Enhancing Learning and Thinking

By Robert F. Mulcahy; Robert H. Short et al. | Go to book overview

1
Some Observations on the Teaching of Thinking

Raymond S. Nickerson

Over the past several years, I have had occasion to review a considerable amount of material on the teaching of thinking, observe several programs designed to teach thinking in the classroom, and participate in the development of one such program. In this chapter I will state a number of conclusions drawn from these experiences. My apologies to the reader if some of them seem too intuitively obvious to warrant mentioning. My excuse for including them is that, no matter how obvious they are, we see evidence that they are easily forgotten or ignored on occasion.

Thinking is multifaceted. Philosophers have reflected on the nature of thought for many centuries and psychologists have been attempting to study it scientifically for at least a hundred years. The resulting literature is far-ranging. Consequently, if we wish to talk about thinking, we do well to give some indication about what we mean by that term, otherwise the listener or reader is free to assign to it any of a broad variety of connotations.

In this chapter thinking connotes the kind of cognitive activity in which we engage when we attempt to evaluate conflicting evidence on a controversial issue in order to arrive at a reasonable conclusion, to derive from a collection of disparate symptoms a plausible diagnosis of an automative problem, to design a test of a scientific hypothesis, to construct a counter-argument against which to judge the merits of an argument that we are being asked to accept, to understand the assumptions on which some position is based, or to reflect upon the values that a particular course of action seems to imply. This is the kind of thinking that is often referred to as critical thinking. Unfortunately, this term is sometimes given the negative connotation of fault finding. Finding fault with

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