Skills and Best Practices
Three Types of Learning
Help students take stock of what they know and do not know. Help them to be conscious of how they fill in their knowledge gaps and to evaluate their own learning. The Taking Stock Table and KWL Charts are ways of organizing information and encouraging student thinking. Since this module requires students to gather information for problem solving and decision making, it may be useful to review the stages of thinking with students. As this site points out, students need to be encouraged to engage in various levels of thinking:
Cognitive is for mental skills (Knowledge), affective is for growth in feelings or emotional areas (Attitude), while psychomotor is for manual or physical skills (Skills). Trainers often refer to these as KAS, SKA, or KSA (Knowledge, Attitude, and Skills). This taxonomy of learning behaviors can be thought of as “the goals of the training process.” That is, after the training session, the learner should have acquired these new sills, knowledge, or attitudes.
Promoting Higher-Order Thinking Skills
Make the classroom be a “thoughtful one.” Such a classroom emphasizes higher-order thinking skills. Teachers committed to this best practice do the following:
- Promote study of a small number of topics in depth as opposed to superficial coverage of many topics
- Make certain that lessons are planned and taught with coherence and with a close tie to one other
- Allow students to think through answers to questions before being asked to respond
- Ask questions that emphasize analysis and interpretation over the recall and repetition of information
- Entertain and encourage consideration of different points of view and their justifications
- Challenge students to explain their reasoning
Clarify and Refine Important Concepts
Concepts are categories for grouping and understanding phenomena. When students clarify and refine concepts, they focus on defining terms, on making distinctions between examples and non-examples, on showing how concepts relate to each other, and on making concepts meaningful by relating them to prior knowledge. Teachers committed to clarifying concepts do the following:
- Present examples and non-examples of concepts seeking a “best example” for the concept
- Cue students on those attributes that are critical attributes for the concept by focusing on the examples and non-examples and having students discuss their similarities and differences. (The Venn Diagrams are a good tool for exploring examples and non-examples.)
- Provide students with evaluations of their efforts to identify the critical attributes illustrated by the examples and non-examples
- Help students to enunciate and explain a definition of the concept
- Help students to recognize whether the concept is a complex one which may have fuzzy boundaries, help them to enunciate salient features of the concept, and help them to understand and explain how different people may hold different conceptions and definitions of the concept.
- Help students, through questions or discussion, to relate the concept to themselves and to their prior learning
Critical Thinking Skills
There is a growing body of knowledge that indicates that students can learn to think critically and to apply modes of thinking appropriate to social studies when such skills are taught explicitly in connection with social studies content. Teachers may help students with critical thinking skills by focusing on the following tasks:
- Help students to understand the problem or challenge facing them
- Help students individually or in groups to come up with plans of attack for addressing the problem or challenge
- Help students work toward the solution of their problem using their plans of attack
- Help students evaluate their solution of the problem through a rigorous assessment
Cooperative learning also contributes to higher-order thinking.
Cooperative learning has become increasingly popular in the last few years. The use of technology in the educational setting is also a relatively new phenomenon. The combination of cooperative learning and technology seems to be a match that could improve several aspects of education and learning. A great deal of research indicates that cooperative learning and the use of technology, separately, have positive effects on cognitive and affective learning. Some research, analyzing the combination of cooperative learning with technology, indicates positive results as well. However, there are few models that integrate cooperative learning with both technological and non-technological approaches to promote retention, understanding, and problem solving. Elements of teaching that promote higher-level thinking skills necessary for problem solving include discussions, reading, writing, summarizing, real-life situations, and collaboration.