.

42 ED UCATION AND LEARNING TO THINK This suggests that the task for those who would raise the in- tellectual performance levels in children is not just to teach children new cognitive processes but to get them to use those processes widely and frequently. The kind of higher order thinking we have discussed requires elaborating, adding complexity, and going beyond the given to construct new formulations of issues. It also involves weighing multiple alternatives and sometimes accepting uncertainty. As such, higher order thinking requires effort on the part of the individual and may involve some social risk-of disagreeing with others perceived to be more powerful, of not arriving at the expected answers, of not always responding instantly. To overcome these difficulties, educa- tional institutions must cultivate not only skills for thinking but also the disposition to use them. A widely shared set of unplicit assumptions exists about how dispositions for higher order thinking might develop. They center on the role of a social community in establishing norms of behav- ior, provi~ling opportunity for practice, and providing occasions for learning particular skills. The fundamental theme Is that such dis- positions are cultivated by participation in social communities that value thinking and independent judgment. Such communities com- municate these values by making available many occasions for such activity and responding encouragingly to expressions of questioning and judgment. The process of learning is further aided when there are many opportunities to observe others engaging in such thinking activities. Finally, dispositions for higher order thinking require sus- ta~ned Tong-term cultivation; they do not emerge from short-term, quick-fix interventions. This set of beliefs, although highly plausible, has received little empirical investigation. On the whole, research on the development of cognitive abilities h" proceeded quite separately from research on social and personality development. For example, the extensive body of childhood socialization research (Hetherington, 1983) says much about the emergence of traits such as aggressiveness, dependency, conformity, or gender identification, but it says little about how in- tellectual tendencies develop. An interesting new research project (Caplan, 1985) on the development of intellectual curiosity in young children appears to be a first link between research on child social- ization and our present concern for shaping higher order thinking dispositions. "Cognitive styles (e.g., Messick, 1976) such as reflectivity are known to be related to school performance, and efforts have been

LA UREN B. RESNICK 43 made to shape reflectivity (e.g., Meichenbaum, 1985~. But this re- search has not generally attended to the qualitative aspects of in- tellectual performance, and it is impossible to know whether higher order thinking was in fact improved. Other research on improving persistence (e.g., Turkewitz et al., 1975) has tended to measure how much work students do but not whether they engage in complex cog- nitive activities. Some recent research on intrinsic motivation may help tie motivation to the quality as well as the quantity of educa- tional work (see Lepper, 1981, 1983; Nicholls, 1983~. When people work to gain praise, grades, or material benefits, they are externally motivated. When they work to master a task, they are intrinsically motivated. Apparently some correlation exists between the kinds of motivations that keep people working and several qualitative fea- tures of their work: for example, the complexity of the tasks they choose to work on, the range of material to which they attend, and the extent to which they are able to shift direction (~break set") to pursue a new, more fruitful approach (Condry and Chambers, 1981; Kruglanski, 1981; Lepper and Greene, 1981; McGraw, 1981~. A promising link between quality of thinking and persistence is being forged by investigators studying differences in people's con- ceptions of ability. For example, Dweck and her colleagues (Dweck, in press; Dweck and Elliot, 1983) have shown that individuals dif- fer fundamentally in their conceptions of intelligence and that these conceptions mediate very different ways of attacking problems. A distinction is made between two competing conceptions of ability, or Theories of intelligence, that people may hold. One, called the entity conception, treats ability as a global, stable quality. The sec- ond, called the incremental conception, treats ability as a repertoire of skins that can be expanded through eflorts to learn. Entity con- ceptions orient children toward performing wed} so that they can display their intelligence and toward not revealing lack of ability by giving ~wrong" responses. Incremental conceptions orient children toward learning well so that they can acquire new knowledge or skill. Most relevant to the present argument, incremental conceptions of ability and associated learning goals lead children to analyze tasks and to formulate strategies for overcoming difficulties. We can easily recognize these as close cousins to the kinds of higher order think- ing discussed in this essay. In a related analysis, Covington (1983) suggests that people who view ability as created through strategic

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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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