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Literature Review in Thinking Skills,

Technology and Learning
Rupert Wegerif, School of Education, Open University



Literature Review in Thinking Skills, SECTION 1

Technology and Learning SECTION 2
Rupert Wegerif, School of Education

AIMS AND PLAN The use of new technologies is often
linked to the development of thinking DEVELOPMENT AND
The purpose of this report is: skills or ‘higher order thinking’. This THE DESIGN OF
review will explore some of the LEARNING RESOURCES 34
• to clarify what is meant by thinking claims that have been made in this
area and summarise the useful GLOSSARY 37
skills and their relationship to
technology findings that emerge from research. INTERNET LINKS 37
There is a range of different
• to identify the role of ICT in promoting
approaches to understanding thinking BIBLIOGRAPHY 39
thinking skills
skills and learning, each one of which
• to produce guidelines for the has an impact on how the
development of digital learning relationship between thinking skills
resources to support the teaching and and technology is conceptualised.
learning of thinking skills The first part of the review explores
• to evaluate the general direction of the literature about teaching thinking
research in this area and how this skills and their relationship to
should inform educational practice. technology. The second part focuses
more on technology, exploring claims
that have been made about the
relationship of information and
communications technologies to the
development of thinking skills.

This report has been designed to enable both rapid identification

of the key findings and in-depth exploration of the literature.

The key findings and implications of the report are presented within the
Executive Summary and Implications Sections. The main body of the review enables
readers to explore in more detail the background to these headline issues.


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY offer reasons can therefore be seen as a

part of the self-reforming process of
‘Thinking skills’ and related terms are higher order thinking.
used to indicate a desire to teach
processes of thinking and learning that can Most approaches to teaching thinking do
be applied in a wide range of real-life not focus narrowly on procedural skills. In
contexts. The list of thinking skills in the fact, successful thinking skills
English National Curriculum is similar to programmes promote a variety of
many such lists in including information- apparently quite different kinds of things
processing, reasoning, enquiry, creative including, strategies, habits, attitudes,
thinking and evaluation. While some emotions, motivations, aspects of
approaches to teaching thinking treat such character or self-identity and also
it is generally skills as separate, other approaches treat engagement in dialogue and in a
them all as aspects of high quality thinking community of enquiry. These ‘thinking
accepted that or ‘higher order thinking’. Higher order skills’ are not united by any single
there is a range thinking is said to be complex thinking that psychological theory. They are all those
requires effort and produces valued things that practitioners believe can and
of relatively outcomes. These outcomes are not should be taught or encouraged in order to
general learning predictable because the process of higher improve the perceived quality and/or the
order thinking is not mechanical. This effectiveness of their students’ thinking.
strategies that makes higher order thinking hard to
can be drawn out define. Nonetheless it is possible to
recognise higher order thinking and HOW ARE THINKING SKILLS,
of some contexts to teach it. LEARNING AND TECHNOLOGY
and applied RELATED?
The existence and nature of thinking skills
again in new is contested. Few experts in the field would Technology is a broad term for human
contexts now support the claim that there are tool systems. Human learning and
universal thinking skills or completely thinking is mediated by tool-systems.
general strategies for learning and These could include words within a
problem solving. However it is generally language, a notepad and pencil or a
accepted that there is a range of relatively computer network. In this review I limit
general learning strategies that can be myself to looking at computer-based
drawn out of some contexts and applied technologies used to handle information
again in new contexts. and aid communication (ICT).
Some have criticised the thinking skills Thinking is both individual and social.
movement as being too western, There is a constant movement of the
masculine and middle class. However the internalisation of social thinking into
ideal of being able to listen seriously and individual thinking and externalisation out
empathetically to challenges and to again into social thinking. Higher order
respond to reasonable challenges with thinking is to be found in the whole
reform is central to higher order thinking. movement of thought and not just in the
Criticisms of particular ideas and practices individual part of this movement.
in the teaching thinking movement that Technology, in various forms from


language to the internet, carries the teaching machine, as providing ‘mind- much of the
external social part of the movement tools’ and as a support for learning
of thought. conversations. current interest
in teaching
Much of the current interest in teaching A review of the evidence suggests that
thinking skills is prompted by technology- using technology does not, by itself, lead to thinking skills
driven changes in the nature of work. transferable thinking skills. The success of is prompted by
There is a consensus that new technology the activity crucially depends on how the
is bringing about a new kind of economy in technology is used. Much depends on the technology-
which the main products are information role of the teacher. Learners need to know driven changes
and knowledge rather than material goods. what the thinking skills are that they are
Workers in this new economic climate learning and these need to be explicitly in the nature
require transferable thinking skills more modelled, drawn out and re-applied in of work
than content knowledge or task-specific different contexts.
skills. They particularly require an ability
to learn how to learn new things since The evidence also suggests that
accelerating technological change is collaborative learning improves the
making old skills (and knowledge) effectiveness of most activities. Tutorial
redundant and generating needs for software alone is not effective for
new skills (and knowledge). developing thinking skills, but tutorial
software used as a basis for discussion
between learners can be a good way of
CAN THINKING SKILLS BE TAUGHT? infusing thinking skills into the curriculum.
The effectiveness of computer tools,
There have been several rigorous surveys such as concept maps or programming
of the impact of different teaching methods languages, for teaching transferable
and programmes in the last decade. These thinking skills appears to be enhanced
provide convincing evidence for the value when these are used by learners in
of teaching thinking skills. pairs or groups. The positive effect of
collaborative learning is amplified if
The emerging consensus, supported learners are taught to reason about
by some research evidence, is that the alternatives and to articulate their
best way to teach thinking skills is not thoughts and strategies as they
as a separate subject but through work together.
‘infusing’ thinking skills into the teaching
of content areas. Technology is therefore best thought of as
a support and resource for dialogues in
which thinking skills are taught, applied
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY and learnt. The computer as a tutor and
the computer as a tool can both be ways to
support and resource such learning
conversations. ICT can also itself be a
There are three main ways of thinking
channel carrying learning conversations.
about the role of information and
communications technology (ICT) in
teaching thinking skills: as tutor or



HOW CAN WE DESIGN TECHNOLOGY Thirdly, networks can allow students to

TO SUPPORT TEACHING THINKING engage directly in knowledge creation with
others who are not physically present.
Given the apparent importance of
collaborative learning this has significance
The finding that collaboration enhances
for home education. Depending on how the
the learning of thinking skills is important
activity is arranged, thinking together
because most software is still designed for
with others at a distance can be more
individual work. There are several simple
motivating and can stimulate a higher
design guidelines that could be applied to
quality of thought, than thinking together
develop software to support more
with others in the same classroom.
collaboration (see Section 3.5.3 for details).

the best The best software for teaching thinking

Some of the findings about effective
skills stems from collaborations between
software for teaching for thinking skills could also be
developers and educators or educational
incorporated into software design. For
teaching thinking researchers.
example, being explicit about thinking
skills stems from skills, modelling them, designing activities
that use the same skills in different
collaborations contexts and prompting learners to 1 TERMS AND CONTEXT
between reflect on thinking strategies and
articulate them clearly. The main terms of this review all have
developers and multiple and disputed meanings. I do not
Three ways in which the use of ICT can intend to use definitions of these terms as
educators or a limit to the scope of the review but as a
particularly enhance the teaching and
educational learning of thinking skills emerged from starting-off point to further exploration.
researchers the review:

Firstly, through supporting dynamic and 1.1 THINKING SKILLS

multiple representations of information:
Visualising patterns in data-sets, for Thinking Skills now feature in the National
example, allows learners to think at a Curriculum for England where they are
higher level about statistical relationships. described as follows:

Secondly, through a certain ambivalence: By using thinking skills pupils can focus on
educational software can act like a teacher ‘knowing how’ as well as ‘knowing what’ –
to prompt and direct enquiry but can, at learning how to learn. The following
the same time, act as a resource while thinking skills complement the key skills
learners discuss and explore ideas. This and are embedded in the National
makes properly designed educational Curriculum:
software an effective way of supporting
thinking within the curriculum. An example Information-processing skills
of this productive ambivalence could be to These enable pupils to locate and collect
prompt reflection (directive teaching) relevant information, to sort, classify,
before, during and after the use of a sequence, compare and contrast, and to
simulation (discovery learning). analyse part/whole relationships.

Reasoning skills cultivating dispositions and the social
These enable pupils to give reasons for context of critical thinking. The executive
opinions and actions, to draw inferences summary runs to 20 pages and offers 14
and make deductions, to use precise useful recommendations. The shortest
language to explain what they think, and to form of their definition is given below.
make judgements and decisions informed
by reasons or evidence. We understand critical thinking to be
purposeful, self-regulatory judgment
Enquiry skills which results in interpretation, analysis,
evaluation, and inference, as well as
These enable pupils to ask relevant explanation of the evidential, conceptual,
questions, to pose and define problems, to methodological, criteriological, or
plan what to do and how to research, to contextual considerations upon which that
predict outcomes and anticipate judgment is based. CT is essential as a
consequences, and to test conclusions and tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating
improve ideas. force in education and a powerful resource
in one's personal and civic life. While not
Creative thinking skills synonymous with good thinking, CT is a
These enable pupils to generate and pervasive and self-rectifying human
extend ideas, to suggest hypotheses, to phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is
apply imagination, and to look for habitually inquisitive, well-informed,
alternative innovative outcomes. trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible,
fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing
Evaluation skills personal biases, prudent in making
These enable pupils to evaluate judgments, willing to reconsider, clear
information, to judge the value of what about issues, orderly in complex matters,
they read, hear and do, to develop criteria diligent in seeking relevant information,
reasonable in the selection of criteria,
for judging the value of their own and
focused in inquiry, and persistent in
for ‘strong’
others’ work or ideas, and to have
confidence in their judgements. seeking results which are as precise as critical thinking,
the subject and the circumstances of
(DfES 2002a
inquiry permit. Thus, educating good
it is important
critical thinkers means working toward to question
this ideal. It combines developing CT skills
This definition has the advantage of being
with nurturing those dispositions which
one’s own
clear. However it misses out some aspects
of thinking skills that most practitioners consistently yield useful insights and which assumptions
are the basis of a rational and democratic
and experts in the area agree are
society. (Facione, 1990)
through thinking
from the
Philosopher Richard Paul is often
The most authoritative definition of critical
described as the leading proponent of
thinking is that of ‘The Delphi Report’
(Facione, 1990) which is a consensus teaching critical thinking (e.g. Weinstein, of others
report from 46 leading experts in the field. 1993). He would accept the definition above
This emphasises the holistic nature of but he also goes further in wanting to add
critical thinking, the importance of a focus on fostering dialogue. Paul argues



