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The Patterns of Reasoning as a Foundation for Student Learning Carla R. McSwain Lesley University ECOMP 6102: Classroom Assessment with Technology – Dr. Meredith Melragon Charlotte, North Carolina November 1, 2009
The Patterns of Reasoning
COURSE GOAL ALIGNMENT: CLASSROOM ASSESSMENTS CAN BOTH PROMOTE AND VERIFY STUDENT LEARNING.
Abstract Reasoning is a fundamental type of learning and thinking activity. Unique patterns of reasoning exist and can be effectively developed in students if facilitated properly by the teacher. Seven specific types of reasoning are described here along with various teaching strategies and assessments to evaluate the reasoning in a high school US History class setting. Various education theorists’ views are considered to support these patterns of reasoning and validate their significance. Emphasis is placed on matching the appropriate assessment tool with the corresponding reasoning to be targeted. Reasoning as a necessary and useful process at all thinking levels is of tremendous importance in any classroom.
The Patterns of Reasoning The Patterns of Reasoning as a Foundation for Student Learning Variables in education may stack up for teachers from student to student and school to
school, but one thing is for certain; every student that walks into the classroom has brain activity taking place. The brain activity may be chaotic, fuzzy, or a mass of energy with no focus, but it is happening none the less. Otherwise the student would be in a vegetative state hooked up to a machine somewhere that does everything for him or her. The goal for teachers is to channel that brain activity and help students learn how to process all those observations, feelings, memories, skills, and facts into useful brain productivity. That is where reasoning comes in to play. The simple dictionary definition for reasoning is a mental process that allows conclusions to be drawn from facts. Students reason all the time. They may not realize it, but as they constantly make decisions about what to do or say in response to normal stimuli in life, they are performing basic reasoning skills. The task of teachers is to assist students in applying reasoning as it pertains to their academic subjects. Dr. Rick Stiggins describes seven specific patterns of reasoning that can be utilized by students in the classroom setting (2008). With the help of some other authors, those patterns will be discussed here along with some concrete and appropriate methods of teaching and assessing the reasoning. Before there can be reasoning, there must be knowledge. There is no such thing as content free reasoning (Stiggins, 2008). Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s famous taxonomy of higher order thinking even lists knowledge at the bottom of the hierarchy (1956). So before the different patterns of reasoning can be described, it is important to realize that knowledge is there first and is very essential. There is a tendency to lessen the value of knowledge because traditional methods of teaching and assessing knowledge have focused on rote memorization or basic recall.
The Patterns of Reasoning
Yet, as Dr. Stiggins and others assert, knowledge is necessary for understanding. It is important to see how specific facts fit into a big picture and that requires reasoning (2008). If you do not have mastery of the facts first, then how can the reasoning take place? Dr. Michael Booker “attributes the inability of American children to compete internationally to a great extent to our reliance on Bloom in expecting critical and advanced thinking from kids who have been trained to regard facts and substantive knowledge as unimportant”(2007, p.347). The significance of knowledge learning cannot be overlooked. Dr. Stiggins stresses this also by implying that a big part of knowledge in our contemporary world comes from knowing where to locate information and from frequent use of that knowledge (2008). The frequent use of the knowledge happens in the form of reasoning. Therefore, in order to perform any act of reasoning, there must be some form of knowledge present. Having emphasized this point, Dr. Stiggins’ seven patterns of reasoning and appropriate assessment of that reasoning can now be described. Before getting specific with the different patterns of reasoning, here is some general thought about appropriate assessment for that reasoning. Dr. Stiggins suggests four methods for assessing reasoning: selected response, essay, performance assessment, and personal communication (2008). Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that his suggestion of a balance of several different assessment methods is sound. Students have a range of abilities and a range of proficiency at those different skills. Why not give them an opportunity to showcase those skills and provide some spice and variety in the classroom as well. Plus, depending on the target for achievement, some assessments are a better fit than others. For years now in the education world, assessment reform has been in the making. An advocate of tests worth taking, Grant Wiggins says, “The problem is high-stakes, one-shot accountability tests of
The Patterns of Reasoning any kind. Nobody is saying that this reform has to be ‘either-or’; we need to redress an
imbalance in our testing methods” (Brandt, 1992, p.35). Balance is good for assessment; that is why as these patterns of reasoning are described, a balance of different teaching methods and assessment formats will be proposed. The first pattern of reasoning is analytical. This involves going into depth studying the different parts of something in order to reason out and understand the whole. A United States History curriculum example of when analytical reasoning could be used is the discussion of any war. For example, students may be asked to research the different parts of the Civil War such as: causes, leaders, battles, advantages and strategies of both the North and South, and results of the war. By knowing the specific parts, an overall understanding of the war itself and why it happened and why it resulted in the way it did occurs. Students also have a basis to compare future wars when prompted. Selected Response questions could be used to assess a student’s ability to reason about the Civil War. Dr. Stiggins claims that selected response can be used effectively when we want to determine if students can analyze the elements of something, compare them, and draw inferences or conclusions (2008). What is key, according to Dr. Stiggins, is having a clear vision of what we desire to assess (2008). In this case, the ability to analyze all the parts of the Civil War to better understand it is the desired outcome. The second pattern of reasoning is synthesizing. Synthesizing is bringing knowledge from various other sources and disciplines together into one theme. There is much overlap of the US History curriculum with science and literature. A great synthesis unit would incorporate the scientific inventions, literature and art accomplishments, and expansion of our country during the early 1800s; all of which promoted a great sense of nationalism in America. Students could apply
