Thursday, March 10, 2005

Higher Order Thinking

Taking my lead from Mr. Hare, I've been trying to update on a weekly basis, but I'm having real difficulty making it regular. Wednesday morning? Thursday afternoon? I'll work it out, so your patience is appreciated.

There was a major social highlight this week for me in Buffalo. One of my neighbours in residence threw a gathering wherein students from different cohorts were able to meet each other and share a few drinks. It was a great feeling to be back in an environment featuring cinderblock walls, industrial carpet, ratty furniture, fellow students, shared bathroom facilities, and fizzy drinks. I had a number of multisensory memories that took me back to Saugeen-Maitland when Pulp Fiction and Sarah McLachlan reigned.

The major assignment due this week was for Learning Theories. First, we were given broad categories (a learner's movement from dependence to interdependence to independence, language/communication/mediation skills, etc.), then we were to choose a phenomenon within one of the categories. We then found ten empirical research articles from peer-reviewed journals on the chosen phenomenon and finally we annotated the ten articles, tying it in with some analysis.

I decided to look into how higher-order/conceptual/metacognitive thinking emerges in adolescent students. Here I'm talking about how children go from learning to count and read and socialize to how a grade 10 student learns to question their own and other's beliefs and actions on everything from justice and equality to problem-solving approaches. Admittedly, this is huge topic area and I found my work was really cut out for me. The final result was satisfying and I came to a couple conclusions about the emergence and encouragement of abstract thinking in all disciplines.

Before I get to that though, one quick observation. Though I admit to enjoying this kind of work — it's a good assignment for those of us who enjoy a bit of research on theory — I really question the value of it in teacher's college. Clearly, exposure to the work in learning theory and cognition is vital for any teacher (though most teachers probably forget the majority of this stuff as soon as the final exam is written); however, a 15 page report on ten different academic articles seems a bit much, especially when you consider that the time and energy spent on this could have been directed toward something more practical like designing lessons that tap into particular ways of learning for example.

That being said, a few themes emerged from my research which I'm keen to share. To quote myself (oh boy!):
Teachers provide a wealth of modeling behaviour to students through instructional style, choice of educational experiences designed for the students, and even the types and formats of assessment. Some common themes that emerged [on the subject of encouraging higher-order thinking] ... were the importance of teaching and assessing toward multiple intelligences — with diverse learners in mind — and the impact of choices teachers make about the language and activities they use in the classroom.

It is clear that higher order thinking is directly related to a diversity of intellectual experiences. There is just no denying that fact. Homogeneous learning and assessment creates homogeneous thinking — and homogeneous thinking is inevitably simple knowledge recall and basic comprehension. Making the student's experiences at school as varied as possible is a great way to ensure you're pushing thinking skills without it feeling forced (for all involved in the process).

Bloom's taxonomy formed the theoretical basis for my paper. For those in the know, Bloom is pretty basic stuff — for those of you who don't spend your days the way I do, I recommend looking into his work as it is the source for the language we use when we think and learn about thinking and learning.

Read the assignment!