Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Creative Skills & Elaboration

In Teaching for Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, and Success (Sternberg, Jarvin, & Grigorenko, 2009), the authors identify “four types of different thinking skills: memory, analytical skills, creative skills, and practical skills” (p. 19). Comparison between these thinking types and the core processes of the Architecture of Learning provide valuable insights. (For similarities between memory and experience or analytical skills and comprehension, see recent postings.)

Sternberg, Jarvin, and Grigorenko describe “creative skills” as those that enable us “to come up with new ideas (whatever the field)” and enable us to “deal with new situations or problems that we have never confronted before” (p. 35). At first, this may not seem to overlay neatly with the process of elaboration, but note several verbs associated with creative skills: present differently, “similize” (to form similes), “metaphorize” (to form metaphors), combine, pattern, tesselate, re-present, and personify.

Many of these actions require the blending of concepts—the very process that constructs understanding: elaboration. Newly organized sensory data, or knowledge, gained from a focus on comprehension and recall of relevant previous experience—a reference point from long term memory—provides the data (experience). During comprehension, the brain holds one input (e.g., the newly organized data) and examines its critical features. It then does the same with the second input (e.g., the reference point from long-term memory). Working memory processes blend both inputs to identify similarities, differences, and relationships between the new and the known. Blending the new and known enables the brain to construct understanding of the new data (elaboration).

What does this parallel reveal? First, creative thinking contributes to learning. Creative activities are not nice add-ons to “real” instruction. Engaging students in creative thinking actually enables learning.

Second, students need creative means of communicating their learning. If creative thinking empowers deepened learning, such learning cannot be measured through traditional assignments and assessments. When students engage in elaboration, the expression of their new understanding requires more response than filling in blanks or identifying multiple choice answers.

Third, tools such as Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences can aid teachers in developing effective elaboration activities. By asking students to take ideas presented via text or lecture and re-present them in a different “intelligence” (e.g., musical or bodily-kinesthetic), teachers foster creative thinking and enable students to communicate their learning in forms that fit their strengths (and/or strengthen their weaknesses!).

Authentic learning involves elements of both critical and creative thinking. We increase student learning by increasing student thinking. Architecture of Learning provides a tool for teachers to design such successful instruction.

Next up: “practical thinking” and application.

If any readers are on Twitter and would like to follow my “tweets,” I can be found @kdwashburn.

Sternberg, R. J, Jarvin, L. & Grigorenko, E. L. (2009). Teaching for wisdom, intelligence,creativity, and success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Analytic Skills & Comprehension

After describing memory thinking as cognition that provides “something in your head to reason about,” Sternberg, Jarvin, and Grigorenko (2009) suggest analytical skills as another type of thinking (p. 19). Analytical skills involve sorting or ordering ideas into valid schemata and are “sometimes referred to as critical thinking skills” (p. 22). Verbs associated with analytical skills include compare, contrast, sequence, organize, differentiate, identify (e.g., cause/effect), classify, categorize, combine, match, divide, and graph.

Like memory thinking and experience, analytical skills overlay nicely with Architecture of Learning’s process of comprehension. During comprehension, the brain labels and organizes data; we arrange isolated facts and examine their relationships to construct knowledge.

I disagree with the idea that comprehension or “analytical skills” equal critical thinking. I see comprehension as a precursor to evaluative, critical thinking. Comprehension enables me to see how knowledge is organized. By reviewing that organization I can assess validity, but that requires a step beyond sorting the data. However, there is a strong relationship: comprehension (or “analytical skills”) empowers critical thinking.

Again, the concept of learning as a process of varied thinking is validated. Sternberg, Jarvin, and Grigorenko (2009) suggest good instruction finds “a balance to make sure that all thinking skills can be proportionally represented throughout the curriculum” (p. 22). Architecture of Learning equips teachers to design such instruction, deepening student learning and increasing student achievement.

Up next: comparing “creative skills” (p. 35) and elaboration.

Sternberg, R. J, Jarvin, L. & Grigorenko, E. L. (2009). Teaching for wisdom, intelligence,creativity, and success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Memory Thinking & Experience

The Architecture of Learning Instructional Design Model recognizes four cognitively-distinct processes: experience, comprehension, elaboration, application. These four represent learning’s core processes—processes that optimize each other’s contribution to learning. (A fifth process, intention, involves responding to current, “real-world” circumstances with previously learned content and/or skills.)

While reading Teaching for Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, and Success (Sternberg, Jarvin, & Grigorenko, 2009), I discovered intriguing parallels between Architecture of Learning’s core processes and the authors’ identification of “four types of different thinking skills: memory, analytical skills, creative skills, and practical skills” (p. 19). While not a perfect match, the similarities are worth exploring.

Sternberg, Jarvin, and Grigorenko begin with memory because “if you have no information or skills to draw upon, there is nothing to analyze, create, or apply” (p. 19). Memory thinking involves gaining the information needed for analysis, creativity, or application, and storing that data with little or no additional processing.
For example, I can recite the freezing points on both the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales but not explain their significance. I can state the capital of New York State but not describe its significance. I have data, nothing more.Some verbs associated with this type of thinking include get, take in, obtain, and seek.

This description fits nicely with Architecture of Learning’s explanation of experience. During experience, the brain receives data from the senses—data that provides the raw material for additional processing and deepened learning.

What does this parallel reveal? First, a growing consensus suggests that merely obtaining data represents shallow learning. Encoding a fact simply provides data for beneficial thinking, and that thinking is what drives deeper learning.

