Thinking Skills in Education

Analytical Comparison of Four Frameworks:
Integrated Design Method, Dimensions of Thinking,
Infusion of Thinking Skills, Four Frames of Knowledge

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.
 


 
 
    1. Integrated Design Method — An Integrated Framework for Thinking
      A central goal of education is helping students learn how to think more effectively.  In our efforts to achieve this goal, one valuable teaching tool is the system of problem-solving methods used in design and science, as represented in my models of Integrated Design Method (IDM) and Integrated Scientific Method (ISM), which are two aspects of an integrated framework for thinking skills.  There are two objectives for IDM-and-ISM:  to allow an accurate description of methods (of what designers and scientists think and do when they are solving problems) and to be useful for education.
      Integrated Design Method (IDM) is a model for problem solving.  It is a logically organized framework for thinking skills:  IDM is an integrated system that shows how different aspects of thinking are related and how they can be effectively coordinated.  Another level of integration occurs when IDM provides a "common context" by showing that similar thinking skills and methods are used in a wide variety of activities.  If IDM is used in a wide variety of areas, then (especially when teachers call attention to the transitive logic that "if science uses IDM and history uses IDM and music uses IDM, then the methods of thinking used in science and history and music are related") students will recognize that much of what they are learning in one area of school can be transferred to other areas and can be used in practical real-life situations.
 


COLOR CODINGRED is an important term, DARK BLUE is a quotation, and PURPLE is explained below.
RESOURCE-PAGES are available for CRITICAL THINKING & CREATIVE THINKING & PROBLEM SOLVING.

 
 
    2. Dimensions of Thinking: A Framework for Curriculum & Instruction

      Comparing Two Frameworks
      To illustrate the unifying potential of Integrated Design Method, this page begins by examining Dimensions of Thinking: A Framework for Curriculum and Instruction (1988, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), an excellent book written by seven educators: Robert Marzano, plus Brandt, Hughes, Jones, Presseisen, Rankin, and Suhor.  In the purple-colored text, a summary of Chapters 1-4 and (in a little more depth) Chapter 5 will show how actions in Dimensions of Thinking are related to actions in Integrated Design Method, and how these two "frameworks for thinking" are compatible and mutually supportive, and how IDM could serve as a unifying structure for our teaching of thinking skills and methods:

      In Dimensions of Thinking, Chapter 1 — Thinking as the Foundation of Schooling — emphasizes the centrality and importance of thinking in education.
      In Chapter 2, the authors define metacognition as "being aware of our thinking as we perform specific tasks and then using this awareness to control what we are doing."  { All quotations in this section are from Dimensions of Thinking. }
      Chapter 3 explains how creative thinking and critical thinking operate as a cooperative team: "They complement each other, share many attributes,... and both are necessary to achieve any worthy goal."  Creativity is "the ability to form new combinations of ideas to fulfill a need," to produce ideas that will be useful.  Critical thinking, defined broadly, is "reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do."  { It is important to recognize that critical thinking is just evaluative thinking that is not necessarily negative and does not always lead to criticism.  Critical thinking can also lead to an enthusiastically positive conclusion about the idea being evaluated. }
      Chapters 2 and 3 of Dimensions describe two broad functions of IDM:  to promote metacognitive "thinking about thinking" and to provide a structure that shows how creativity and criticality can be fluently combined in problem solving.

      Chapters 4 and 5 distinguish between a skill and a process: "What we call thinking skills are simpler cognitive operations such as observing, comparing, or inferring."  A thinking process "involves using a sequence of skills intended to achieve a particular outcome."  A process "orchestrates numerous skills" and is directed toward achieving an objective.  Compared with a skill, a process "is broader in scope, and takes a longer time to complete." 

      Chapter 4 describes three types of Thinking Process:  Knowledge Acquisition by Concept Formation, Principle Formation, and Comprehension;  and Knowledge Production or Knowledge Application by Problem Solving, Decision Making, Research (Scientific Inquiry), Composition ("the process of conceiving and developing a product"), or Oral Discourse (dialog).
      The essence of IDM, its main function and purpose, is to serve as a framework for understanding and mastering the applications of knowledge that occur in problem solving, decision making, research, and composition.  But IDM can also be useful in promoting the production and acquisition of knowledge, as explained in the discussion of Chapter 5 that follows.