that, for ‘strong’ critical thinking, it is bridge that collapses will involve most of
important to question one’s own the same cognitive and meta-cognitive
assumptions through thinking from strategies, and activate the same regions
the perspectives of others. of the brain in the engineers, as building a
bridge that stands. But we want to
‘Meta-cognition’ is another term often promote the skills that went into building
used as a synonym for thinking skills or the bridge that stands. Thinking skills are
higher order thinking. This has been therefore not just about abstract cognitive
defined as ‘awareness of one’s own processes – they are about the quality of
knowledge and the ability to understand, socially embedded decision making
control and manipulate individual cognitive processes.
processes’ (Osman and Hannafin, 1992
p83). Meta-cognition originates in an However Carol McGuinness argues
information processing model of the mind in favour of retaining the term
as something like a computer running both ‘thinking skills’:
low-level software, to do the basic
cognitive processes, and high level …the idea of thinking-as-a-skill continues
software, to monitor and correct the low to have both theoretical and instructional
level software. However this term is force. Firstly it places thinking firmly on
increasingly used in contexts where a the side of "knowing how" rather than
computer model of the mind is not being "knowing that" in the long standing
assumed. It is often used to refer to any philosophical debate about the nature of
conscious reflection on thinking and knowing. And secondly much of what we
learning processes. Some ‘skills’, habits know about skill learning can be usefully
and dispositions important to good applied to developing thinking…
thinking in many contexts are not meta- (1998, p4/5)
cognition in this sense. Therefore I believe
that the term ‘meta-cognition’ does not McGuinness goes on to mention how well
refer to all thinking skills but to that the ‘skills’ terminology fits with the
sub-set of such skills that depend increasing importance of ideas of
upon becoming more aware of apprenticeship to teaching and learning. I
thinking processes. agree with Bailin that understanding and
promoting good thinking requires working
Sharon Bailin (1998) opposes the use of with shared criteria for the evaluation of
the term ‘skills’ on the grounds that its use arguments. However I also agree with
in psychology leads to it being taken to Carol McGuinness that the idea of
imply a property of the brain. She argues thinking-as-a-skill is a useful one for
that critical thinking is essentially a practitioners. In everyday language to
normative and not a descriptive term. She describe someone as skilled at something
means by this that critical thinking is not - say at ballet dancing or wood-carving -
merely a description of how we think but is implies a public performance to which
concerned with how we think well. More shared criteria can be applied. There is no
precisely, it is about the quality of need to assume a more specialist meaning
reasoned judgements, and this can be for the term ‘skills’.
assessed by shared criteria. Building a Use of the term ‘thinking skills’ might also

be challenged by those who see quality ‘higher order thinking’ is often used, as by ‘higher order
thinking as a more holistic or unitary Resnick referred to above, in a non-
phenomenon which combines many technical way to indicate the kind of thinking’ is
specific skills but is more than any of thinking that is to be particularly valued complex and
them. Lauren Resnick (1987), chaired a and that educators wish to promote
working party for the National Research (Resnick, 1987). I will use the term higher effortful thinking
Council in the USA on teaching thinking. order thinking in this sense. that produces
She concluded that ‘higher order thinking’
is complex and effortful thinking that Most approaches to teaching thinking do valued outcomes
produces valued outcomes. These valued not focus narrowly on procedural skills. In
outcomes are not easy to predict in fact successful thinking skills programmes
advance because higher order thinking, promote a variety of apparently quite
unlike computation for example, is not different kinds of things including,
mechanical. Higher order thinking, she strategies, habits, attitudes, emotions,
concluded, is very hard to define but easy motivations, aspects of character or self-
to recognise. This is an important and identity and also engagement in dialogue
interesting claim. Clearly the art of and in a community of enquiry. These
thinking well is difficult to understand. thinking skills are not united by any single
Nonetheless if we know how to recognise it psychological theory. Most practitioners do
when it happens this implies that we do in not mind combining the promotion of
fact understand it tacitly or intuitively. Guy automatic habits through positive feedback
Claxton argues (1999) that the value of (learning as behaviour modification) and
intuitive ‘soft thinking’ of this kind should teaching conscious meta-cognitive
not be rejected in favour of more clearly strategies such as always seeking an
articulated theoretical ‘hard thinking’. It alternative view (from cognitive learning
seems likely that, when it comes to theory) with creating a community of
questions such as the nature of thinking, enquiry in the classroom (learning as
our intuitive understanding far outstrips social participation). The main concern of
knowledge that we could make explicit in a most practitioners is that everything they
theory. This is probably less of a problem do contributes to the goal of teaching
for practitioners, who often work effectively better thinking. Thinking skills are
guided by intuitive knowledge alone, than therefore essentially those things that
for many academics. practitioners believe can and should be
taught or encouraged in order to improve
In Bloom’s taxonomy of the types of the perceived quality and/or the
thinking found in education, higher order effectiveness of students’ thinking.
thinking is said to build upon lower order
thinking, or basic skills. Reading is seen
as a basic or lower order skill, for 1.2 TECHNOLOGY
example, while evaluating what one reads
is seen as a higher order skill. This Technology originates in a Greek term
division of thinking into higher order and meaning the systematic treatment of an
lower order has been questioned by those art or craft. It has come to be used to refer
who argue that thinking is holistic rather to physical and symbolic tool systems.
than hierarchical. However the term Although less controversial than either



thinking skills or learning, the scope of the technologies (Rassool, 1999). I will
term technology is nonetheless disputed. therefore not distinguish closely between
Reeves (1998) and Salomon (1992) seek to new media and new technology in this
make a clear distinction between review.
technology and media:
We do not think entirely on our own, we
Computer-based technologies cannot be think with the help of tools and tool-
regarded as "media," because the variety systems. These could include words within
of programs, tools, and devices that can be a language, a notepad and pencil, or a
used with them is neither limited to a computer network. In education the term
particular symbol system, nor to a technology could refer to books, pencils,
particular class of activities… In this light, television, even chalk and blackboards.
"the computer" is in fact a "multifaceted I will limit it, for the purposes of this
invention" of many uses, a symbolic tool review, to information and communication
for making, exploring, and thinking in technologies (ICT). This means quite
various domains. It is used to represent simply, computer-based technologies
and manipulate symbol systems – used to handle information and aid
language, mathematics, music – and to communication. The phrase ‘Information
create symbolic products – poems, and Communications Technology’ was
mathematical proofs, compositions. coined by Stevenson in his 1997 report to
(Salomon, 1992, p892) the UK government and promoted by the
new National Curriculum documents for
Salomon’s distinction between media as the UK in 2000. (FOLDOC, 2002)
symbol systems and technologies as tools
or vehicles for sharing media is an
interesting one. It makes sense if we think 1.3 LEARNING
about his example of language and music
as media and computers as a technology The term learning can mean a variety of
serving as a conduit for these media. different things. There are obviously
There is no need to invoke a shared differences between learning that the
medium when I use my PC to listen to a Battle of Hastings took place in 1066,
CD-ROM while at the same time using the learning how to play tennis and learning
keyboard to type a letter. Although both how to love - just three examples of
activities are supported by a computer they current usage. As well as there being
could equally as well have been supported different kinds of learning there are also
by different machines. However Salomon’s different theoretical approaches to the
distinction breaks down if we consider study of learning. Four of the most
hyper-media texts that are only made influential of these approaches are
possible by the use of computers. I could, summarised quite neatly in a table on the,
for example, compose a web-site that generally excellent, informal education
combined clips of the music that I was web-site ( I have
listening to with cuttings from the letter adapted this table slightly by changing
that I was writing. It seems reasonable to names and adding a row to deal with views
suggest that skill at creating hyper-media of transfer.
texts involves a new kind of literacy that is
dependent on computer-based

Four orientations to learning (after Merriam and Caffarella, 1991, p 138)















In the 1996 Handbook of Educational school to apply generally in students’ lives,

Psychology, James Greeno, Allan Collins rather than being limited to the situations
and Lauren Resnick, three very in classrooms where it is acquired. That
authoritative names in the field of is to say, they want the knowledge to
educational research, define learning transfer.
and transfer as follows:
I accept this definition of learning. It has
Learning is the process by which the advantage of being very broad. Greeno,
knowledge is increased or modified. Collins and Resnick argue that there are
Transfer is the process of applying three main schools of learning theory in
knowledge in new situations. Educators educational psychology:
want the knowledge that is acquired in



• behaviourist/empiricist: learning as to make. Plato, for example, advocated

acquiring and applying associations teaching reason only to the small elite who
• cognitivist/rationalist: learning as would have to take all the major decisions,
acquiring and using conceptual and (and even then only when they were over
cognitive structures, and thirty!) See Plato’s Republic, (1970). The
majority of the population of his ideal
• situative/pragmatist-sociohistoric: ‘Republic’ would be given a more
learning as becoming attuned to vocational education fitted to their station.
constraints and affordances through Plato saw little point in equipping them
participation. with skills that they would not have an
opportunity to use. Plato’s point makes
These three schools are a version of three some sense in the economic
thinking skills of the four traditions in the table above. In circumstances of Ancient Greece and a
their detailed account of these three similar principle was applied until quite
are often said to different approaches to understanding recently in the UK.
be the kind of learning and transfer Greeno, Collins and
Resnick demonstrate that each tradition One point of agreement running through
skills that people has made a valuable contribution to almost every article that I have read on
need to make understanding some aspects of learning. teaching thinking skills is that the need to
Behaviourist approaches have worked well teach thinking skills now is rooted in our
decisions for some basic skills learning, the particular socio-historical situation.
cognitivist tradition has done some good Thinking skills are everywhere described
work on meta-cognition and conditions of as ‘skills for the new century’, ‘skills for
transfer while the social situationists have the workers of the future’ or ‘skills for the
shown the importance of cultural tool- knowledge society’. Basically the argument
systems and communities of learning. is that changes in the economy require
However each approach also has more people to be more actively involved in
weaknesses and this is an area of study decision making than was ever the case
that is open and constantly evolving. before. It is usually also claimed that these
changes in the economy are driven by the
I will return to this account of the main development of new information and
divisions in educational psychology in part communication technologies. The thinking
three of this report in order to consider the skills literature is full of references to the
impact of each of these three approaches need to produce new knowledge workers
on ways of thinking about the role of new for the new knowledge economies (e.g
technology in learning. Swartz, 2001). One idea behind this is that
new technologies have led to increasing
automation of the kinds of work that
1.4 THINKING SKILLS, TECHNOLOGY computers can do thereby forcing people
AND LEARNING IN CONTEXT into jobs where they have to take more
subtle decisions and solve more complex
Thinking skills are often said to be the kind problems (Levin and Rumberger 1995
of skills that people need to make quoted in Rassool, 1999 p153). A second
decisions (e.g. Ennis, 1996). There used to key idea is that new technology in the work
be many fewer decisions for most people place has led to rapid and accelerating

changes in practices and that this puts a do for us, such as formal reasoning or
premium on learning how to learn, since algorithmic problem solving, towards the
anything more specific that children are sort of things that computers cannot yet
taught in school is seen as likely to be out do. Instead of contrasting human thinking
of date by the time they leave. to the thinking of animals, human thinking
is beginning to be contrasted to the
The aim of this review is to explore the thinking of machines (e.g Penrose, 1994:
relationship between technology and Hobson, 2002). The focus of published
thinking skills. One dimension of this thinking skills research is shifting away
relationship is that the kinds of thinking from teaching logic and towards a greater
that people value most depend on the interest in supporting complex
cultural and historical context and unpredictable thinking (Resnick, 1987),
particularly upon the kind of technology engagement in dialogues (Paul, 1987),
that people have at their disposal to help intuition (Claxton, 1999) and creativity
them think. The Ancient Greeks had very (Bailin, 1994). One way in which thinking
simple technologies and they valued that skills are related to developments in
kind of thinking that distinguished them technology is therefore simply that the
most from the animals around them. human skills that we value most, and that
Aristotle defined man as a rational animal are rewarded the most, are those skills
meaning that only man could measure, that computers cannot yet imitate.
judge and decide on the basis of reasons
(Aristotle, 1987). Before the arrival of
computers in human history it seemed 1.5 SUMMARY OF SECTION 1
natural to many to describe ‘higher order
thinking’, or rationality, in terms of Thinking skills are hard to define but
abstract reason on the model of formal possible to recognise and to teach. The
logic or mathematics. This kind of thinking list of thinking skills in the UK National
was really hard, potentially very useful and Curriculum is a reasonable one and
only a few people could do it well. similar to many: information-processing,
Computers, however, find formal reasoning, enquiry, creative thinking and
reasoning very easy. What they find hard is evaluation. Such skills are not discrete
the sort of things most people take for entities but part of larger contexts.
granted like coming up creatively with new Most approaches to teaching thinking
ways forward in complex, fast-changing skills include broader issues such as
and open-ended contexts where there is engagement in dialogue, the formation
no certainty of being right. Holding an of self-identity and the importance of a
ordinary conversation is typical of what it supportive culture.
is that humans find natural but computers
find extremely hard. Technology is a broad term for human
tool systems. I will limit it, for the
It is not surprising therefore that, as the purposes of this review, to computer-
use of computer-based technology has based technologies used to handle
become more ubiquitous, the focus of information and aid communication (ICT).
thinking skills research has shifted away The concept of learning is bound up with
from the sort of things that computers can the concepts of knowledge and of transfer.



