Can your students think their way to success?

28/06/2015 16:09

The ability to think is one of the few 'future-proof' skills we can offer to our learners. How can we develop thinking efficiently?

In 1994 Herrnstein and Murray of Harvard University published The Bell Curve, a book promoting the view that intelligence was determined more by genetic make up than anything else.  The idea that a child's ability, learning capacity and life chances were determined and fixed before they ever entered a classroom would sit uncomfortably with most teachers today, and it did at the time.

As students get older they develop more highly attuned thinking skills, sometimes referred to as cognitive ability but perhaps more rarely, general intelligence.  The ability to link concepts and transfer them to multiple scenarios is often quoted as a trait of 'clever' students.  But how are such skills acquired?  At birth as Herrnstein and Murray suggest?  Do they develop over time?  Do they grow to a point and then stop?  How much influence do teachers have on this development?

Neuro-plasticity is a complex science and one which is worthy of far more discussion than I can offer here but the ability of the brain to develop and master new skills continues throughout all of life, not purely during childhood and adolescence.  How then can we make the most of the time we have with students during school age to promote thinking as a life long, developing skill?

Piaget described cognitive development by stages which could be roughly aligned with a students age (sensorimotor, pre-operational, operational and formal operational)  Back in the 1980s Philip Adey and Michael Shayer of Kings College, London, asked whether learners' cognitive development could be accelerated. They developed Cognitive Acceleration programmes in Science and Maths which showed that not only could cognitive development  be sped up, it could also be transferred across curriculum areas.  Evidence, they argued, for the strengthening of general ability brought about by an intervention of about 30 lessons during years 7 and 8.

Cognitive Acceleration continues to be influential and, indeed, the subject of educational research around the world.  In the UK the Let's Think Forum is writing and rewriting CA programmes (see Let's Think) and in Australia there has been an excited uptake of Thinking Science in WA and QLD, led by the University of Western Australia

But Cognitive Acceleration is not limited to secondary science education.  With programmes for Prep to year 9 and in subjects like maths, English, technology and the arts, Cognitive Acceleration has come of age.  

The effects of Cognitive Acceleration are compelling but the programmes are still only pursued by a small number of schools.  With endorsements from the likes of John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam, we must ask why Cognitive Acceleration isn't more widely adopted. But that's a far longer answer...

Keen to know more?  Join us in Brisbane for the Cognitive Acceleration Conference in October 2015.  Here are a couple of resources for you to look at in the meantime:

What is Thinking Science?

Cognitive Acceleration on Wikipedia