Second, a growing consensus suggests that learning is a process—a cognitive process that requires different types of thinking at differing stages. Architecture of Learning, with its core processes and strands, represents teaching based on this view of learning. By equipping teachers with such instructional design tools, we can tailor instruction to the cognitive processes that empower learning.

The parallels do not end with Sternberg, Jarvin, and Grigorenko’s memory type of thinking and Architecture of Learning’s core process of experience. In the next posting we’ll explore the connections between analytical skills and comprehension. The links to critical thinking are especially interesting!

By the way, if you are on Twitter and would like to follow my “tweets,” I can be found @kdwashburn.

Sternberg, R. J, Jarvin, L. & Grigorenko, E. L. (2009). Teaching for wisdom, intelligence,creativity, and success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writer's Stylus Program & Training: New Info Available!

Writer's Stylus equips teachers to develop writers, not just students with adequate writing skills. Students use their knowledge to not only correct errors in punctuation and grammar, but to improve the clarity and strength of their communication. As editors of their own writing, students use knowledge and skills gained from effective instruction to develop their best possible communication.

Read more on Clerestory Learning's dynamic and effective instructional writing program. Information is now available here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hands in Motion: Gestures and Learning

Know someone who “talks with his/her hands”? If so, you may want to pay closer attention to those gestures. The hands may tell you what the actual words will not.

That’s right, sometimes it appears that our hands are aware of something before we are conscious of it ourselves. In Mirroring People, neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni ( 2008) offers the following example:

…When we cannot find the proper word to express ourselves, hand gestures can help in the retrieval of the missing word. At other times, gestures provide information that the words themselves do not provide. For instance, kids often use a dual format to explain the math concepts they are learning. One problem-solving procedure is stated with words, a different procedure with gestures. In fact, these speech-gesture mismatches indicate a transitional, expected phase in the learning process. Say a child is asked to solve the problem 5 + 4 + 3 = _ + 3. Her incorrect verbal response (“I added the 5, the 4, the 3, and the 3, and I got 15”) may not reveal any awareness of the concept of an equation. However, if her hand moves under the left side of the equation, then stops, then moves again under the right side of the equation, the movement reveals that her mind is starting to grasp the concept that an equation has two sides that are separate but somehow related…” (p. 80).

While the student appears unaware of the concept of equations, her hands indicate the understanding is under construction.

Recently, Science Daily reported on a University of Chicago study that suggests gesturing aids students in learning, not just recall. In the study, students were taught gestures at the same time the teacher presented new concepts in math. The results: “Students who repeated the correct gesture during the lesson solved more problems correctly than students who repeated the partially correct gesture, who, in turn, solved more problems correctly than students who repeated only the words” (ScienceDaily, 2009).

This study suggests that gestures are not only valuable for aiding recall of previously learned material, but also for constructing understanding of new concepts. Gestures aid learning!

What does this mean for the classroom? For starters, we should encourage our students to use their hands when expressing themselves, especially when they communicate complex ideas. Second, we should examine our instructional material for concepts that may capitalize on gesturing to aid learning. By teaching students the gestures as part of the presentation, we may empower them to construct deeper understanding of these concepts and to do so more quickly than with words alone.

Get students' hands moving. Gesturing aids both recall and learning—two cognitive activities at the center of education.

Iacoboni, M. (2008). Mirroring people: The new science of how we connect with others. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

ScienceDaily (2009). Gestures lend a hand in learning mathematics; hand movements help create new ideas. Downloaded from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090224133204.htm.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Integrative Thinking, Part 6: Conclusion

Integrative thinking, as explained by Roger Martin in The Opposable Mind, can certainly be productive and beneficial. But how can such a process be taught in schools? Three suggestions come to mind.

First, recognize that integrative thinking is a creative thought process. My own research on creative thinking suggests that a pause—a temporary stopping of motion or movement toward application—is often needed for creative thinking. During this “pause,” the mind explores its understanding of some concept and re-forms that understanding into a fresh expression.

For example, Martin (2007) cites the founding of the Four Seasons line of hotels as an example of integrative thinking. If Isadore Sharp had decided to get into the lodging business and immediately proceeded to build a hotel, the better ideas that led development of the Four Seasons line would likely have never come to his mind. He made the decision and then allowed himself thinking time, time to consider the opposing ideas of large hotels with many amenities and smaller hotels with a friendly feel. By pausing, his creative thinking generated the superior ideas that guided his development of the Four Seasons.

This may be the most challenging aspect of engaging students in integrative (or any other creative) thinking. Time pressures drive us to often sacrifice depth for coverage. (By the way, check out this recent research on the depth vs. breadth argument!) However, research demonstrates again and again that increased thinking about a topic deepens learning. Engaging students in thinking aids learning! But the time factor—the “pause”—must be included in our considerations of instructional time usage.

Second, modeling integrative thinking provides a powerful learning experience for students. We can model integrative thinking by thinking-aloud in front of students. By voicing our thinking, we provide students with a reference point for their own thinking.

Finally, engaging students in integrative thinking can deepen learning and instill beneficial thinking skills. Take any instructional material that suggests opposing ideas and guide students through recognizing salience, identifying causality, structuring action, and achieving resolution. (Interesting how some critical thinking skills influence this creative thinking process!)

If students do not learn to think successfully they will be ill-equipped to live successfully. We need to be sure our instruction equips and engages students in various forms of thinking, such as integrative thinking. By helping them learn to think we can equip them to learn for the rest of their lives!

Up next, gestures! Several recent studies suggest engaging (or at least encouraging) students in gesturing can increase achievement. (See a previous posting on this topic here.) What do our hands know that our brains are not conscious of? Watch for the next posting soon!

Sources: Martin, R. (2007). The opposable mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.