Learning is generally defined as the • are critical thinking skills white, male
increase or modification of knowledge. and middle-class?
Teachers want the knowledge that is learnt • should thinking skills be taught
in school to be applied outside school. separately or should they be taught
They are therefore interested in the within subjects?
transfer of knowledge from the context in
which it is acquired to other contexts. • are studies of the brain relevant or not?
The nature of knowledge and of transfer • is there any good evidence for the value
are conceptualised differently by different of teaching thinking skills?
traditions in educational theory. For
the topic of this review the three most
I will deal briefly with each of these
important schools of thought are
questions in turn indicating how answers
probably the behaviourist, the cognitivist
to these questions relate to the use of new
and the participatory.
technology as means for promoting
thinking skills.
Much of the current interest in teaching
thinking skills is prompted by technology-
driven changes in the nature of work.
There is a consensus that new technology 2.2 DO GENERAL THINKING
is bringing about a new kind of economy in SKILLS EXIST?
which the main products are information
and knowledge rather than material goods. Some philosophers and some
Workers in this new economic climate psychologists challenge the existence
require transferable thinking skills rather of general thinking skills.
than content knowledge or task-specific
skills. They particularly require an ability to
learn how to learn new things since 2.2.1 THE ARGUMENT AGAINST
accelerating technological change is THINKING SKILLS IN PHILOSOPHY
making old skills (and knowledge)
redundant and generating needs for new John McPeck argued that thinking is
skills (and knowledge). always thinking about something and
therefore it does not make sense to talk
about thinking in general (McPeck, 1981).
2 CAN WE OR SHOULD WE TEACH For McPeck the different academic subject
THINKING SKILLS? areas are different forms of life with their
own unique logics. Teaching general
The existence, value and nature of thinking critical thinking skills is therefore a
skills continue to give rise to a great deal serious mistake which will lead to
of debate in academic journals and books. superficial learning. Similar arguments are
Some of the key questions that emerge made by the influential US educationalist
from this literature are: E. D. Hirsch (1987). In Britain something
like this position appears to have strong
• do general thinking skills exist? support amongst philosophers of
education (Johnston, 2000)
• if so are they individual or social?

2.2.2 THE ARGUMENT AGAINST claims of Piaget (1950), the brain learns
THINKING SKILLS IN PSYCHOLOGY things embedded in a rich context and
does not automatically extract general
In educational psychology the argument logical rules that could be applied to other
against thinking skills is much the same contexts (Claxton, 1999, p203). However
as that in philosophy but presented this does not mean that we cannot be
differently. Proponents of the view that taught to extract useful general rules -
learning is ‘situated in contexts’ and/or is there is plenty of evidence (quoted below)
always about ‘participation in communities that we can, in fact, do just that.
of practice’ oppose their ‘Specific Learning
Model’ (Rogoff, Gauvain and Ellis, 1991, Few experts in the field would now support
p315) to the more traditional ‘Central the claim that universal thinking skills
Processor Model’ of the brain. This exist outside of any context. Thinking skills few experts in
Specific Learning Model follows from are not an abstract logical structure.
claiming that 'thinking skills' are They are embodied practical skills that are the field would
embedded in ‘cultural tool systems’, learnt in a context and then, often with the now support the
especially local ways of using language to help of teachers, taken out from that
get things done ('language' here is context to be applied in a new context. claim that
considered a tool-system). On this model If these relatively general skills or universal
what is learnt in the context of one cultural strategies are taught in an abstract form,
task can only be assumed to relate to that then careful work needs to be done by thinking skills
task. The implication is that teaching teachers to embed them in a context exist outside of
transferable skills is just a myth. This where they can be applied.
position is often supported by the claim
any context
that there is no real evidence for transfer Much recent research has suggested, for
(e.g. Hennessy et al, 1993). example, that the development of higher
order thinking, including the development
of self-awareness, depends upon the
child’s early engagement in dialogues with
their primary care-giver (usually their
ARGUMENTS mother, see Forrester, 1992 and Hobson,
2002). A capacity to engage effectively in
The most balanced rebuttals of arguments dialogue with other people, and with tasks,
against the possibility of teaching thinking appears to lie behind many of the
skills point out that they fail to engage with techniques, habits and dispositions
the reality of contemporary approaches to referred to in the literature on thinking
practice (Weinstein, 1993: Higgins and skills. If so this capacity appears to be
Baumfield, 1998). The argument that all a holistic and embodied skill that is
thinking is thinking about something is a learnt in one context and applied in
reasonable objection to some attempts to many other contexts.
teach a pure and abstract logic of good
thinking. There is little evidence for the One implication of the conclusions that
automatic transfer of general thinking emerge from this debate is that learning
skills that a ‘central processor model’ of how to work a complex video-game is not
the mind would predict (Perkins and necessarily going to help you do better at a
Salomon, 1989). Apparently, against the



maths exam even though, logically, some people, also include objects and
of the problem-solving and reasoning technologies (Salomon, 1993).
strategies involved are the same in both The roots of critical thinking are not
cases. A brief summary of research on the necessarily individualist. John Dewey, an
use of LOGO given in part 3 of this review advocate of teaching thinking, saw thinking
shows that this conclusion has been as a product of social interaction and
confirmed in practice. However, this does teaching thinking as a way of contributing
not mean that transfer is impossible – it to the creation of a better society (Dewey,
means that some thought and effort needs 1933). Jurgen Habermas (1991), has
to be put into achieving it. If, for example, a argued in a similar way that rationality
video-game involves problem solving implies the ideal of a more genuinely
strategies, then the nature, scope and democratic society in which all relevant
limits of the strategies need to be made voices are really listened to and decisions
explicit, and examples need to be offered are taken on the basis of the quality of
of the same strategy used in new contexts arguments rather than on the basis of
with new content. Simulations that allow coercive power. One educational
learners to practice these strategies in life implication of Habermas’ argument is that
beyond video games could be used to help teaching thinking skills involves changing
bridge the transfer of general skills from the social context to create conditions that
one context to another. at least approximate to what he calls an
‘ideal speech situation’. Experimental
evidence, as well as Vygotskian theory,
thinking skills 2.3 ARE THINKING SKILLS suggests that the quality of individual
are often seen INDIVIDUAL OR SOCIAL? thinking reflects the quality of collective
thinking and vice versa (Wegerif, Mercer
as attributes of Thinking skills are often seen as attributes and Dawes, 1999: Mercer, 2000).
individuals, of individuals, perhaps the property of
individual brains. However there has been Growing acceptance of the idea that
perhaps the a major shift in both philosophy and thinking is embedded in social contexts
property of psychology towards seeing thought as can be seen reflected in the language used
essentially social not individual. The to discuss thinking skills. There is an
individual brains. increasing status given to the ideas of increasing use of collective terms such as
However there educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky ‘thinking classrooms’ (McGuinness, 1998),
supports this tendency in psychology. ‘thinking schools’ (Wilson, 2000) and
has been a major Vygotsky, a Marxist, is often presented as ‘communities of inquiry’ (Lipman, 1991).
shift in both providing a psychological version of Marx’s ‘Philosophy for Children’, a popular
claim that individual thought is a product approach to teaching thinking skills,
philosophy and of the social and historical context (e.g. already works primarily by drawing
psychology Edwards, 1996, p43). In particular Vygotsky children into discussions and turning the
claims that language is a tool-system that classroom into a community that supports
towards seeing mediates the development of thought. This thinking (Fisher, 1998).
thought as fits well with research on distributed
cognition, which suggests that cognition is The new field of the study of
essentially social not located in individuals so much as in consciousness might have something
not individual systems that, while they may include interesting to say about this issue.

Consciousness is clearly important to this debate is that higher order thinking
many approaches to higher order thinking, is to be found in the whole circular
in particular the idea of using meta- movement of thinking and not just in the
cognitive strategies to become more aware most private individual moment of it.
of one’s own thinking. In some ways
consciousness is inescapably an individual In the past thinking skills interventions
property. But interestingly the word is have focussed on supporting the internal
formed from Latin roots meaning moment of the circular movement of
‘knowledge with another’. One implication thinking and the internalisation process.
from the work of Hobson (2002: 1998) However, if higher order thinking is to be
quoted earlier, as well as other seen in the whole movement, then it
approaches to understanding follows that it is may also be valuable to
consciousness, is that individual self- improve the quality of social thinking and in other words
consciousness is formed out of the quality of the externalisation process.
internalised dialogue. In other words to be Technology, in various forms from thinking skills
aware of something at all is to see it as if language to the internet, carries the originate in
from the perspective of other people and external form of thinking. Technology
so to be potentially able to express it and therefore has a role to play through conversations
to share it with other people. From this supporting improved social thinking where we learn
and other sources (e.g Wittgenstein’s (eg providing systems to mediate decision
private language argument, 1967) it seems making and collective reasoning) and also to reason, to
that there are good reasons to think that through providing tools to help individuals evaluate, to join
both self-consciousness and higher order externalise their thinking and so to shape
thinking are social in origin. In other words their own social worlds. in creative play
thinking skills originate in conversations and to provide
where we learn to reason, to evaluate, to
join in creative play and to provide relevant 2.4 ARE CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS relevant
information. However, at the same time it WHITE, MALE, AND MIDDLE-CLASS? information
is clear that all social thinking could be
seen as being made up of individual Some argue that critical thinking skills are
contributions and is rooted in potentially not really of general value but are a
measurable individual brain processes. product of the experience of a particular
There is a constant movement of the social group usually described as white,
internalisation of external thinking into male and professional or managerial.
individual thinking and externalisation out Ruqaya Hasan, for example, in a study that
again by individuals who create and shape shows that there is more language of
social thinking. To understand this vision of explicit problem solving and reasoning in
thinking as a whole flowing movement it the homes of managers and professionals
might help to think of the way that creative than in blue collar homes, claims that the
speakers and writers (i.e. all of us) both value given to this way of using language
use words and phrases that they find reflects Marx’s claim that ‘in every age the
already there, external to them, in the ideas of the rulers are the ruling ideas’
language and yet also shape the (Marx, 1977 quoted in Hasan 1992).
development of that shared resource of Harvey Siegel (1987) and Sharon Bailin
language. One important conclusion from (1998) respond to this kind of challenge



