Enhancing Learning and Thinking

By Robert F. Mulcahy; Robert H. Short et al. | Go to book overview
How can people's willingness to revise opinions and beliefs in the light of evidence that indicates the need for revision be increased?
How can people's ability to monitor their own intellectual performance and manage their intellectual resources be improved?

These questions vary in specificity and some of them may have to be unpacked further before getting to forms that will admit of unambiguous answers. But all of them are considerably more specific than the question of how to teach thinking. And each has the virtue that the act of formulating it requires explication of what one believes some aspect of thinking to involve. I believe we must be willing to be at least this specific in our statement of "how" questions if we are to hope to get answers.

We are unlikely to be satisfied with the results of our current efforts to find better ways to teach thinking, but that is as it should be. The goal of improving thinking should be an unending one. If we at some point convince ourselves that we now know how to do this well enough and no further efforts for improvement are necessary, we will then be in real trouble.

The maturity of any field of scientific investigation is revealed by the nature of the questions it evokes, perhaps more than in any other way. For an immature field, the questions are couched in general and imprecise terms, and are open to various interpretations. And there can be wide differences of opinion as to the acceptability of answers that are proposed. Progress in a field is marked by a growing understanding of what questions should be asked. Paradoxically, the ability to be specific about our ignorance of a domain depends on our knowledge of that domain; the more limited that knowledge is, the less will we be able to be precise about what we do know. We may presume that we collectively know more about human cognition today than was known one hundred years ago, but current knowledge is surely still a fraction of what is knowable. Maybe we do not yet know enough to appreciate how wide and deep our ignorance really is.

With respect to the teaching of thinking, the metaquestion is, Do we yet know enough to ask any reasonable questions? I believe the answer is yes, that we are able to articulate some questions that are both important and amenable to research. Those mentioned above are examples. Thanks to the research that has been done, especially on problem solving, reasoning, and metacognition, over the past few years, there are at least tentative answers for some of those questions. What remains unknown about how best to enhance thinking in specific ways surely far outweighs what is currently known, but we do know enough to make a start.


REFERENCES

Baron J. ( 1985). Rationality and intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chi M., Feltovich P., & Glaser R. ( 1981). "Categorization and representation of physics problems by experts and novices". Cognitive Science, 5, 121-152.

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