ERIC Identifier: ED338704
Publication Date: 1991-12-00
Author: Glaser, Robert - Resnick, Lauren
Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation Washington DC.
National Research Center on Student Learning. ERIC/TM Digest.
The National Research Center on Student Learning (CSL) focuses on how
thinking skills affect what students learn in school. One of 23 national centers
funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, CSL is an integral
part of the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center
(LRDC). LRDC's mission is to conduct fundamental research on learning and to
construct scientific foundations for education and training.
WHAT ARE CSL'S GOALS?
In more and more dimensions, modern
society asks us to think critically, take initiative and responsibility, devise
goals and strategies, and grapple with intricate concepts that affect our
quality of life and work. For example, the demands of a changing workplace
require all American citizens, not just a fortunate few, to develop higher level
thinking and problem-solving skills, not just basic competency in reading and
computation. Similarly, a grasp of complicated social and political issues
requires us to interpret, question, and evaluate the terms in which social
issues are expressed or argued.
CSL conducts interdisciplinary research that informs and supports
thinking-oriented education in the United States. Modern cognitive research has
shown that instruction must do more, even at elementary levels, than directly
convey factual information. CSL studies how instruction can encourage students:
to ask questions about what they learn,
to invent new ways of solving problems,
to connect new knowledge to information they already have, and
to apply their knowledge and reasoning skills in new situations.
WHAT KINDS OF RESEARCH DOES CSL DO?
CSL research advances
our progress toward thinking-oriented education. Instead of devising specific
cognitive strategies that teachers cannot always convey directly, researchers
are reformulating concepts of general learning and thinking skills. Focusing on
metacognitive processes that teachers can nurture and encourage, this work
explores two processes that significantly enhance learning:
students' regulation of their own learning and
critical thinking and the elaboration of problems.
Other CSL projects provide knowledge that can help educators to teach
thinking and reasoning in specific disciplines. Each subject area has
characteristic ways of reasoning and problem solving, and a thinking curriculum
would expose students to all styles of thought and exploration. CSL is working
to build a substantial base of knowledge about the reasoning styles
characteristic of different school subjects--history, science, geography,
mathematics, and social science. CSL also investigates the nature and scope of
learning skills that apply across domains.
Researchers are exploring and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of
various aspects of instruction:
model-based reasoning, and
applications of scientific theory.
This research in domain-specific education will help CSL work with classroom
teachers in developing instruction that can shape proficient thinking.
Because knowledge provides the content for reasoning, CSL also studies how
knowledge itself develops and how students can best learn to construct and use
it actively. Researchers are studying how students' prior knowledge--the
preconceptions and mental models they derive from ordinary experience and bring
with them to the classroom--supports or impedes the knowledge and insight they
build in a domain. Other scientists are exploring key concepts that organize
large amounts of information in any discipline and make it accessible to
Many lines of CSL research also share an interest in the social contexts of
learning. CSL researchers are:
studying group discussions and the effects of conflicting
opinions among group members,
comparing discourse patterns in student teams with those in
teacher-led discussions, and
engaging students and teachers in collaboratively revising and
Finally, several CSL research projects are exploring the connections between
higher order learning skills and persistence, or motivation. A basic premise is
that motivation will rise in direct proportion to students' active cognitive
engagement. To demonstrate this connection, researchers are studying:
reasoning in history,
discovery and argumentation in mathematics,
the construction of explanations in science, and
socially shared learning.
Although CSL research projects share a theoretical base and many methods and
implications for practice, they are organized into three broad programs. Each of
the following programs encompasses several projects:
- Strategies for Thinking investigates the nature of potentially teachable
thinking and reasoning strategies. Projects focus on strategies that apply
broadly to learning, with special attention to how students monitor and manage
their own learning from texts and to processes of dialectical reasoning and
- Knowledge Foundations for Thinking focuses on several school disciplines,
revealing their core knowledge structures. Projects examine students' prior
knowledge and seek to identify powerful forms of instruction that take this
knowledge into account.
- Thinking in the Classroom studies learning in various classroom settings.
Projects analyze exemplary teaching, the structure of classroom activity and
discourse, and learning outcomes. Projects also examine instruction from
elementary grades through high school in science, history, and mathematics.