defining thinking with the argument that criticisms of strengthen the process of higher order
critical thinking already imply critical thinking itself, if this is understood as
skills in a narrow thinking and can only be assessed through essentially and originally ‘dialogue across
way often the giving and evaluating of reasons. difference’ (Burbules and Rice, 1991).
However this focus on explicit reasoning
reflects the fails to fully address some of the concerns There is already evidence that access to
experience and expressed. Feminist philosopher, Seyla technology at home enhances educational
Benhabid (1992) seems to be have more achievement (Reeves, 1998) and it is
self-interest of a insight into why certain groups feel acknowledged that access to ICT in homes
particular social excluded by the ideal of critical thinking is patterned along socio-economic lines. If
and offers what I think is a constructive teaching thinking equips children for
group way forward. Her argument, based upon individual success in a competitive market
Habermas, is that, if we are to bring up place and no more than that, then teaching
children in peace we actually do need thinking with computers could prove to be
some sort of ideal of reason or at least an another way to reproduce social inequality.
ideal of ‘being reasonable’. This ideal is
about how real people solve their problems It may well be that defining thinking skills
without resorting to violence through in a narrow way often reflects the
engaging in dialogues informed by an experience and self-interest of a particular
attitude of care and respect. There is a social group. On the other hand, if, as the
view that emerges from the literature evidence suggests, higher order thinking
that this ‘concrete ideal’ of dialogue has a social side as well as an individual
across difference is the origin of ‘higher side, then teaching thinking requires the
order thinking’. promotion of more intelligent forms of
collective thinking. Some writers, indeed,
For Richard Paul, as was noted earlier, have brought out the connection between
critical thinking in the strong sense has to teaching thinking skills with ICT and the
be ‘dialogical’. What he means by this is promotion of an intelligent and responsive
that the critical thinker has an obligation global democracy (e.g Cobb, 2002:
to question his or her own assumptions in Rassool, 1998).
order to try to understand the perspective
of others. If, as Seyla Benhabid suggests,
reason is situated in real dialogues then, in 2.5 SHOULD THINKING SKILLS BE
the course of such dialogues, assumptions TAUGHT SEPARATELY FROM
about what constitutes good reasoning will
themselves have to be questioned and
allowed to evolve. If there are different
Different positions in the debate about the
ways of thinking with something to offer –
nature of thinking skills suggest different
and claims have been made for the value
responses to the question of how to teach
of more intuitive and holistic feminine and
thinking skills. Belief in what has been
non-western ways of thinking - then this
called ‘the central processor model’ of the
should emerge in such genuine ‘strong’
mind tends to suggest that teaching
critical thinking dialogues. But any such
thinking skills directly in a separate
evolution of our understanding of higher
programme will automatically have a
order thinking would only serve to
general impact. There are many such

separate programmes: Feuerstein’s content area teaching. This has
instrumental enrichment (Blagg, 1991) implications for the design of educational
Lake and Needham’s top ten thinking software to support thinking skills.
tactics (Lake and Needham, 1993), de Programmes that teach ‘problem solving’
Bono’s CORT (1976) and Lipman’s own with no particular content area are less
‘Philosophy for Children’, are examples likely to be useful than programmes that
(Lipman, 1991). teach problem solving in the context of
maths or perhaps in the context of sorting
The argument that thinking skills are out social security benefits.
specific to subject areas, however,
suggests developing thinking skills within
each subject area separately. McGuiness 2.6 WHAT CAN BRAIN STUDIES
makes a good argument for a third TELL US?
approach, which, following Swartz and
Parks (1994) she calls the ‘infusion’ Much cognitive theory approaches the
approach. The idea is that teaching brain indirectly, trying to infer through
curriculum content is ‘infused’ with the reverse engineering what is really going on
teaching of thinking skills. This approach (Pinker, 1998). It is only relatively recently
perhaps follows from the claims above that that techniques have been developed that
while there are general thinking skills, can allow more direct access to the
teaching them needs to be carefully working of the brain. New brain imaging programmes
contextualised to be effective. Some techniques (PET and fMRI) measure brain
examples of infusion programmes are activity by detecting changes in blood flow
that teach
McGuinness' ACTs (McGuinness et al, during particular tasks in human subjects, ‘problem solving’
1997) and Sharon Bailin’s approach to while EEG and MEG measure electrical
teaching critical and creative thinking in and magnetic activity arising from neurons
with no
Canada (Bailin, 1994). In the UK this on the surface of the brain (Blakemore and particular
approach is exemplified by ‘Thinking Frith, 1998). This new access seems to
Together’ (Mercer, 2000: Dawes, Mercer have prompted a tendency to appeal to the
content area are
and Wegerif, 2000), Robert Fisher’s UK authority of brain studies for claims about less likely to be
approach to ‘Philosophy for Children’ teaching thinking.
(Fisher, 1998) and ‘Thinking Through useful than
Primary Teaching’ (Higgins, 2001; Leat and Some of the ways in which brain science is programmes
Higgins 2002). used to justify particular teaching
techniques appear to be unwarranted
that teach
The consensus seems to be that hard leaps from the evidence. The newly problem solving
independent evidence for the success of popular approach to teaching called
separate thinking skills programmes is ‘Accelerated Learning’ (Alistair Smith,
in the context of
limited. (Resnick, 1987; Craft, 1991; 1996) claims to be based upon the findings maths or
Greeno, Collins and Resnick, 1996). This of brain research. The success of
consensus, in combination with the shift in accelerated learning with teachers implies
perhaps in the
educational theory towards the situated that it may have some excellent new context of sorting
and the social, mean that there is a pedagogical ideas. These may well have
direction towards thinking skills been inspired by brain research, but
out social
programmes being embedded more in claims that they are based directly upon security benefits



brain research are exaggerated. Similarly, practice’ fail to seriously address our
mind-mapping might have pedagogical everyday experience of consciousness.
value but its promoters are not really able Brain scanning techniques, which get
to claim, as they do, that mind maps work closer than ever before to the real brain
because they duplicate the way that the processes behind thinking and
mind works (Buzan and Buzan, 2000: consciousness, are therefore a valuable
Jonassen, 2000). We still know very little contribution to the debate. Neuro-chemist
about how the mind really works. A Susan Greenfield, for example, argues,
serious expert review of the evidence by from research evidence, that the subjective
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Uta Frith of experience of depth of consciousness is
the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience directly related to the size of the temporary
in London finds that there are currently neuronal assembly (all the neurons linked
few practical educational implications up in a co-ordinated way) around a
that can be safely drawn from research stimulus and inversely related to the
on the brain. strength of emotion (Greenfield, 2000). This
is relevant to the question of thinking
It seems most likely that the main impact skills. Both Salomon and Globerson (1987)
of neuroscience on education will be felt in and Claxton (1999) argue that some forms
the field of learning disorders. Research to of transfer from learning with technology
date has implications for what to do when depend upon the extent of ‘mindfulness’,
the brain goes wrong. The implications are by which they mean much the same as
less clear for what to do when brains Greenfield’s ‘depth of consciousness’.
function normally or how to improve Teaching thinking skills is not just about
normal functioning. (Blakemore and Frith, mental mechanisms, verbal strategies, or
2000 p44). promoting a positive self-image – it is also
about expanding consciousness. The
However Blakemore and Frith report wonder of brain science is that it may well,
evidence for claims that are of interest to one day soon, make such woolly sounding
teaching the project of teaching thinking: claims rigorously assessable.
thinking skills is
• that the brain can learn complex
not just about patterns implicitly without conscious 2.7 IS THERE EVIDENCE FOR THE
mechanisms, • that procedural learning (know how) and SKILLS?
declarative learning (know that) make
verbal strategies, use of quite different parts of the brain I have already noted that several reviewers
or promoting a • that the brain continues to be flexible have argued that there is little hard
evidence for the effective teaching of
positive self- throughout life and can change
transferable thinking skills (Resnick, 1987:
measurably as new skills are learnt.
image – it is also Craft, 1991). However in the last decade a
number of studies and reviews have found
about expanding Thinking remains a deeply mysterious
considerable evidence for the value of
consciousness business. Both the dry abstractions of
teaching thinking skills.
cognitive psychology and the new
orthodoxy that everything is ‘situated social

CASE (Cognitive Acceleration through Marzano’s findings strongly support the separate general
Science Education) is one of the most success of teaching thinking skills if we
successful and well-evaluated translate this to mean the teaching of study skills
programmes in the UK. Incorporating meta-cognitive strategies. Marzano programmes
discussion about science problems in writes that:
classroom, CASE is directed towards were found to
scientific reasoning for 11-14 year-olds. Specifically, instructional techniques that be much less
CASE succeeded in raising pupils’ grades employed the metacognitive system had
in GCSE examinations (on average one strong effects whether they were intended effective than
grade) two to three years after the to enhance the knowledge domains, the teaching meta-
programme had been completed (Adey and mental process within the cognitive
Shayer, 1993, 1994). Recent extension of system, the beliefs and processes within cognitive
the CASE programme into Key Stage 1 has the self-system, or the processes within strategies as
also produced evidence of impact on the metacognitive system itself.
children’s learning (Adey, Robertson and part of the
Venville, 2002). Similarly, teaching that specifically focused teaching of
on emotions and sense of identity (the self
A recent meta-analysis of the impact of system) had a powerful effect on learning content within
Feurstein’s Instrumental Enrichment found gains at every level. Implicit in this finding courses
that overall, the programme had a positive is a transfer effect from teaching focussing
impact (Romney and Samuels, 2001). A on attitudes and feelings to gains in
total of 40 controlled studies, comprising learning measures.
47 different samples, were examined.
Significant, though modest, average effect Hattie, Biggs and Purdie (1996) conducted
sizes were found in all three areas - a meta-analysis of 51 study skills
achievement, ability, and behaviour - with interventions. They found that ‘Despite,
the most extensive improvement being perhaps, the conventional wisdom, most
made in ability. Gains in spatial/perceptual intervention does work most of the time’
ability were related to the length of the (1996, p128). However separate general
intervention (number of hours), and the study skills programmes were found to be
impact on self-esteem was related to age. much less effective than teaching meta-
cognitive strategies as part of the teaching
Marzano (1998) analysed 4000 intervention of content within courses.
studies in education involving over
1,237,000 subjects. Marzano found that The statistical evidence now seems
nearly all interventions worked to some convincing. But another kind of evidence
extent but that interventions that focussed that should not be ignored is the evidence
on the level of meta-cognition, (ie teaching of experience. We all have experience as
thinking and learning strategies), and the both teachers and learners. We all know
level he called the self-system (ie how intuitively that it is possible for learning to
students feel about themselves as change people and to become part of
learners) were most effective in improving them. We also know that it is possible to
measures of learning. learn skills that are used outside the
context in which they were taught. That is
how we can think at all when faced with a




