ERIC Identifier: ED350487 Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Higher Order Thinking Skills in Vocational Education. ERIC
Digest No. 127.
From the movement to integrate vocational and academic education to the
proposals of the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS
1991) and others, the message is clear. Higher order thinking skills are
essential and must be taught. Recent findings of cognitive research provide a
better understanding of how people learn and how they solve problems, from which
new teaching strategies are emerging. This ERIC DIGEST defines higher order
skills, presents arguments for developing thinking skills in vocational
education and describes strategies and applications in vocational settings.
WHY VOCATIONAL EDUCATION?
The ability to think creatively,
make decisions, solve problems, visualize, reason, analyze, interpret, and know
how to learn--these skills are most often mentioned in definitions of critical
thinking. Characteristics of critical thinkers are perseverance, flexibility,
metacognition, transfer of knowledge, problem orientation, open mindedness, use
of quality standards, and independence (Lee 1989), a list that resembles many
descriptions of the desirable qualities of the future work force. As the nature
of work changes and people live and work longer, it is clear that the skills
needed for a "40 to 50 year work life" (THINK ABOUT IT, TOO! 1988) are the
capacities to learn continuously through thinking and reasoning, problem
solving, decision making, and interpersonal competence. These skills are not
only critical to work; they are also needed to deal with the increasingly
complex spheres of family, community, and society.
Why should vocational education be involved in developing thinking skills? It
is often assumed that this is the role of academic education. However, Thomas
(1992) cites the following arguments for vocational education's role: (1)
occupations are becoming more reliant on cognitive capacities; (2) the changing
work environment requires flexibility and adaptability to changing conditions;
and (3) vocational education provides a real-world context for cognitive
development. "One of the ways to prepare future employees is to teach students
how to think instead of what to think" (Chalupa 1992, p. 21). As the SCANS
(1991) report notes, this does not imply a narrow work-focused education.
Rather, vocational education is a vehicle for developing the cognitive skills
needed for "a productive, full, and satisfying life" (p. vi).
Cognitive research demonstrates that (1) learning is not automatically
transferred to new settings; (2) context is critical to understanding; (3)
passive learning does not develop cognitive management skills; and (4) higher
order learning is not a change in behavior but the construction of meaning from
experience (Johnson and Thomas 1992; Thomas 1992). Different teaching
strategies, alternative assessment methods, and new ways of teacher preparation
WHAT STRATEGIES DEVELOP THESE SKILLS?
identifies three types of cognitive theories upon which teaching strategies can
be based. Information processing theory explains how the mind takes in
information. Knowledge structure theories depict how knowledge is represented
and organized in the mind. Social history theory explains the vital role of
cultural context in the development of individual thinking. Together, these
three perspectives offer a comprehensive view of cognition. In this view,
learning is characterized as an active process in which the learner constructs
knowledge as a result of interaction with the physical and social environment.
Learning is moving from basic skills and pure facts to linking new information
with prior knowledge; from relying on a single authority to recognizing multiple
sources of knowledge; from novice-like to expert-like problem solving.
Johnson and Thomas (1992) present five general principles and related
teaching methods that integrate aspects of all three perspectives:
Help Students Organize Their Knowledge. External memory aids such as concept
maps (visual representations of concepts and their relationships) ease the
information overload on working memory.
Build on What Students Already Know. Advance organizers such as rules,
analogies, or concrete instances help students recognize the similarities
between new information and previously acquired knowledge.
Facilitate Information Processing. Teachers model problem solving, demonstrating
their thought processes, strategy selection, and response to mistakes.
Facilitate Deep Thinking through Elaboration. Cooperative learning techniques
such as peer tutoring or paired problem solving (in which one student thinks
aloud during the process of solving a problem) make students observe and modify
their own thinking processes.
Make Thinking Processes Explicit. In reciprocal teaching, the teacher models
desired metacognitive processes by reading a paragraph, asking questions,
summarizing, and predicting what would happen next in the text. Students
gradually take on the teacher's role.
These strategies demonstrate that the teacher's role in developing thinking
skills differs from traditional instruction. One metaphor for this new role is
"a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage" (Thomas 1992, p. 54). The
following teacher behaviors promote cognitive development (Chalupa 1992; Lee
1989; Thomas 1992):
justification for ideas and probing for reasoning strategies
students with alternatives and thought-provoking questions
students to be accountable for class discussion
as a master of apprentices rather than a teacher of students
Socratic discussion techniques
Classroom environments that support higher order thinking have the following
characteristics (Stasz et al. 1990; Thomas 1992):
of real-life situations and contexts
among teachers, disciplines, students
of curiosity, exploration, and investigation
for learning vested in the learner
viewed as a learning opportunity
of effort, not just performance
Chalupa (1992) describes inservice training that helps teachers remodel
lesson plans and incorporate knowledge of learning styles in cognitive
development. This approach to lesson development involves identifying What is
essential for students to know? What is nice to know? What is "fluff"? Learning
and teaching styles are assessed by such instruments as the Myers-Briggs Type
Indicator and Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal. Higher order thinking
objectives specify student performance that requires application, analysis,
synthesis, and evaluation of information (Miller 1990).
