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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

THINKING: Cogito Ergo Sum

By Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy


Most – if not all of us – have encountered classrooms with posters encouraging us to THINK or we may also have encountered teachers who would use expressions such as “THINK before you answer.” I was lucky to have a teacher who encouraged me to think meta-cognitively by proclaiming “THINK about how you THINK.”
 
“In teaching for thinking, the concern is not how many answers students know, but what they do when they do not know; the goal is not merely to reproduce knowledge, but to create knowledge and grow in cognitive abilities,” according to “Best Practices in Gifted Education” a 2007 publication released by the National Association for Gifted Children.
 
Improving our students’ thinking most certainly is a goal in general education, but the field of gifted education has specifically researched thinking styles attributed to gifted children and how best to foster or teach thinking skills to gifted children.
 
B. M. Shore and L.S. Kanevsky in a 1993 article identified seven possible differences or attributes as relates to cognition by gifted children. They are:
·         Gifted children may be able to draw upon more existing knowledge and use this knowledge more effectively
·         Gifted children more often and more efficiently engage in metacognitive processes
·         Gifted children give the cognitively complex parts of problem solving a greater commitment of time, allowing them to solve and report problems
·         Gifted children show greater understanding of problems especially in terms of commonalities and transfer (Personally, I will add here that as a bilingual person, I find my thinking has greatly benefitted by analyzing the similarities and differences between my native language of German and my second language of English)
·         Gifted children utilize assumptions that they will investigate systematically
·         Gifted children show greater flexibility in choosing strategies and points of view
·         Gifted children are intrigued joyfully and creatively when presented with complexity and challenge in their tasks
 
Over the years, the identification of gifted children has given cognition greater emphasis. In 1993, R. J. Sternberg and E.L. Grigorenki contributed to this process by dividing thinking into three general areas, best illustrated by what they termed “mental self-government.”
·         Legislative function: This type of thinking involves the idea of creating, imagining, and planning
·         Executive function: This type of thinking facilitates implementation
·         Judicial function: This type of thinking incorporates all thinking related to the process of evaluating
 
As far as fostering or nurturing a child’s thinking processes, teachers may well be served that thinking can indeed be taught and practiced. Particularly in the field of gifted education, but also in general education, we have come to employ the idea of “higher order (or level) thinking.” As teachers, we want our students to spend less time and work at the knowledge and comprehension levels but rather in the higher order thinking modes that Bloom’s taxonomy identifies with levels such as “application (of knowledge), analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.”
 
More specifically, The NAGC Handbook of “Best Practices” outlines several broad categories to be included in daily instruction to help foster a child’s thinking: They are a) critical thinking; b) creative thinking; c) problem finding; d) metacognition; e) domain-specific (i.e. mathematics) patterns and forward thinking; f) correlational thinking; g) reflective inquiry; h) questioning created for memory, divergence, convergence, aesthetics, and ethics; i) inquiry and investigation; j) dialectical thinking skills; and k) Socratic discussion.
 
In their 2005 publication entitled “Being gifted in school: An introduction to development, guidance, and teaching.” L.J. Coleman and T.L. Cross conclude that an “overwhelming majority of teaching methods reported in the literature on gifted education are variations on creativity, problem-solving themes. Their major characteristics involve suspension of judgment, practice in generating responses, and opportunities for children to consider how they think.”
 
At our gifted education school, Quest Academy in Palatine, Illinois, we have for more than a decade designed our curriculum not primarily around knowledge and comprehension, but rather conceptual understandings to which we refer as Enduring Understandings. It is within those higher-level understandings that we then also spend instructional time on specific academic knowledge and comprehension. 

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