Cognitive Process Instruction: Research on Teaching Thinking Skills

By Jack Lochhead; John Clement | Go to book overview

Introduction: Research

The hope that researchers are in a position to help practitioners in the classroom is certainly not a new hope, but there is some reason to believe that significant advances have recently been made in that direction at the college level. A number of factors lead us to be optimistic about this. First, researchers are using tasks that are directly related to college-level academic work, such as solving word problems in mathematics and physics and organizing written essays in rhetoric. Second, researchers are looking at cognitive tasks that are at a much higher level of complexity--tasks that tap the student's deeper understandings of a situation rather than tasks that measure a student's ability to perform correctly using a straightforward algorithm or retrieval operation: this can for example involve modeling the student's use of several levels of representation in problem solving. Third, we seem to now have a group of researchers who combine an awareness of the extremely subtle problems of fostering understanding in the classroom with a concern for doing some serious scientific work in cognitive process research. All of the researchers represented in this section, for example, are trained in science, and at the same time all have been involved in educational reform projects.

Fourth, a growing group of enlightened teachers are realizing that clarity of lecture presentation is not enough. They are recognizing the need for dealing with the tacit knowledge and process skills used in their own field. This requires input from researchers on the cognitive processes used by experts in the field. Furthermore, these teachers are recognizing the need to encourage an active role in knowledge construction on the part of the student by tapping into his or her preconceptions--anchoring new concepts to common-sense notions such as physical or social intuition. This requires input from researchers on the preconceptions and intuitive reasoning processes possessed by naive students.

The papers in this section provide evidence that both researchers and practitioners can in the future benefit from each other's work. The first two papers deal with the methodological aspects of cognitive process research. Herbert Lin compares several of the research methodologies now used to study issues relevant to cognitive process instruction. This is not an easy task because many of these methodologies are still in a state of development.

Jack Easley has directed a number of studies of cognitive processes occurring in students and teachers using case study and clinical interviewing approaches. His paper defines a methodology that can help investigators generate qualitative models for the cognitive structures of individual subjects. After arguing that there are two basic paradigms for research activity in science, the quantitative measurement paradigm and the qualitative structural analysis paradigm, he points out that the structural paradigm is often the more appropriate one for progress in a field such as cognitive science which is at an early stage in its development. He also describes some intriguing techniques for diagramming

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