completely new challenge. The fact that challenge is therefore not really an
these things sometimes prove hard to attack– it is a valuable part of the
evaluate in a rigorous way should not lead process of higher order thinking.
us to deny such obvious and everyday The consensus, supported by research
experience. It is intuition based upon this evidence, is that the best way to teach
kind of experience that lies behind the thinking skills is not as a separate subject
interest of so many teachers in teaching but through ‘infusing’ thinking skills into
thinking skills. In my view that intuition the teaching of content areas.
is not misguided.
Brain research is not yet in the position to
act as an authoritative support for different
2.8 SUMMARY OF SECTION 2 teaching and learning strategies. However
convincing research findings so far have been
The existence and nature of thinking skills suggestive and may well lead to more
evidence for the is contested. Few experts in the field would clear evidence in the future. Of particular
value of explicitly now support the claim that there are interest is the possibility of finding
universal thinking skills or completely objective correlates for previously rather
teaching general strategies for learning and vague sounding notions such as the
transferable problem solving. However there is expansion of consciousness.
consensus that there are a range of
thinking skills relatively general learning strategies that There have been several rigorous surveys
can be disembedded from some contexts of the impact of different teaching methods
and re-embedded again in new contexts. and programmes in the last decade.
These provide convincing evidence for the
Thinking is indissoluably both individual value of explicitly teaching transferable
and social. There is a constant movement thinking skills.
of the internalisation of social thinking into
individual thinking and externalisation out
again by individuals into social thinking. 3 TEACHING THINKING SKILLS WITH
Higher order thinking is to be found in the TECHNOLOGY
whole flowing circular movement of
thinking and not just in the individual 3.1 CONCEPTUALISATIONS OF THE
moment of it. Technology in various forms,
from language to the internet, carries
social thinking. Technology therefore
Theories of how the mind works have had
obviously has a role to play in supporting
a strong effect on the way that the role of
higher order thinking.
new technology has been thought about in
education. Surveys of the use of computers
Many have criticised specific ideals of
to promote thinking skills by both Hughes
higher order thinking and thinking skills as
(1990) and by Underwood and Underwood
being too western, masculine and middle
(1990) draw a sharp distinction between
class. However the ideal of being able to
the use of computers as a tutor to teach
listen seriously and empathetically to
thinking skills and the use of computers as
challenges and to respond to reasonable
a tool in order to develop skills indirectly.
challenges with reform is intrinsic to the
Crook (1994), in a similar survey, argues
ideal of higher order thinking. This kind of

that both these ways of conceptualising Underwood and Underwood, 1990) This
the role of the computer in relation to criticism assumes constructivism: the
thinking skills are inadequate. He develops claim that knowledge is the product of an
a third approach which he refers to as the active process of construction rather than
use of computers as a ‘mediational means’ a passive assimilation of information.
to ‘resource collaborative encounters’
(Crook, 1994 p227). These three
conceptualisations, computer as tutor, 3.1.2 THE COMPUTER AS ‘MINDTOOL’
computer as tool or computer as support
for dialogue, are reflections of the three Several popular Science Fiction films show
main traditions in educational psychology characters ‘downloading’ skills directly
referred to by Greeno, Collins and Resnick into their brains from computers. The
and quoted in the first part of this review. I implication is that human skills and
will briefly consider each in turn. computer programmes are very similar.
Richard Clark refers to the cause of this
popular linking of computers and thinking
3.1.1 THE COMPUTER AS TUTOR skills as the reification of a metaphor: the
computer metaphor of mind popular in
The behaviourist tradition does not have cognitive science (Clark, 1990, p268). When
much to say directly about thinking skills. the mind is seen as a kind of computer it
The language of the movement is mostly seems plausible that working with
about producing observable changes in computers can provide mind skills.
behaviour. To educate effectively on this Seymour Papert, a student of Piaget,
model requires a great deal of contingent applied constructivism to the role of
individual re-inforcement. Computers can computers (1981, 1993) advocating the use
provide the individual feedback needed. of programming and other active
Skinner was influential in promoting the modelling environments to support
use of computers as individual teaching learning (where learning was seen as the
machines. Instructional technologists active construction of meaning).
broke down complex tasks into learning Constructivism is now probably the
hierarchies in order to produce teaching dominant paradigm in the design of
programmes. The current use of educational multimedia (Boyle, 1996, p83).
Integrated Learning Systems (ILSs) The implicit idea in much of the literature
continues in the tradition of the computer of cognitivism and constructivism is that
as an individual teaching machine. There is the mind is so much like a computer that
evidence that this individualised approach teaching a computer how to think, i.e.
leads to improved learning of some basic programming, is pretty much the same as
skills (Underwood et al 1996). learning how to think for oneself.
Jonassen (2000) outlines the significance
The main criticism of the computer as a of cognitive psychology and constructivism
tutor model is that directed computer for the use of technology to promote the
teaching does not allow children to be development of thinking skills.
creative learners, able to think and make
connections for themselves, and so is Mindtools are computer applications that,
unlikely to support the development of when used by learners to represent what
higher order thinking (e.g. Papert, 1981: they know, necessarily engage them in




not that critical thinking about the content they are the communicative processes of teaching
studying. Mindtools scaffold different and learning. Whereas both the computer
computers will forms of reasoning about content. That is, as tutor model and the computer as tool
directly teach they require students to think about what model encourage the view of the use of
they know in different, meaningful ways. computers as a kind of treatment leading
thinking but that, For instance, using databases to organize to an individual learning outcome, the
after working in students’ understanding of content socio-cultural model argued for by Crook
organization necessarily engages them in (1994), Newman, Griffin and Cole, (1989),
partnership with analytical reasoning, where creating an Mercer, (1994) and Saljo (1998) encourages
computers, the expert system rule base requires them to investigation of the way interactive
think about the causal relationships technologies can contribute to learning
student will between ideas. Students cannot use conversations both in groups and in
internalise the Mindtools as learning strategies without communities.
thinking deeply about what they are
way that studying. (Jonassen, 1998) I will use these three conceptualisations of
computers think the role of ICT in education to structure a
The main idea, also articulated by review of the way that new technology has
as a cognitive Underwood and Underwood, (1990) and by been applied to promoting thinking skills
tool for their Salomon, (1990), is not that computers will
directly teach thinking but that, after
own use working in partnership with computers, 3.2 USES OF COMPUTER AS A TUTOR
the student will internalise the way that
computers think as a cognitive tool for It is easy to see how the computer as tutor
their own use. model can be adapted to teach thinking
skills programmes that focus on abstract
reasoning and logic puzzles. For example,
3.1.3 THE COMPUTER AS A SUPPORT Riding and Powell (1985) report on a study
FOR LEARNING CONVERSATIONS which used a computer program to tutor
4 year-old children in ‘critical thinking
Crook (1994, p67) argues that the skills’ using a series of graphical
computer as tutor model and the more problems. Over the period of the study the
constructivist model of computers as children showed improvements in score on
support for developing cognitive skills, are a non-verbal reasoning test – Raven’s
both based on similar individualist models Coloured Progressive Matrices. However
of learning. He argues instead for a socio- the sort of problems that the children were
cultural model of learning which stresses given in the tutorial program were rather
the primacy of the joint construction of similar to the problems in the Raven’s
knowledge through communication. Within reasoning test, leaving Riding and Powell
the socio-cultural model, intellectual open, as they acknowledge, to the charge
development is seen as induction into the of not teaching general skills but of simply
social practices and the use of the cultural training children to perform on a specific
tool-systems through which shared test. Follow up studies referred to by
knowledge is constructed. This leads Hughes (1990, p125) have shown only very
Crook to emphasise the use of the limited transfer to thinking in other
computer as a support and resource for contexts. This difficulty in producing

transferable skills is to be anticipated from Diana Laurillard points out that the claims
the discussion of thinking skills made for ITSs are often overstated. The
programmes in general. It is related to the novel internal architecture of the ITS does
main criticism of the computer as tutor not offer any novel pedagogical moves that
model which is summed up by Papert’s could not be done in other ways. Despite
complaint that instead of teaching children the name ‘intelligent’, ITSs seem just like
how to program computers, computers are ordinary tutorial systems with a few extra
being used to program children (1980). features such as a record of student
Both Underwood and Underwood (1990) performance to date and adaptive
and Solomon (1987) develop the criticism sequencing of educational activities. But
that directed computer teaching does not she also claims, more positively, that:
allow children to be creative learners able ‘the ITS is the only medium that can be
to think and make connections for said to support genuine reflection on the
themselves and so is unlikely to support particular learning experience the student
the development of thinking skills. has undergone’ (Laurillard, 1993 p161)
This potential for ITSs, or ‘expert systems’,
Intelligent tutoring systems in education continues to be explored.
‘Intelligent Tutoring Systems’ ITSs Recent approaches include developing
represent a link between the behaviourist ‘learning companions’ to prompt reflection
approach to Computer Aided Instruction and guidance to support collaborative
and the cognitivist paradigm. ITSs are a learning (Jermann, P, Soller, A., &
product of Artificial Intelligence research Muehlenbrock, M., 2001). The idea of using
and are said to be intelligent because they prompts and questions to stimulate
embody models of the domain to be learnt, reflection and discussion has been applied
models of students and a model of an with some success.
expert tutor in the domain. For the most
part they remain an expensive tool for AI
research with few educational applications. 3.3 USES OF MINDTOOLS
However they are worth mentioning since
one idea of ITS has always been to teach 3.3.1 PROGRAMMING
thinking skills, such as problem-solving,
through modelling them. For example the Teaching programming has been promoted
ITS or expert system can be used to as a way of learning general thinking
challenge and question students to lead skills (Papert, 1980). Perkins and
them on the path of problem-solving Salomon comment that (1987): ‘In
appropriate to the area. Examples of this general programming is a remarkably
kind of feedback might be: ‘have you rich cognitive enterprise that might yield
specified all the things that you need to many different sorts of transfer effects.’
know to make this decision?’ ‘You appear (p154). They list some of the possible gains
to have overlooked the patient’s heart including:
rate’. ‘Have you checked the database for
other syndromes that match these • problem solving, problem finding, and
symptoms?’ and so on. problem management strategies eg
breaking a problem into parts or
relating it to a previously solved




problem, planning, and the kind of Exposure to LOGO by itself does not
diagnostic thinking involved in usually lead to cognitive gains; that such
debugging gains are more likely to be found with
• abilities of formal reasoning and structured teaching; and that the Logo
representation eg thinking of all environment promotes social interaction
possible combinations, and constructing amongst peers. (1990. p133)
mathematical models
• cognitive styles eg precision, and
reflectivity over impulsivity
• enthusiasms and tolerances eg
persistence, and enthusiasm for Some kinds of powerful thinking work
meaningful academic engagement. through a series of ‘leap-frogging’
manoeuvres. Scientific thinking, for
The logic based programming language example, relies on turning processes into
LOGO has been widely used in schools and nouns so that they can be objectified and
widely evaluated. Results seem equivocal. thought about more easily (Halliday and
Simon (1987) surveys a number of Martin, 1993). Representations of every
evaluations to conclude that Papert’s kind allow us to objectify our thoughts so
hopes that using LOGO would lead to the that we can reflect upon them. Writing,
emergence of general problem solving graphs, tables and specialist notations
skills were ‘pipe dreams’ and ‘techno- such as mathematics are already cognitive
romanticism’. Underwood and tools allowing thought to ‘leap-frog’ to a
Underwood’s survey of evaluation results higher level of understanding. Computers
is much more positive (1990). Liao and can take this further through allowing the
Bright (1991, quoted in Kirkwood, 1998) direct manipulation of representations.
conducted a meta-analysis of sixty-five Paul Cobb argues that providing computer
classroom based studies into the tools to help students manipulate complex
relationship between computer data-sets enables them to understand
programming and general cognitive skills, statistical arguments and therefore equips
using quantitative comparisons between them to be able to participate in many
treatment and control groups. Their main public debates (2002). Sharon Ainsworth
using a conclusion is that programming can (1997) similarly argues for the value of
provide a mildly effective approach to multiple representations for supporting the
computer as a development of understanding. Jonassen
developing students’ cognitive skills in a
‘mindtool’ to classroom setting. makes the same kind of case for the use
of ‘visualisation tools’ that allow learners
solve a problem to visualise scientific ideas (Jonassen,
Erik De Corte (1990) demonstrated that
and learning how using LOGO alone does not produce 2000). Many simulations of systems play
transfer but that LOGO can be a useful a similar role. They allow users to
to solve it for manipulate dynamic representations of
resource in teaching approaches that lead
oneself are to transfer. The same point is made by real-world systems.
therefore Clements and Gullo (1984). Hughes (1990)
sums up a balanced survey of the evidence The literature about using the computer as
different things with the following conclusions: a tool sometimes blurs the distinction