      Chapter 5 examines 21 thinking skills in 8 categories.  After a brief description of the skills in each category (slightly rearranged by me) I'll explain how the skills in Dimensions are related to actions in IDM.
      Focusing Skills are used to stimulate and guide action "after an individual senses a problem, an issue, or a lack of meaning."  Focusing can take the form of Defining Problems (to clarify what, why, who, when,...), Setting Goals (to "establish direction and purpose") or Formulating Questions (to "clarify issues and meaning through inquiry; good questions focus attention on important information and are designed to generate new information").
      Information-Gathering Skills are "used to bring to consciousness the content to be used for cognitive processing."  The information "may already be stored, or may be newly collected."  Recalling is retrieving old information from long-term memory.  Elaborating "involves adding details, explanations, examples, or other relevant information from prior knowledge in order to improve understanding."  Observing is obtaining new information "from the environment... through one or more senses."
      As explained in an outline of IDM , the process of design begins by recognizing a problem (which, broadly defined, is an opportunity to make things better or to prevent things from getting worse) and defining an overall objective.  Following this, you can define goals for the desired characteristics of the product, strategy, or theory that is the objective.  As defined in Dimensions of Thinking, the Focusing Skills deal primarily with defining the objective(s) that will motivate and guide all actions during the process of design.
      The first action — which begins before objectives are defined because observational information provides the basis for recognizing that a problem/opportunity exists — is to gather information.  Dimensions emphasizes that information can be old or new.  In IDM these two ways to gather occur in the SEARCH mode (to remember old observations) and TEST mode (to produce new observations).
      In the diagram below, two skills from Dimensions (focus and gather information) are correlated with the corresponding actions in IDM (define overall objective and the four-step process of producing observations).




      Generating Skills that "add information beyond what is given" are "essentially constructive, as connections among new ideas and prior knowledge are made by building a coherent organization of ideas (i.e., schema) that holds the new and old information together."  Predicting is usually done "by assessing the likelihood of an outcome based on prior knowledge of how things usually turn out" to produce "a statement anticipating the outcomes of a situation."  Inferring involves "going beyond available information to identify what reasonably may be true. ...  Deductive reasoning is the ability to extend an existing principle or idea in a logical manner;  inductive reasoning refers to making generalizations and logical statements based on observation or analysis of various cases."
      The skill of "generate, by using logic and creativity" (from Dimensions) appears on the left side of the IDM diagram above, because predicting (in Dimensions) is the four-step process of producing predictions (in IDM), and inferring (in Dimensions) occurs in the retroductive logic (in IDM) that creatively generates a theory (by aiming for predictions that match known observations) or a product-idea (by aiming for predictions that match your goals for a product).   { Retroduction is discussed in the context of "Goal-Oriented Invention of Products" in A Detailed Overview of Design Method. }

      Evaluating Skills are used to "assess the reasonableness and quality of ideas."  Establishing Criteria is "setting standards for judging the value or logic of ideas.  These criteria are rational principles derived from culture, experience, and instruction."  Verifying (or falsifying) can be the result of evaluating "the truth of an idea, using specific standards or criteria of evaluation."  Identifying Errors "involves detecting mistakes in logic, calculations, procedures, and knowledge, and where possible, identifying their causes and making corrections or changes in thinking."
      The action of establishing criteria (in Dimensions) is setting goals (in IDM), and verifying (in Dimensions) corresponds (in IDM) to evaluate theory and (if we stretch the scope of Dimensions to include more than just theories) evaluate product.  The action of identifying errors is implicit in IDM;  if evaluation leads you and another person to reach different conclusions, then either one of you has made an error, or each of you has reached a valid "alternative conclusion."

      The skills in the next three categories — organizing, analyzing, and integrating — are useful for gaining a deeper understanding of concepts:
      Organizing Skills are used to "arrange information so it can be understood or presented more effectively."  Comparing is "identifying similarities and differences between or among entities."  Classifying is "grouping items into categories on the basis of their attributes."  Ordering is "sequencing entities according to a given criterion."  Representing occurs when "a learner makes information more meaningful and cohesive" by "changing its form to show how critical elements are related."  Encoding is the process of organizing information in memory so it can be recalled.
      Analyzing Skills "are used to clarify existing information by examining parts and relationships."  A thinker can identify Attributes and Components ("the parts that together constitute a whole"), Relationships and Patterns (that can be "causal, hierarchical, temporal, spatial, correlational, or metaphorical" or...), and Main Ideas (plus key details).  When applied to a theory, analysis helps us understand.  When applied to an argument, analysis helps us think about the credibility of assumptions, observations, reasonings, and claims.
      As partners of analyzing skills, Integrating Skills involve "putting together the relevant parts or aspects of a solution, understanding, principle, or composition... by building meaningful connections between incoming information and prior knowledge, incorporating this integrated information into a new understanding."  Summarizing "is combining information efficiently into a cohesive statement."  Restructuring "is changing existing knowledge structures to incorporate new information.  Because of new insights, the learner actively modifies, extends, reorganizes, or even discards past understandings. ...  This recasting of ideas is a major part of conceptual growth, and ultimately of cognitive development."
      In IDM the focal point for all of these skills is theory, which is defined broadly so it includes organized systems of concepts in science (physical, biological, social, economic,...) and in math, business, and other areas, and also interpretations of events in real life (in current or historical situations) and in fiction.  IDM can help students understand how theories are constructed (by inference), why they are accepted or rejected (due to evaluation), and how they can be useful (for predicting) during the process of solving problems in many types of design.  Because IDM is closely related to ISM (Integrated Scientific Method) and because scientific method is the process of designing theories the potential educational value of IDM-and-ISM in promoting the learning of theories (i.e., concepts, principles, comprehensions,...) is further enhanced.  IDM and/or ISM can also help students understand the relationships between conceptual knowledge (gaining a deeper, more accurate understanding of concepts and situations) and procedural knowledge (in a wide variety of activities that include, but are not limited to, the production and utilization of conceptual knowledge).

