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Critical Thinking & ICTs – Part 2

19 May

In Part 1 I looked at three models which might be helpful in building a framework for understanding how ICTs and Thinking Skills offer affordances for enhancing students’ critical thinking abilities. I would like to start by looking at ways in which Bloom’s Taxonomy might be integrated with Semantic Wave Theory.

Bloom’s Taxonomy remains probably the best known framework for evaluating thinking in the classroom, but is of little practical use beyond a general sense that there needs to be more higher order thinking, or that a certain percentage of any examination questions need to call on higher order thinking. What it does not reflect is the interdependence of Lower & Higher Order Thinking, However, if we see thinking as a process over time, and not a discrete moment fixed in time, then it becomes clear that what is crucial to critical thinking is how ideas are linked, situated in context, grounded in evidence and logically connected.

If we look at Maton’s (2014) work on semantic waves, discussed more fully in Part 1, or how meaning is constructed and deconstructed in the classroom, we can see how critical thinking depends upon movements between abstraction and the concrete. Any claim of knowledge rests upon the logical coherence of the claim and upon its foundation in the evidentiary base. Maton’s (2014) work on semantic profiles suggests that in classroom talk, or student essays, it is the range between abstraction and the concrete that makes for rich, generative thinking. Talking in abstractions alone, or just in concrete terms does not lead to what we might recognise as critical thinking.

Two common classroom routines involve the teacher unpacking an idea for students, giving examples, metaphors, anecdotes which help them understand the concept. This represents a strengthening of semantic gravity, an unpacking of academic language, appealing to the ordinary everyday to help mediate the content and grow understanding. Learning, however, depends on the contrary movement, the student’s ability to take the raw stuff of experience and draw conclusions, analyse, synthesise and shape their thoughts into more abstract, academic formulations. This represents a lowering of semantic gravity and lies at the heart of what we expect those who display critical thinking to do.

I would argue that it is useful to think of Bloom’s taxonomy in terms of a full semantic profile which both strengthens and weakens semantic gravity as ideas are unpacked and repacked in the unique voice and understanding of the student. Higher Order Thinking (HOT) occurs, I would suggest, when the distance between abstraction and the concrete is bridged and where the amplitude of the wave is most significant. Lower Order Thinking (LOT), by contrast represents shallower crests and troughs. Remembering, Understanding and Applying, considered Lower Order Thinking skills involves less movement between abstraction and contextualisation than the Higher Order Skills of Analysing, Evaluating or Creating.

Let us be clear that both LOTS and HOTS are vital to all thinking. But it is useful to think of critical thinking as being characterised by fuller and more complete movement between the concrete and the abstract. Scientific Laws, such as Boyle’s Law, are formulated after repeated experimentation, measurement, observation and hypothesis formation. The Humanities likewise depend upon the formulation of abstract concepts, supported by rich contextual evidence. In the discipline of History, for example, a concept such as Hobsbawm’s Social Banditry draws from commonalities observed in a range of historical contexts, all of which provide support for the formulation of the concept and its ability to illuminate a narrative.

In this way I believe we can usefully conceive of Semantic Wave Profiles as descriptions of the direction of critical thinking, the strengthening or weakening of semantic gravity and Bloom’s Taxonomy as an indicator of the amplitude. The crucial takeaway for teachers is the need to provide opportunities for these movements of semantic gravity. Semantic profiles offer a way to visualise what is needed to create the conditions for better critical thinking and better learning.

In the next part of this article, I would like to suggest ways in which we can extend this framework to incorporate key insights from the Paul – Elder approach discussed in Part 1.

Bibliography

Anderson, L.W., Krathwohl, D.R., Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., Wittrock, M.C. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Pearson, Allyn & Bacon.

Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Maton, K. (2014). Building powerful knowledge: The significance of semantic waves. In Knowledge and the Future of the Curriculum (pp. 181-197). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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