Book Review – Education and Learning to Think

Here are two quotes from Education and Learning to Think, an interesting little research-based book published by the National Research Council way back in 1987!

Higher order thinking is nonalgorithmic. That is, the path of action is not fully specified in advance.

Higher order thinking tends to be complex. The total path is not “visible” (mentally speaking) from any single vantage point.

Higher order thinking often yields multiple solutions, each with costs and benefits, rather than unique solutions.

Higher order thinking involves nuanced judgment and interpretation.

Higher order thinking involves the application of multiple criteria, which sometimes conflict with one another.

Higher order thinking often involves uncertainty. Not everything that bears on the task at hand is known.

Higher order thinking involves self-regulation of the thinking process. We do not recognize higher order thinking in an individual when someone else “calls the plays” at every step.

Higher order thinking involves imposing meaning, finding structure in apparent disorder.

Higher order thinking is effortful. There is considerable mental work involved in the kinds of elaborations and judgments required. (p. 3)

The seventh item on the list, self-regulation, is one that I think is particularly lacking in many K-12 schools because the teachers “call the plays” so much of the time…

Here’s what I think is the money quote:

The goals of increasing thinking and reasoning ability are old ones for educators. . . . But these goals were part of the high literacy tradition; they did not, by and large, apply to the more recent schools for the masses. Although it is not new to include thinking, problem solving, and reasoning in someone’s school curriculum, it is new to include it in everyone’s curriculum. It is new to take seriously the aspiration of making thinking and problem solving a regular part of a school program for all of the population . . . It is a new challenge to develop educational programs that assume that all individuals, not just an elite, can become competent thinkers. (p. 7)

I liked this book. It's very short, but it made me think. I give it 4 highlighters.

Highlighter4  

12 Responses to “Book Review – Education and Learning to Think”

  1. Based on my experience on campuses I would say that many of these items are missing. The phrase “higher-order thinking” is used frequently by administrators and educators in my district — but what they often mean and look for is not what is listed above.

    I wish this is what we mean when we say we want “higher-order thinking” in the classroom, but too often the descriptors listed above are in conflict with what is required on the standardized high-stakes tests that have sadly become our profession’s “bottom-line.”

  2. I agree with you, Scott; I think this quote is the rub for the future of education and learning!

    “Higher order thinking involves self-regulation of the thinking process. We do not recognize higher order thinking in an individual when someone else “calls the plays” at every step.”

    I read a book this summer that analyzes this very issue incredibly well ~ Alfie Kohn, Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, 10th anniversary edition. http://tinyurl.com/kksm45

    Guess we missed the importance of the message when it was first published! Maybe this time it can influence how we think and behave.

    I’m a certainly a convert. I’ve come to believe that almost everything we do in schools to adults is about requiring compliance. Read a policy manual, hundreds of pages of what we expect of adults. Ugh! That’s why we have contracts and unions. Lack of trust is built into the game, The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

    It’s no wonder that Kohn could write a book that shows how almost everything we do to kids is about compliance. We can’t miss his analysis.

    If we do miss it, none of the discussion regarding pedagogy and technology in the world is going to save us from ourselves.

    However, if our cultures of compliance can change to cultures of collaborative communities, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! But we all know how big an IF it is.

    Regards,

    Dennis

  3. I agree with Stephanie. From what I see at my school, we are spending too much time worrying about the tests.

    Places in our curriculum where it is easy for teachers and students to wrestle with the complex, uncertain and nuanced have been short changed.

    It is not OK for the math teacher to have too little time and too many students, we have this test to worry about. It is OK for the Arts, Phy Ed, Family and Consumer Sciences, Social Studies to be cut back on time (or even cut completely) to make that happen.

  4. This is really weighty stuff.

    What if we dig deeper into what “schools” are and find out that we not only lack this in teaching and learning, but lack it in the institution as well (at all levels)? What if the improvement cycle in schools (whatever it may be) does not engage the adults in this type of thinking?

    I’m generalizing of course, and I am sure we can find that some wonderful teachers do outstanding work on this front, but we rarely talk about the outstanding school or outstanding district that behaves like this as a matter of an operationalized way to do business.

  5. Scott:

    I agree with your conclusion about what is new. “21st century skills” are not new. What is new is the fact that all our children—not just the 18 out of 100 American ninth graders who will finish a post-secondary degree within six years of high school graduation—need these skills to succeed.

    There may have been a time when finishing high school without having developed those skills did not prevent students from obtaining work sufficient to provide for themselves and their families. Today, however, students that do not have this common core of skills will not be able to find any employment. The work previously done by students lacking those skills can now be done more cheaply somewhere else or by a machine.

  6. “It can’t be taken away by thieves.
    It can’t be forcibly snatched by the kings.
    It can not be divided among brothers.
    It multiplies even when spent.
    Such is the wealth of knowledge, aptly the best among all.”

    – A Sanskrit Saying

  7. I put this whole post into my blog, so I can find it again easily, and added some commentary of my own after each item in the list.

    I think you’re right on target, though.

  8. I see Roger and Stephanie’s point about the emphasis on tests and testing. But why not revamp the tests in their format to facilitate higher order thinking?

  9. It is mentioned above in the quote from the book, Education and Learning to Think, published by the National Research Council that “Higher order thinking involves imposing meaning, finding structure in apparent disorder.” This is very true in many situations. I would like to add that I have seen occasions where people try to assign some kind of meaning to situations that are really coincidental and not part of some larger pattern or coordinated effort. I would propose that higher order thinking includes the ability to discern when events or conditions may indeed be part of a larger structure and when they are simply a coincidence. And equally important is to be able to hesitate in making a conclusion when there is not enough information. A more careful analytical approach would have benefits in politics and environmental planning.

  10. Roger, I couldn’t agree more! I’m a part time math teacher, but they managed to sandwich my schedule to keep me there a minimum of 6 hours! I was supposed to use my “free” time to work on things like my masters class, but find I am preparing for classes to make sure they master the test questions. Sometimes I think teaching to the test is a valid argument, but it is up to an effective teacher (to a point) to teach standards so that they can pass any test, (however slim it may be!).

  11. Scott

    This is interesting food for thought. It is too rare in schools that we take time to examine the underpinnings of what we strive to do every day. I believe “it IS a challenge to develop educational programs that assume all individuals, not just an elite, can become competent thinkers”. Perhaps it is that we are too busy developing tests that we hope will document our achievement as educators rather than the competent thinking skills of our students. Granted the latter would be harder to do.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Learning to Think | Andrew B. Watt's Blog - February 22, 2012

    [...] Scott McLeod today writes at Dangerously Irrelevant: Here are two quotes from Education and Learning to Think, an interesting little research-based book published by the National Research Council way back in 1987! Higher order thinking is nonalgorithmic. That is, the path of action is not fully specified in advance. [...]

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