Assessing the achievement of higher order thinking skills is a challenge
because the qualities of learners' thinking and knowledge must be observed, not
just their results or products (Thomas 1992). Existing right and wrong answer
approaches to testing are clearly inadequate. In fact, "assessment" rather than
"testing" is recommended (SCANS 1991; Thomas 1992). New forms of evaluation
being developed include the Tailored Response Test, stimulated recall, scenario
analysis, and concept mapping. Existing methods such as true/false, multiple
choice, and essay can be adapted by having students indicate why an answer is
false, asking how two things are similar or different, or requiring evaluation
or critique (Chalupa 1992). Scoring can involve giving credit for reasoning
(Heyman and Daly 1992).
HOW ARE THESE SKILLS DEVELOPED IN VOCATIONAL EDUCATION?
technology education, the Enterprise Project requires students to design, test,
manufacture, and market a product they select. They must use creativity, problem
solving, and logic to understand the processes of bringing a product to market
and the potential social and environmental impacts (THINK ABOUT IT, TOO! 1988).
economics students can use cooperative learning, debate, and problem solving to
explore how to manage the dual role of homemaker and wage earner (ibid.).
students receive background information on chemical fertilizers and a
demonstration by an instructor, extension agent, farmer, or sales
representative. Student groups then conduct soil analysis, develop fertilizer
application plans, present results, and discuss ethical and soil conservation
issues (Haynes and Schroeder 1989).
education students participate in a seminar to analyze and evaluate their
internship experiences by keeping weekly logs of facts, activities, and
incidents and analyzing them using Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive processes.
Students synthesize meaning from their daily work experiences (applying theory
to real life), explore their relationship to work and society, and learn about
career decision making (Stephenson-Miles 1990).
of advance organizers in technology education include the analogy of the
workings of a flashlight to introduce the concept of electronic circuits, a
bicycle to help students understand mechanical advantage and gear ratios, and
the human heart as an example of a hydraulic system.
revising lesson plans to include higher order components, a traditional lesson
objective (writing a resume and application letter), activities (discuss
characteristics, create resume), and test questions (list categories of
information in a resume and application letter) become--in a critical thinking
lesson plan--objectives (examine how the importance of categories of information
changes over time, evaluate sample resumes and letters), activities (discuss why
one would or would not select a hypothetical applicant), and test questions
(given two resumes and letters, select a candidate and justify the reasons)
(1990) transforms a typical lesson on nutrients and nutrient deficiency (list
and describe classes of nutrients and symptoms of deficiency, read chapter,
observe cases of deficiencies, explain three functions of water in the body)
into a higher order thinking lesson involving discussion of how components of a
balanced diet are determined, diagnosis of symptoms of nutrient deficiencies in
a lab activity, and an open-ended test question.
Developing higher-level cognitive capacities goes beyond giving a lesson or
two on thinking skills. Applying cognitive development principles in vocational
curriculum and instruction builds on the strengths of vocational education to
develop higher order skills needed in the spheres of work, family, community,
Chalupa, M. R. "Critical Thinking--Getting Minds
to Work." BUSINESS EDUCATION FORUM 47, no. 1 (October 1992): 21-24.
Haynes, T. B., and Schroeder, C. "Activities to Stimulate Critical Thinking."
VOCATIONAL EDUCATION JOURNAL 64, no. 5 (August 1989): 30-31. (EJ 394 612)
Heyman, G. A., and Daly, E. R. "Teaching Critical Thinking in
Vocational-Technical and Occupational Classes." NEW DIRECTIONS FOR COMMUNITY
COLLEGES no. 77 (Spring 1992): 103-108. (ED 342 453)
Johnson, S. D., and Thomas, R. "Technology Education and the Cognitive
Revolution." TECHNOLOGY TEACHER 51, no. 4 (January 1992): 7-12. (EJ 435 379)
Lee, H. D. THINKING SKILLS AND COACHING STRATEGIES WORKSHOP. Menomonie:
Center for Vocational, Technical, and Adult Education, University of
Wisconsin-Stout, 1989. (ED 321 077)
Miller, C. "Higher-Order Thinking: An Integrated Approach for Your
Classroom." VOCATIONAL EDUCATION JOURNAL 65, no. 6 (October 1990): 26-27, 69.
(EJ 414 533)
Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. WHAT WORK REQUIRES OF
SCHOOLS. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1991. (ED 332 054)
Stasz, C.; McArthur, D.; Lewis, M.; and Ramsey, K. TEACHING AND LEARNING
GENERIC SKILLS FOR THE WORKPLACE. Berkeley: National Center for Research in
Vocational Education, University of California, 1990. (ED 329 682)
Stephenson-Miles, B. "Composition and Critical Thinking through Cooperative
Education." Conference paper, 1990. (ED 320 632)
THINK ABOUT IT, TOO! A COLLECTION OF ARTICLES ON HIGHER ORDER THINKING SKILLS. Austin: Texas Education Agency, 1988. (ED 333 003)
Thomas, R. G. COGNITIVE THEORY-BASED TEACHING AND LEARNING IN VOCATIONAL
EDUCATION. INFORMATION SERIES NO. 349. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult,
Career, and Vocational Education, 1992. (ED 345 109)
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