between using external cognitive tools, eg that help to make it happen. There is no the point about
computers, and developing internal good evidence that thinking skills will
cognitive tools, eg thinking skills. These simply ‘rub off’ as a ‘cognitive residue’ ‘mindtools’, as
are not the same things. I use a calculator (Salomon 1991 quoted in Jonassen, 2000), Jonassen calls
when I change currency, perhaps it is a from using new technology.
‘cognitive tool’, but that does not mean them, is that
that I learn how to do long division – I can The point about ‘mindtools’, as Jonassen they do not work
do long division only because a teacher calls them, is that they do not work on
taught me a pencil and paper technique their own. To learn from such tools on their own. To
that I still remember and use. When asked students need to be primed as to what to learn from such
to do long division in the absence of paper look for, they need opportunities to
and pencil I find myself visualising the articulate what they find and they need tools students
numbers and imagining the procedure. I feedback on their discoveries. One way need to be
do not find it useful to visualise a of achieving this is to use mindtools as a
calculator and imagine pressing the resource for small group collaborative primed as to
buttons. If I were a hospital manager learning within a teaching and learning what to look for,
funding the development of a computer framework (Laurillard, 1993 p137:
system to diagnose patients I would want Wegerif, 2002). they need
the best system possible, a system that did opportunities to
not need doctors. If, on the other hand, I
wanted to help teach medical students the 3.3.3 CONCEPT MAPPING articulate what
complex skills of diagnosis, involving they find and
reasoning, evaluation, information Concept maps or ‘semantic networks’ are
processing and so on, I would want a very spatial representations of the concepts and they need
different system. I would want the careful their interrelationships that are intended to feedback on their
‘scaffolding’ of skills with the rich represent the knowledge structures that
presentation of case studies and lots of humans store in their minds (Jonassen, discoveries
interactive feedback. Using a computer as 2000). While concept maps do not require
a ‘mindtool’ to solve a problem and computers, computer-based concept-
learning how to solve it for oneself are mapping software, such as ‘SemNet’,
therefore different things. ‘Learning Tool’, ‘Inspiration’, ‘Mind
Mapper’, and many others, enable the
Jonassen claims that the best way to learn production of concept maps. Great claims
about an area is to build a computer are made for the use of concept-mapping
system to model the area. From my as a tool to support critical thinking and
experience of building computer systems I reflection on the organisation of knowledge
suspect that in reality far more time would in a subject area while also learning about
be spent learning how to get the computer the area (Buzan and Buzan, 2000:
tools you were using to do exactly what you Jonassen, 2000).
wanted than in learning about the area.
This is not a very efficient approach to The purpose of semantic networks is to
teaching and learning. The evidence represent the structure of knowledge that
suggests that learning skills that can someone has constructed. So, creating
transfer requires someone, usually a semantic networks requires learners to
teacher, to plan activities and experiences analyze the structural relationships among




the content they are studying. By collaboratively by authors and users’

comparing semantic networks created at (Jonassen, 1991, 83). The world wide web
different points in time, they can also be is an example of hypertext. There have
used as evaluation tools for assessing been very large claims made for the
changes in thinking by learners. revolutionary nature of hypertext in
(Jonassen 1998) education. The non-linearity of hypertext is
meant to reflect the way that the mind is
Concept maps have been used to support structured. Reading hypertext involves
inquiry-based science and claims have making a path through it and so is said to
been made that concept mapping is be a more constructive process than
especially suited to science education. reading linear print text. External links
Some research argues that the benefits of made between nodes in the hypertext are
many people concept-mapping can be greatly enhanced said to reflect internal semantic links
if they are used as a focus for collaborative (Jonassen 1998). A review of research on
find that concept learning (Roth, 1994, Roth and hypertext use in education by Dillon and
maps help them Roychoudhury, 1994) Gabard (1998 referred to in Bromme and
Stahl, 2002) showed no support for the
to think more Diana Laurillard (1993, p123), writing in claim that hypertext aides the teaching and
clearly about the context of higher education, is critical learning of thinking skills.
of the way in which concept maps reduce
some topics knowledge to little chunks of information The idea of hypertext is similar to the idea
and defined relationships between of a library. Those already equipped with
them. Knowledge, she argues, is unitary effective thinking and learning skills can
and indivisible. use libraries as a resource for learning but
most students will need more guidance
‘even a simple statement such as than that. Simply having a library does net
"as air rises it cools" cannot be mean that you acquire information
expressed as an association between searching skills.
two component fragments’
Bromme and Stahl (2002) argue that, while
She is right of course but there is no reading hypertext has few learning
denying that many people find that concept benefits, constructing hypertexts is likely
maps help them to think more clearly to involve thinking skills (2002). Their
about some topics. Educational evaluations arguments are similar to those put forward
of using concept maps mostly seem for the value of using concept maps, these
positive but are small scale (e.g Scanlon et are that in developing hypertext documents
al 1996; van Boxtel et al, 2000). students need to think about the
conceptual structure of an area and reflect
on the nature of the links between content.

Hypertext is a ‘computer-based software 3.3.5 HYPER-MEDIA

system for organising and storing
information to be accessed Hyper-media essentially means hypertext
nonsequentially and constructed with multi-media content. Constructivists,

as their name implies, seem very keen on Organization and Representation Skills
getting children to construct things. • deciding how to segment and sequence
Jonassen (2000, p211) argues that making information to make it understandable
hyper-media products ‘allows children to
construct their own understandings rather • deciding how information will be
than interpreting the teacher’s represented (text, pictures, movies,
understanding of the world’. However audio, etc.)
some engagement with a teacher’s • deciding how the information will be
understanding is very useful, and often organized (hierarchy, sequence) and
essential, for the learning of new skills. how it will be linked.
Designing multimedia products, for
example web-sites, is clearly a complex
process that engages many skills. Carver, Presentation Skills
Lehrer, Connell, and Ericksen (1992, • mapping the design onto the
quoted in Reeves, 1998 and in Jonassen, presentation and implementing the
2000) list the major thinking skills that ideas in multimedia
learners need as designers of multimedia • attracting and maintaining the interests
presentations. These include: of the intended audiences.

Project Management Skills

• creating a timeline for the completion Reflection Skills
of the project • evaluating the program and the
• allocating resources and time to process used to create it
different parts of the project • revising the design of the program
• assigning roles to team members. using feedback.

That all sounds plausible but could not all no support for
Research Skills of these skills equally be developed
• determining the nature of the problem through designing and making a poster the claim that
and how research should be organized display? While, with the right pedagogy, hypertext aides
• posing thoughtful questions about designing multi-media could support the
structure, models, cases, values, teaching of thinking skills, it is not the teaching and
and roles obviously the easiest or the cheapest learning of
way to do this.
• searching for information using text, thinking skills
electronic, and pictorial information
• developing new information with
interviews, questionnaires and other Whitebread (1997) claims that playing
survey methods computer games can help develop thinking
• analyzing and interpreting all the skills. Even a game such as Lemmings,
information collected to identify and often considered purely as an
interpret patterns. entertainment game, he claims has the
potential to develop skills such as:




• understanding and representing the on improving the medium of shared or

problem (including identifying what social thinking rather than upon directly
kinds of information are relevant to promoting individual thinking skills.
its solution) However, as I argued in part two of this
• gathering and organising relevant review, higher order thinking is both a
information social and an individual activity.
Promoting engagement in higher
• constructing and managing a plan order collective thinking is also a way
of action, or a strategy to teach thinking skills.
• reasoning, hypothesis-testing and
• using various problem-solving tools (p17). 3.4.1 COLLABORATIVE LEARNING
there is no
evidence that ‘The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis’,
Teasley and Roschelle (1993) report a study
that illustrates the role of computers in
games, or any has been evaluated very highly by Steve supporting collaborative learning and
Higgins for its capacity to promote logical
other software reasoning skills when integrated with the
thinking. Their study concerned pairs of
learners using a simulation designed to
for that matter, right pedagogy (Higgins, 2000). This teach Newtonian physics, called the
software was developed by a university
can teach team in collaboration with Broderbund.
‘Envisioning Machine’. In it they argue that
the essential medium of the learning is the
thinking skills talk between the learners and that the role
Collaboration around games seems to
on their own have a positive effect on problem-solving.
of the computer lies in supporting that
talk and resourcing their collaboration
Inkpen et al (1995) found that when (ibid. p254). The computer screen offers a
children played ‘The Incredible Machine’ shared focus, a means to ‘disambiguate’
(TIM), a problem-solving game, together on language through images on the screen,
one machine, they 'solved significantly and a means to resolve conflicts by testing
more puzzles than children playing alone out alternative views. Teasley and
on one machine'. They were also more Roschelle write:
motivated to continue playing when they
had a human partner. We see the ‘computer-supported’
contribution to collaborative learning as
There is no evidence that games, or any contributing a resource that mediates
other software for that matter, can teach collaboration. In ordinary circumstances
thinking skills on their own. They can be one cannot imagine two 15-year-olds
used as a resource to help teach thinking sitting down for 45 minutes to construct a
within a pedagogical framework. rich shared understanding of velocity and
acceleration. But in the context provided by
the Envisioning Machine activity, our
3.4 COMPUTER AS A SUPPORT FOR students were successful in doing just