The Patterns of Reasoning much of what they study in other classes or at least note the relationship of other disciplines as they synthesize this information. Creation of a multimedia presentation would be a potential vehicle for students to use to synthesize this content as well as demonstrate important research
skills and computer productivity tool skills. Lots of synthesis would be taking place. The crucial part of this endeavor, however, would be to ensure that it assesses accurately the reasoning. Specific performance and product criteria would need to be stated at the onset. Students would need to demonstrate their understanding of what nationalism means and how knowledge from the related disciplines fits into the big picture. Relevant multimedia images to represent the broad theme could be a way to give evidence of reasoning and learning. According to Grant Wiggins, in designing assessment tools, teachers need the same things that students need: “models, criteria, and feedback” (Brandt, 1992, p.35). So, a teacher planning to prepare this unit of study and incorporate a multimedia product assessment instrument would need to search for models of such products that can measure students using the reasoning pattern of synthesis and integrate those into the planning. Likewise, the teacher must provide models, criteria, and feedback to the student about the desired reasoning learning outcome and product. The third type of reasoning is comparative. This simply is identifying what is similar and what is different between two or more items. Dr. Stiggins is not the only educator who places a value on this pattern of reasoning. Robert Marzano devotes an entire chapter in his book, Classroom Instruction that Works, to identifying similarities and differences (2001). There is good reason for the emphasis. Dr. Marzano suggests that researchers have found indentifying similarities and differences as “mental operations basic to human thought” and possibly the “core of all learning” (2001, p.14). These are some strong claims, but scientific studies can support
The Patterns of Reasoning
such assertions. In studies reviewed by Dr. Marzano, a “45 point percentile gain” was found in student achievement if identifying similarities and differences was used as an instructional strategy (2001, p.7). The best part is that there are a multitude of opportunities in which teachers can use this simple strategy. Dr. Marzano gives many examples such as the obvious, commonly used method of graphic symbolism such as Venn diagrams, charts, and matrixes (2001). In addition, Dr. Marzano reminds teachers that using metaphors and analogies and also having students create them can have the desired effect of achieving reasoning (2001). This simple strategy is so beneficial in helping students make the content meaningful and memorable. An example of incorporating this strategy in the US History curriculum would require students to create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting two reform movements that were a century apart. This would provide some good review as well as use reasoning to make those important connections and contrasts between the reforms of the early 1800s and the Progressive Era. Again, specific criteria would need to be given to students about what was to be compared and how in depth, taking care to allow students an opportunity to think of their own categories to compare and contrast because that requires reasoning as well. Another pattern of reasoning is Classifying. This allows for reasoning in organizing and categorizing things according to attributes. Dr. Stiggins emphasizes the importance of defining parameters of each category and the attributes of the things being classified (2008). Dr. Marzano also speaks of classifying and adds that there can be teacher-directed tasks that involve classifying or student- directed classifying tasks (2001). Simply stated, teacher-directed tasks describe those in which students are supplied the elements to classify and the categories and they must place items in the correct categories and understand why (Marzano, 2001). The student-
The Patterns of Reasoning
directed classification task requires students to be given the items to classify, but the student then must create the categories (Marzano, 2001). Dr. Marzano adds that students could even be asked to compose the list of items to classify and the categories (2001). This pattern of reasoning also allows plenty of opportunity for organized brain activity, which again is the goal of reasoning. A specific US History content classifying exercise could involve giving a list of key countries during the inter- war period of the 1920s and 1930s to students and a random list of key vocabulary, names of leaders, government ideologies, economic philosophies, and other items. Students would be asked to form their own categories and classify the items appropriately. This teacher-directed classifying activity allows the students the opportunity to organize information effectively. This promotes reasoning and also retention of that important inter-war knowledge. Yet another pattern of reasoning is inductive reasoning. With inductive reasoning, consideration of various facts and specific information leads to a general concept. This is a marvelous thinking strategy to help students manipulate huge amounts of information that they possibly do not understand or simply will forget. If students can induce a generalization, this can help associate vast amounts of detailed content. They may forget specifics over time, but they will remember the generalization. A superb example of inductive reasoning is the act of viewing a film. “Viewing a film or video is an inductive process; the spectator abstracts from concrete visual and aural information” (Nicholson and Zadra, 1998, p.4). As inductive thinking occurs, many types of supporting information and details are given in a concise and concrete fashion (1998). Viewers of film and video are able to reference that information not only in context of setting and situation, but also facial expression, vocal expression, musical expression, and other factors that can affect understanding (1998). Simply put, video allows for a highly-compressed
