Developing Young Thinkers: Discovering Baseline Understandings of Effective Thinking among Children and Teachers and Intervening to Enhance Thinking Skills
Burke, Lynsey A
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This thesis considers teachers’ and pupils’ conceptions of effective thinking, and analyses how these are developed through an explicit thinking skills intervention. An analysis of children’s concepts of intelligence has shown that, with age, children tend to associate ‘cleverness’ with knowledge acquisition rather than active thinking. Perhaps as a reflection of this it is increasingly popular to teach thinking skills in schools, although how best to support practitioners in this task remains contested. This thesis presents findings from three linked studies conducted to discover pupils’ and practitioners’ understandings of ‘effective thinking’ (which few research studies have attempted) before intervening to explicitly enhance children’s thinking skills. Study 1 was questionnaire-based and investigated teachers’ definitions of effective thinking, their views of thinking skills taught within the curriculum and whether thinking skills are fostered developmentally. 127 questionnaires were returned representing teachers from 36 primary schools in central Scotland. A qualitative analysis of teachers’ concepts indicated that many did not have a clear understanding of ‘effective thinking’. Quantitative data indicated that practitioners believe thinking skills are more frequently integrated into some curricular areas than others and highlighted the lack of a developmental progression of thinking skills being taught throughout primary school. In Study 2, 75 children were interviewed with 25 children from each of the following ages: 5, 7 and 11 years. This study explored the development of children’s definitions of intelligence and effective thinking and the characteristics and causes associated with each. It also produced novel data on how children’s knowledge of thinking skills changes over time. Content analysis revealed age trends in children’s definitions of intelligence, as, with age, children were increasingly likely to hold cognitive views and incorporate knowledge into those definitions. Whilst no age trends were found in children’s concepts of effective thinking, with all three age groups defining it as a cognitive ability, clear developmental trends emerged in children’s understandings of individual thinking skills. The final study (involving 178 primary 7 pupils and their teachers) challenged these concepts through an intervention designed to evaluate the effects of infusing thinking skills throughout the curriculum, and investigated the belief that collaborative learning enhances thinking skills. There were three intervention conditions: collaborative, individual and control. Six thinking skills were focused on, with training sessions and curricular lesson plans devised to support practitioners. The intervention lessons were based on an identified underpinning pedagogy of effective thinking (i.e., making the thinking skill explicit; fostering appropriate thinking dispositions; developing metacognition and encouraging transfer). The intervention evaluation utilised standardised and study-specific pre- and post-tests. Results demonstrated statistically significant gains for the individual and collaborative learning conditions in a range of thinking skills. The greatest increase in performance was seen in the collaborative learning condition. These three studies highlight the importance of gathering baseline data on understandings of effective thinking before intervening to successfully develop awareness of the cognitive processes involved in ‘good thinking’ and enhance children’s thinking skills. The findings from this thesis have significant implications for education; practitioners need clearer guidance on how to teach a coherent developmental progression of thinking skills, and need to be supported when explicitly infusing thinking skills throughout the curriculum.