      As discussed above, there is a close connection between the thinking skills and methods in IDM and in Dimensions of Thinking: A Framework for Curriculum and Instruction.  Thus, it seems likely that IDM could be smoothly integrated with the type of "education for thinking" recommended by the authors of Dimensions and by many other educators.  Because it provides a common context that is shared by many areas, the transitive nature of IDM (which connects with many areas, thus connecting them with each other) might help students understand the similarities between thinking methods in different areas of the curriculum, and might promote a transfer of skills from one area to another.
 


 
      3. A Strategy for Instruction (Robert Swartz)
      A central goal of many educators is to help students learn how to think more effectively.  Robert Swartz (director of the National Center for Teaching Thinking) and Sandra Parks, in their book on Infusing the Teaching of Critical and Creative Thinking into Elementary Instruction, emphasize the importance of thinking skills, and then explain their approach to instruction:
      "Improving the quality of student thinking is an explicit priority of current educational reform efforts. ...  Good thinking is essential in a technologically oriented, multicultural world. ...  Our students must be prepared to exercise critical judgment and creative thinking to gather, evaluate, and use information for effective problem solving and decision making in their jobs, in their professions, and in their lives."
      "Infusing critical and creative thinking into content instruction blends features of two contrasting instructional approaches that educators have taken to teaching thinking: (1) direct instruction of thinking in noncurricular contexts and (2) the use of methods which promote thinking in content lessons."  As in Approach #1 (but not #2) infusion lessons "employ direct instruction in the thinking skills and processes that they are designed to improve" but (unlike #1) "are not taught in separate courses or programs outside the regular curriculum." (Swartz & Parks, 1994)
      The authors also explain the difference between "methods that promote thinking... [but] remain content oriented" and methods that, in addition to promoting content learning, also use direct instruction that is designed to improve thinking skills.  In an infusion approach there is a dual emphasis on content and process, on conceptual knowledge and procedural knowledge, on deeper understanding and improved thinking.

      The framework for thinking skills employed by Swartz and Parks is similar to that in Dimensions of Thinking, but is distinctive in important ways.  Because it is designed to make a direct connection with teachers — "this handbook presents a teacher-oriented approach to improving student thinking that blends sound theory and effective classroom practice" — the overall framework in Infusion of Thinking is simpler, with three categories of skills (Clarification and Understanding, Creative Thinking, and Critical Thinking) plus two types of objectives (Decision Making and Problem Solving).  As in Dimensions, each skill category is expanded into a number of skills: in Infusion the 3 categories encompass 7 sub-categories and 16 skills.
      Overall, the coverage in Infusion is similar to that in Dimensions and IDM, but there is a difference in emphasis.  In Dimensions, for example, Creative Thinking is discussed (along with Critical Thinking) in Chapter 3, but is not explicitly included in the Thinking Methods (Chapter 4) or Thinking Skills (Chapter 5).  But in Dimensions, Creative Thinking is one of the 3 major categories that is then elaborated into skills:  Creative Thinking involves using Multiplicity of Ideas (Fluency), Varied Ideas (Flexibility), New Ideas (Originality), and Detailed Ideas (Elaboration) to Generate Alternative Possibilities, and using Analogy/Metaphor to Combine Ideas.  This explicit analysis into specific skills makes it more likely that, in the classroom, teachers will direct students' attention to the individual aspects of creative thinking.
      These "creative thinking skills" are included in the discussions of creativity in Dimensions and IDM, but do not appear in either framework.  However, the general category of Creative Thinking is in the Dimensions framework.  And in the IDM framework, creativity occurs whenever there is a need to generate: in Generate (select or invent) Ideas for Product, Generate (acquire or construct) Product, Design (generate and evaluate) Model of Product, and Design (generate and evaluate) Experimental System.  And creativity also appears in other actions, such as Defining an Objective (in IDM) or Elaborating (in Dimensions).
      Despite their superficial differences, however, all three frameworks agree about the characteristics and importance of creative thinking (and critical thinking and conceptual learning) and all agree that we can teach these skills more effectively, and we should.