Much work in the area of computer This conceptualisation of the educational

supported collaborative learning focuses role of the computer as a medium

supporting collaborative learning is the In the most recent study of this approach this embedded
view which is most in accord with the we developed ICT activities in Maths and
sociocultural theoretical framework. Science to cover an entire year of the and catalytic role
Teasley and Roschelle argue that it curriculum. Our evaluation demonstrated for computers
throws the emphasis away from the that computer-based activities can be used
computer software and on to the quality to stimulate reasoned discussion and in primary
of the dialogue. focus this on curriculum-related learning. education is
We used a control study to demonstrate
Further evidence that the pedagogy is as significant gains in scores on curriculum distinctive
important as the technology comes from tests in Science and Maths. We also found
my own work with Neil Mercer, Lyn Dawes significant improvements in solving
and Karen Littleton at the Open University. reasoning test problems when working
In this research an approach has been together in small groups. Video analysis
developed using computers that prepares has demonstrated a link between solving
children to work effectively together with such problems and use of ‘exploratory talk’
specially-designed computer-based (Wegerif and Mercer, 2000). This effect
activities focused on curriculum-related also transferred to significant
topics. A series of 'Talk Lessons' are improvements in individual scores on
followed, in which classes establish Ravens Progressive Matrices tests. Higgins
ground-rules for collaboration such as (2001) argues that the findings of this
listening with respect, responding to research offer persuasive evidence that, in
challenges with reasons, encouraging combination with the right pedagogy, the
partners to give their views and trying to use of ICT can support the development of
reach agreement. These activities are not transferable thinking skills.
only concerned with improving the quality
of children’s working relationships, but
also with developing their use of language 3.4.2 CONFERENCING
as a tool for reasoning and constructing
knowledge. That is, the Talk Lessons There are many claims that electronic
encourage teachers to create a conferencing can be an effective support
'community of enquiry' in their classrooms for learning thinking skills through
in which children are guided in their use of collaborative learning. Such claims can be
language as a tool for both individual found in Mason (1989), McConnell (1995)
reasoning and collaborative problem- and Harasim et al (1995). At least some of
solving. Computers are used not only for the factors claimed to support reasoning
stimulating effective language use but also relate to the specific way in which the
for focusing children’s joint activity on medium supports discourse. For example:
curriculum tasks. This embedded and
catalytic role for computers in primary • the ease with which it is possible to
education is distinctive (Wegerif, 1996b: ‘take the floor’ in a discussion in
Wegerif and Scrimshaw, 1997; Wegerif, comparison with face-to-face discussion
Mercer and Dawes, 1998: Wegerif,
• the possibility of having several strands
Sams and Barrett, 2002: Wegerif and
of conversation simultaneously supports
Dawes, 2003).
more meta-cognitive reflection




with the right • the written nature of the dialogue 3.4.3 THE INTERNET
combined with asynchronicity can allow
pedagogy these time for refection while maintaining the Steve Higgins (2002) draws a distinction
kind of resources intrinsic motivation of a conversation. between thinking through and thinking
(Wegerif, 1998) with the internet. As an example of the
could be used to former he suggests 'Newswise',
help to These differences between CMC ( an
communication and face-to-face internet resource aimed at primary and
understand secondary pupils which offers access to
communication have been pointed out by
classification David Graddol (1989) and are reiterated appropriate texts for discussion, a forum
by David McConnell (1994) . The conclusion for exchanging ideas and support for
and to think teachers in developing strategies to help
from both these writers appears to be that
more about the CMC can support an egalitarian style of engage their pupils in different aspects of
communication in which everyone can the stories and texts. This uses the internet
relationships as a medium for exchanging news stories
participate more easily. One possible
between implication of this is that CMC might be a (accessed by teachers and pupils) and
good medium for establishing what exchanging ideas about those stories. The
categories same principle is found in OneWorldTV
Habermas (1981) calls an 'ideal speech
situation': that situation which, through the ( where video news
elimination of all forms of coercion and stories are presented and debated by a
through ground rules allowing all to speak, global audience.
best supports the force of good arguments
winning out over other, less rational, By ‘thinking with the internet’ Higgins
factors. However, others have claimed, means using the internet itself as the tool
by contrast, that the medium is (rather that just the medium of
particularly prone to aggression and communication). For example using html
irrationality (Siegal,Dubrovsky, Kiesler with hotspots and links to create non-
and McGuire, 1986 quoted in Jonassen, linear texts or pictures and diagrams that
2000, 265). Laurillard’s claim that ‘the can be explored to support teaching and
success of the medium is totally learning. The interactive relationship with
dependent on a good moderator’ (1993 information can be used to promote
p169) is therefore probably a fair thinking skills. The search engine Kartoo,
assessment of the situation. for example, offers visual results and
shows the results of its metasearch with
Links via email or electronic conference sites being interconnected by keywords.
with other schools can be used for the ( With the right
joint construction of knowledge including pedagogy these kind of resources could be
critical questioning and reasoning. used to help to understand classification
An example might be taking a particular and to think more about the relationships
topic to research together in order to between categories.
develop joint multi-media resources on
the web. This approach is found in
Margaret Riel's 'circles of learning'
(Riel, 1996).

3.4.4 SHARED DATABASES integrating new technology is often a chance
for teachers to re-think their approach.
CSILE, which stands for Computer There is evidence that new technology often
Supported Intentional Learning works in this way as a catalyst for change.
Environments (Scardemalia et al, 1991: A particular problem with evaluating the
1994), consists of a number of networked effects of technology is that such effects
computers in a classroom where a depend completely on how the technology
community database is maintained. The is used. The quality of an educational
database consists of text and graphical activity is not an effect of the software
notes, all produced by students and alone but of the software in context. The
accessible through database search same piece of software might have quite
procedures. Teachers work with CSILE in different effects if used in different
different areas of the curriculum. Students pedagogical contexts. Teachers (or parents
are given a question, they have to find or moderators) play a crucial role in
information and record it via notes in the setting up and guiding any learning
database. Other students then comment experience with ICT.
on the notes and add new notes.
Many claims in this area need to be
Evaluations of learning outcomes in CSILE treated with caution. There are evidently
classrooms are positive and reflect the many enthusiasts who love to see children
development of thinking skills, including having fun playing with computer-based
great comprehension of texts and deeper toys and games and making wonderful
explanations of processes as well as the multi-media products. The important
development of a more positive self-image question is not ‘do they display thinking
as learners. skills in what they are doing? Of course
they do. A better question is: ‘is there any
evidence that these skills will transfer in a
useful way to other contexts in their lives?’
3.5 HOW TO TEACH THINKING the quality of
an educational
EVALUATIONS OF THE RESEARCH The research evidence seems to suggest an effect of the
that transferable thinking skills will not software alone
Reeves, (1998) quotes many positive effects result unless activities are embedded in
of technology use in education including teaching and learning dialogues, either but of the
learning thinking skills. These findings in with a teacher or with other students. In
the USA have been matched more recently software in
other words the activity, however creative
in the UK by the DfES Impact2 study (2002b). or fun, needs to be framed in such a way context
One problem with these evaluations, and that learning goals are made explicit and
others mentioned in this section of the bridges are built between contexts.
report, is that all interventions seem to This suggests a need for developers to
work. Enthusiastic researchers who believe consider the context of use of any ICT and
in their proposed solutions can motivate to provide support for using it in a way that
teachers and children regardless of the will lead to transferable thinking skills.
content of the intervention. More positively, Out of his experiments with different ways




of teaching with LOGO described above, De Another effective strategy used by the
Corte (1990) proposed the following features ‘Thinking Together’ approach (Moseley et
of powerful learning environments: al, 1999) is a three-part structure to ICT
activities. The teacher sets up issues and
• learners need an explicit explanation of aims at the beginning and then returns to
the cognitive components of the task (a these in a whole group plenary session at
‘thinking’ vocabulary) the end after group work by the children.
• learners need to observe an expert The teacher needs to be explicit about
performing the task (modelling) thinking skills aims at the beginning of the
lesson – to point out that work with LOGO,
• learners need to be given hints and for example, is not just about playing but is
feedback on their own performance also about reasoning together to develop
(coaching) effective strategies - and then to visit these
• learners need to be given direct support aims again at the end of the lesson. In the
in the early stages of learning a task plenary the teacher needs to draw out
(scaffolding) and to move gradually what has been learnt and how this could
towards self-regulation and autonomy be applied elsewhere. Linking activities
(teacher-fading) showing how similar kinds of thinking
skills can be applied in different areas of
• learners need the opportunity to
the curriculum is also a good idea. In this
articulate their cognitive and
case again explicit bridges need to be
metacognitive strategies and to make
made at the beginning and the end of
comparisons with other learners
each activity.
• learners need to explore, identify and
define new problems in a domain and be 3.5.3 ICT DESIGN
shown how strategies acquired in one
domain can be used to solve problems Using computers as tutors can be an
in another domain (transfer). effective way of infusing thinking skills into
subject area teaching and learning. This is
While group or paired work is not essential because, with the right teacher input and
for learning thinking skills with ICT all the software design group work around
evidence suggests that it helps. Having to computers can turn the use of reasoning
articulate and explain strategies to others skills into learning outcomes. Software can
is far more likely to lead to transfer than be designed to initiate, resource and frame
just doing things without verbalisation. a discussion just as a teacher can, but
However there is plenty of evidence that unlike teachers they are never judgmental
just putting children in front of a screen and have infinite patience. Once learners
and asking them to work together is not have been prepared for group work by a
sufficient (e.g. Dawes, 1997). The best teacher or by the ethos of a social setting,
approach is to teach children how to work then when the computer prompts them
together effectively before they are asked with a challenge or a question they are
to work at the ICT task (Dawes, Mercer and able to sit back from the screen and discuss
Wegerif, 2000). the issue together before reaching a
shared decision about what response to

make. In this way they can construct their changed, multiple and dynamic forms. ICT is distinct
own understandings together, but in a way Data-bases, graphs and concept-mapping
that is directed towards curriculum goals can all be used to support critical and from other
by the computer software. Research analytical thinking about relationships educational
analysing video-tapes of pairs and small within an area, as well as to bring out
groups of children working around patterns that unite different areas. technologies in
computers has given us some clues as to CSILE has shown that building up shared that it has the
what software features help to establish data-bases can be an effective way of
and sustain effective talk: teaching and applying thinking skills. Links capacity to
via email or electronic conference with represent ideas
• challenges and problems which have other schools can be used in similar ways
meaning for the children, and which for the joint construction of knowledge and information
provide a range of alternative choices including critical questioning and in easily
that are worth discussing. Such reasoning. Tools to support collective
challenges should engage the learners higher order thinking using these media changed,
with the content of the software rather need to be designed in. These could range multiple and
than its interface from the kind of templates or forms used
in CSILE, through symbolic languages, dynamic forms
• a clear purpose or task which is made
evident to the group and which is kept in through to prompts for reflection.
focus throughout
• on-screen talk prompts which ask the
group to talk together, remind them to
reach agreement and ask for opinions
The three main approaches to
and reasons
understanding learning that were
• resources for discussion, including introduced in part one were applied to
information on which decisions can be understand different ways in which the
based and opportunities to review role of ICT in supporting learning has been
decisions in the light of new information conceptualised. Behaviourism was linked
• no features which encourage individuals to the use of the computer as a teaching
to take turns, beat the clock or establish machine, cognitivism/constructivism to
competitive ways of working the use of ICT as a tool and the socio-
cultural/participationist school to the
• audio input or multi-choice answers use of ICT as a support for learning
to minimise typing (unless the conversations. These three
learners have keyboarding skills). conceptualisations, ICT as tutor,
(adapted from Wegerif, 1997) tool or support for dialogue, were used
to structure a review of examples of ICT
These guidelines can be used as a basis used to teach thinking skills.
for designing software or for selecting
software that can be used to support One of the first principles to emerge from
collaborative learning. these studies was that the computer-
based technology alone does not lead to
ICT is distinct from other educational transferable thinking skills. Whether the
technologies in that it has the capacity to ICT is conceptualised as tutor, tool or
represent ideas and information in easily support for communication, the success