The Patterns of Reasoning nugget of complex information to be conveyed from which the viewer can discern overall meaning (1998). A way to integrate this technique and assess inductive reasoning in the US History classroom would involve a unit on the Roaring 1920s. Students would be given lots of rich detail about the trends of the 1920s in fashion styles, popular culture fads, sports, crime, politics, music, and social behaviors without any generalizations being made whatsoever. In addition, they would be shown a clip of a party scene from the movie, The Great Gatsby. Afterwards, they would be assigned the task of constructing an essay that incorporates the events, trends, styles, fads, laws, and culture into one concept or theme about the decade. As always, clear expectations in the form of a grading rubric and possibly a model essay from a different unit would be provided. No discussion of inductive reasoning can take place without mentioning deductive
thinking as another pattern of reasoning. Deductive, of course, means being given the concept or rule first and then generating the specific evidence to back up the generalization. Dr. Marzano goes a step further and describes deductive thinking as the process of using a general concept to make predictions (2001). His research suggests that deductive reasoning actually contributes to higher student achievement than inductive (2001, p.106). He attributes this to the possibility that students may not have the experiences and prior knowledge to generate predictions and that students may experience more success if teachers present principles directly to students first before they make predictions (2001). Therefore, a method to inspire deductive reasoning in a US History classroom would be to present the Mark Twain characterization of the late 1800s in the United States as the Gilded Age. Next, the teacher could make sure students understand what gilded means and then release students to find evidence to support that characterization. Again,
The Patterns of Reasoning an essay with clearly stated objectives could be used to appropriately assess the student deductions. The seventh and final pattern of reasoning that Dr. Stiggins identifies is evaluative (2008). This reasoning involves applying criteria to judge the value of something and
immediately brings to mind the idea of defending an argument. The crucial element for teachers in facilitating this reasoning according to Dr. Stiggins is to “help students understand the criteria they should be applying when they defend their point of view on the issue” (2008, p.61). Once this is accomplished, students can get busy applying the criteria and developing a sound argument for their opinion. A great activity that could be adapted in the US History classroom as both a review strategy and a method to garner student evaluative reasoning would be to have students defend a personal list of the five greatest US Presidents and the five least effective US Presidents. When assessment is considered, Dr. Stiggins gives warning that evaluative reasoning cannot be tested by selected response because an argument is defended (2008). With evaluative reasoning assessment, answers are not just right or wrong (2008). A more appropriate assessment method would be perhaps an oral presentation by the student with criteria based arguments provided. This would allow for reasoning assessment and the honing of important student oral communication skills as well. In conclusion, after delving into Dr. Stiggins’ specific patterns of reasoning and studying the views of several other authors, the support is evident that these patterns of reasoning are indeed worthwhile to a student’s overall achievement and learning. These types of reasoning can be developed in students using a variety of strategies and assessments if the teacher does proper planning and preparation of the teaching method, communication of grading criteria and
The Patterns of Reasoning
expectations, and finally the selection of an appropriately matched assessment. The capacity to reason is an extraordinary human ability just waiting to be cultivated in students. Hats off to the educators like Dr. Stiggins, who inspire teachers with their research and theories and also to those teachers, who aspire to emphasize reasoning in their classrooms every single day.
The Patterns of Reasoning References
Bloom, Benjamin S. (Ed.), et al. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals; By a committee of college and university examiners. New York: D. McKay Co., Inc. Booker, Michael J. (2007). A roof without walls: Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy and the misdirection of American education. Academic Questions, v20, n4, December, 347-355. Retrieved October 24, 2009, from EBSCOHost database. Brandt, Ron. (1992). On performance assessment: A conversation with Grant Wiggins. Educational Leadership, May, 35-37. Marzano, Robert J., Pickering Debra J., & Pollock, Jane E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Nicholson, David W., & Zadra, Shelli S. (1998). Much ado about muffins: A practical approach to the use of video in classroom presentations. International Journal of Instructional Media, 25.3, Summer, 229. Retrieved October 24, 2009, from Academic OneFile database. Stiggins, Rick. (2008). An introduction to student-involved assessment for learning (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
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