Do they really work?

Evidence for the efficacy of thinking skills approaches in affecting learning outcomes: the need for a broader perspective

Authored by: Robert Burden

The Routledge International Handbook of Research on Teaching Thinking

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415747493
eBook ISBN: 9781315797021
Adobe ISBN: 9781317752301


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Claims for the value of teaching thinking date back to at least the early Greeks. At one level the underlying message is indisputable as in generation after generation the disastrous consequences of the lack of careful, caring, creative thought within society are all too evident. However, the issue of what can be counted as acceptable evidence for the successful outcomes of cognitive education is rather more problematic. There are those such as Smith (1992) who dispute the very value of the word ‘thinking’ because of its many manifestations according to time, place and circumstance. There is also a longstanding debate as to whether thinking (or ‘learning to learn’) can best be taught as a stand-alone activity, as advocated by Feuerstein and his followers, or should be taught by infusion into various aspects of curriculum studies, as concluded by McGuinness in an influential report to the UK Government (McGuinness, 1999). If we are to be able to answer the fundamental question to which this chapter is aimed, we must therefore seek to define our terms.

What exactly are we implying when we refer to cognitive education?

What, if any, are the most fundamental ways in which thinking is made manifest?

Is there some form of developmental sequence by which we can tell if our level of thinking is improving?

What is the exact nature of the relationship between thinking and learning?

The very nature of cognitive education implies a theory of education with very specific outcomes. How specific or broad should these outcomes be?

What precise inputs are likely to lead to specific outputs and under what circumstances?

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