of the activity crucially depends on how cases it could easily be re-designed to

it is framed. Learners need to know what support collaboration.
the thinking skills are that they are
learning and these need to be explicitly Three ways in which the use of ICT could
modelled, drawn out and re-applied in particularly enhance the teaching and
different contexts. learning of thinking skills emerged:
First, thinking skills can be developed by
Effective teaching for transferable thinking supporting dynamic and multiple
skills with ICT contains some or all of the representations of information. Visualising
following elements: patterns in data-sets, for example, allows
learners to think at a higher level about
• teaching a ‘thinking’ vocabulary and statistical relationships.
giving learners an explicit explanation of
the thinking skills that they are to be learnt Second, through a certain ambivalence of
• observing an expert performing the task nature, educational software can act like a
(modelling) teacher to prompt and direct enquiry but
can, at the same time, act as a resource
• giving timely feedback on performance while learners discuss and explore ideas.
(formative assessment) Prompting reflection around a simulation
• direct support in the early stages of could be an example.
learning a task (scaffolding) and then a
gradual move towards self-regulation Third, networks can allow students to
and autonomy (teacher fade-out) engage directly in knowledge creation with
others who are not physically present.
• the opportunity to articulate thinking
Given the apparent importance of
strategies and discuss these with other
collaborative learning this has significance
learners (thinking together)
for home education. And while it is not
• the explicit demonstration of how intrinsically superior to think together with
learners need to thinking strategies acquired in one those outside the classroom, than with
know what the subject area can be used to solve those within, it can be more motivating. If
problems in another area (bridging). those outside the classroom, have a
thinking skills different perspective on issues it can also
are that they Another principle to emerge was that stimulate more thought.
are learning and collaborative learning improved the
effectiveness of most activities. Where
these need to tutorial software alone is ineffective for 4 IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE,
be explicitly developing thinking skills, tutorial software CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT AND
used as a basis for discussion between THE DESIGN OF LEARNING
modelled, drawn learners can be. Computer mind-tools,
out and such as concept maps or programming
languages, all appear to be enhanced
re-applied in when used in pairs or groups who are 4.1 IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
different contexts taught to explicitly articulate their
strategies as they work together. This is The use of technology alone does not lead
interesting because most software is still to transferable thinking skills. The success
designed for individual work, in many of any educational activity crucially

depends on how it is framed. Learners • direct support in the early stages of
need to know what the thinking skills are learning a task (scaffolding) and then a
that they are learning and these need to gradual move towards self-regulation
be explicitly modelled, drawn out and and autonomy (teacher fade-out)
re-applied in different contexts. • the opportunity to articulate thinking
strategies and discuss these with other
A simple but effective strategy is to use a learners (thinking together)
three-part structure to ICT activities. The
teacher sets up issues and aims at the • the explicit demonstration of how
beginning and then returns to these in a thinking strategies acquired in one
whole group plenary session at the end subject area can be used to solve
after group work by the children. The problems in another area (bridging).
teacher needs to be explicit about thinking explicit links
skills aims at the beginning of the lesson, Collaboration around ICT activities has
modelling the use of the skills being been shown to have the potential to (bridges) to
taught, and then these aims need to be enhance the learning of transferable thinking skills
visited again at the end of the lesson. In thinking skills. However effective
the plenary the teacher needs to draw out collaborative learning needs to be need to be made
what has been learnt and how this could prepared. It helps if learners are explicitly at the beginning
be applied elsewhere. Explicitly linking to taught how to reason and learn together
further activities that show how similar before they are asked to work and the end of
kinds of thinking skills can be applied in collaboratively with ICT. each activity in
different areas of the curriculum is also
a good idea. Explicit links (bridges) to which the
thinking skills need to be made at the 4.3 IMPLICATIONS FOR THE thinking skill is
beginning and the end of each activity DESIGN OF LEARNING RESOURCES
in which the thinking skill is meant to meant to be
be applied. The best software for teaching thinking applied
skills comes from collaborations between
developers and educators or educational
4.2 IMPLICATIONS FOR researchers.
Some of the guidelines for the effective
Effective teaching for transferable thinking teaching for thinking skills could be
skills with ICT contains some or all of the incorporated into software design. For
following elements: example, being explicit about thinking
skills, modelling them, designing activities
• teaching a ‘thinking’ vocabulary and that use the same skills in different
giving learners an explicit explanation of context and prompting learners to reflect
the thinking skills that are to be learnt on thinking strategies and articulate
• observing an expert performing the task them clearly.
Software can be designed to initiate,
• giving timely feedback on performance resource and frame a discussion just as a
(formative assessment) teacher can, but unlike teachers they are




learners can never judgmental and have infinite potential to support the development of
patience. In this way learners can thinking skills with the right pedagogy. The
construct construct their own understandings pedagogy needs to frame individual
their own together but in a way that is directed discoveries within teaching and learning
towards curriculum goals by the computer conversations. Collaboration between
understandings software. An example of this is to learners, for example, has been shown to
together but in a incorporate prompts for discussion around enhance the learning of thinking skills
a simulation. Before running a simulation using so called mindtools partly because it
way that is the prompt could be: ‘what is your encourages the explicit articulation of
directed towards prediction?’ And afterwards: ‘can you thinking strategies.
explain why you were right/wrong?’
curriculum goals The finding about the value of collaborative
by the computer ICT has a particular role to play through learning is interesting for designers since
supporting dynamic and multiple most software is obviously intended for
software representations of information. Visualising individual use. There are several simple
patterns in data-sets, for example, allows ways of designing software to support
learners to think at a higher level about collaboration.
statistical relationships.
• challenges and problems which have
Networks can allow students to engage meaning for the learner, and which
directly in knowledge creation with others provide a range of alternative choices
who are not physically present. Given the that are worth discussing. Such
apparent importance of collaborative challenges should engage the learners
learning this has significance for home with the content of the software rather
education. And while it is not intrinsically than its interface
superior to think together with those • a clear purpose or task which is made
outside the classroom than with those evident to the group and which is kept in
within, it can be more motivating. If those focus throughout
outside the classroom have a different
perspective on issues it can also stimulate • on-screen talk prompts which ask the
more thought. pair or group to talk together, remind
them to reach agreement and ask for
Building up shared data-bases can be an opinions and reasons
effective way of teaching and applying • resources for discussion, including
thinking skills. Links via email or information on which decisions can be
electronic conference with other schools based, and opportunities to review
can be used in similar ways for the joint decisions in the light of new information
construction of knowledge, including
• no features which encourage individuals
critical questioning and reasoning. These
to take turns, beat the clock or establish
forms of collaborative knowledge-
competitive ways of working
construction could be supported by in-built
supports for thinking. • clicking, multi-choice answers or
audio input to minimise typing (unless
Much of the software that has been called the learners have been taught
‘mindtools’, such as concept maps and keyboarding skills).
hypertext authoring environments, has


GLOSSARY teach processes of thinking and learning

that can be used in a wide range of real-
bloom's taxonomy popular instructional life contexts. The list of thinking skills in
model developed by the prominent the English National Curriculum is similar
educator Benjamin Bloom. It categorises to many such lists: information-
thinking skills from the concrete to the processing, reasoning, enquiry, creative
abstract-knowledge, comprehension, thinking and evaluation.
application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation.
transfer taking something, an idea or
The last three are considered higher-
skill, that has been learnt in one context
order skills.
and applying it in a different context.
cognition the mental operations involved
in thinking; the biological/neurological
processes of the brain that facilitate INTERNET LINKS
(Adapted from the MAPE Pack: Focus on
creative thinking imaginative activity
ICT and Thinking, Prepared by Steve
fashioned so as to produce outcomes that
Higgins. 2002)
are both original and of value. (NACCE
Website addresses change regularly. If any
critical thinking the process of of the addresses below are no longer valid
determining the authenticity, accuracy, or try a search for the name of the
value of something; characterised by the organisation or the resource.
ability to seek reasons and alternatives,
perceive the total situation, and change Interest in the UK in thinking skills has
one's view based on evidence. Also called increased as a result of its inclusion in the
‘logical’ thinking and ‘analytical’ thinking. National Curriculum. The following web
site (on the National Curriculum site) lets
dialogue shared enquiry. you do a search for thinking skills
dialogic informed by more than one voice objectives in the national curriculum by
or perspective – the ‘interanimation’ of type of thinking, subject and key stage.
more than one voice or perspective.

infusion integrating thinking skills Sites and Information about Specific

instruction into the regular curriculum; Thinking Skills Programmes
infused programs are commonly
There are a growing number of sites about
contrasted to separate programs, which
Philosophy for Children (P4C) and the
teach thinking skills as a curriculum in
Community of Enquiry such as Matthew
Lipman's site the Institute For The
metacognition the process of planning, Advancement of Philosophy For Children
assessing, and monitoring one's own based at Montclair State University-
thinking. Matthew Lipman's site (http://chss. with
thinking skills ‘thinking skills’ and related links to the Institute for Critical Thinking
terms are used to indicate a desire to (


The Society for the Advancement of its own web site (
Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in as does Robert Fisher
Education ( is a UK (
based educational charity offering
resources, conferences, and training in Kings College London have developed two
philosophy for children. A good starting thinking skills programmes CASE
point for further P4C links is Terry (Cognitive Acceleration Through Science
Godfrey's W3P4C site ( Education) and CAME (Cognitive
For an international flavour of the Acceleration Through Maths Education).
movement have a look at some of the links These are aimed at secondary schools,
to work across the globe such as the though being developed for younger pupils.
Federation of Australian Philosophy for Information about CASE can be found at:
Children Associations (http://www. ching/CASE.html. And CAME similarly at:
postgrads/FAPCA.html) and the
Argentinian branch of Philosophy for ching/CAME.html.
Children (
fpn-argentina/). Readings and Research about
Teaching Thinking
Reuven Feuerstein's International Centre Teaching Thinking: an Introduction to the
for the Enhancement of Learning Potential Research Literature is a paper by John
(ICELP) has its own website Nisbet originally published in 1988
( available on the web (
There are links to examples of the spotlight/spotlight26.html). It is part of the
'instruments'. A good overview of his Scottish Council for Research in Education
programme of Instrumental Enrichment (SCRE) Spotlights series - worth checking
can be found on North West Regional out in its own right. Other relevant
Educational Laboratory's web site which Spotlights are number 79 "Can thinking
evaluates a range of school improvement skills be taught", by Valerie Wilson
programmes ( (
natspec/catalog/feuerstein.htm) used in spotlight79.html) and number 82 "Peer
the US. and Parent Assisted Learning in Reading,
Writing, Spelling and Thinking Skills" by
Edward de Bono's catalogue of resources Keith Topping (
(such as CoRT and the Thinking Hats) is spotlight/spotlight82.html).
on-line and colour-coded like his thinking
hats ( Teaching Thinking magazine
debono/home.htm). (, from
Questions publishing, has a research
Top Ten Thinking Tactics - has brief section and accessible articles. You have to
information from the publisher subscribe to get full access.
catalogue/- click on the 'Thinking Skills' An ERIC digest about teaching thinking is
link) about this programme, together with also available, though a little dated now
other thinking skills books and resources. (
Alistair Smith's Accelerated Learning has s/ed385606.html).


Teaching Thinking Skills by Kathleen BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cotton, (
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Asking other people for help is perhaps the most effective but least commented upon
thinking skill. I am very grateful to those who were kind enough to help me prepare
this review. I would like to thank Steve Higgins and Keri Facer for their feedback on the
first draft, Steve Higgins again and Margaret Kirkwood for providing me with material,
and Julia Gillen, Richard Joiner, Peter Scrimshaw, Lyn Dawes and Charles Crook for
helpful advice and references. The comments of all the other people I buttonholed at
conferences to ask what they thought about technology and thinking are also
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