      More information about the National Center for Teaching Thinking, an organization devoted to helping teachers improve the way they teach thinking skills, is available at their website, which includes What is Infusion? (it's an introduction to their teaching approach) and several infusion lessons{as with other italicized links, these pages will open in a separate new window}
 


 
      4. Four Frames of Knowledge (David Perkins)
      The remainder of this section, which describes another interesting approach to education in conceptual knowledge and procedural knowledge, is quoted from an early version of a proposal (Rusbult, 1996) for my Ph.D. dissertation:

      In an effort to encourage the development of instructional techniques that will help students develop a deep understanding of content and thinking skills, Perkins & Simmons (1988) propose an integrative model with four mutually interactive frames of knowledge: content, problem solving, epistemic, and inquiry.  After describing each frame in detail, along with examples that illustrate the detrimental effects of ignoring some frames during instruction, or of treating the frames in isolation from each other, the authors — based on their theory that "people learn much of what they have a direct opportunity and some motivation to learn, and little else" — recommend that "instruction should include all four frames... and should involve explicit articulation by teachers and/or students of the substance of the frames and their interrelationships."

      Some relationships between content and process are explicitly characterized in the Perkins-Simmons model with its four interactive frames of knowledge.  In science these frames can be described in terms of thinking skills: the content frame is learning scientific theories, problem solving involves using these theories, the epistemic frame is evaluating theories, and the focus of inquiry is inventing theories.  With this formulation, one way to explicitly articulate "the substance of the frames and their interrelationships" — and to pursue the educational benefits that may ensue — is to show how the frames operate in the context of science.  This is what my model of Integrated Scientific Method (ISM) will do.  [note: Since my dissertation was about ISM and its use in the analysis of instruction, the focus here is on ISM, but most of what is said also applies to IDM.]
      As a way to articulate the four frames, ISM will offer two distinct benefits:
      First, the visual organization of ISM could make it easier for students to understand essential relational patterns between the four thinking frames, to literally see how details fit into the "big picture" of science;  an explicit, logically organized visual model can help students construct their own mental models of science and thinking strategies (Mayer, 1993). ...  The visual representation of knowledge — especially when it is closely coordinated with verbal representation, as in the proposed model for ISM — can be a powerful tool for facilitating a deeper, more sophisticated understanding of conceptual organization.
      Second, although it is closely related to the four-frame model, scientific method is more familiar to scientists, study-of-science scholars, educators, teachers, and students, so it may be easier to communicate ideas effectively if they are expressed in terms of scientific method, used by itself or in conjunction with the four frames of knowledge.  This familiarity will also make it easier to connect with and to effectively utilize the large amount of thinking that has been done about the methods of science and their application to education.  .....
      ISM provides a way to explicitly articulate "the substance of the frames and their interrelationships," as recommended by Perkins & Simmons (1988).  "ISM could, by its use in curriculum planning, expand the range of opportunities for student learning experience to include all four frames of knowledge; and by its direct use in the classroom, ISM could also help students learn more from their experience by explicitly directing attention to important aspects of what can be learned, thus facilitating forward-reaching transfer (Salomon & Perkins, 1989) and intentional learning (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1989).  One valuable form of learning involves metaknowledge;  ISM could help students learn more about the integrated structure of knowledge and the consequent potential for gaining new knowledge.  For example, an improved knowledge of science-as-process can be used to gain an increase in knowledge of science-as-content." (Rusbult, 1996)
 


 
      Four Frameworks — Strategies and

      Methods for Teaching Thinking Skills

      This page has examined three frameworks for thinking skills and methods — Dimensions of Thinking, Infusion of Thinking Skills, and Four Frames of Knowledge — to show that these frameworks are compatible with IDM-and-ISM and with each other.  All four frameworks are mutually supportive, and these approaches (along with others) could be creatively blended to form an effective cooperative team, operating synergistically to improve education by curriculum development and in the classroom.
 
 

 
      Educational Standards
      I.O.U. — Sometime in the future, this page will be expanded to include the treatment of thinking in the "standards frameworks" for various areas, such as the National Science Education Standards.
 


I.O.U. — Eventually this page will begin with an introduction that briefly summarizes the main ideas from the page.

      Why did I rearrange some skills in Section 1?  Although the categories in Chapter 5 of Dimensions of Thinking are logical and useful, in and effort to more clearly show the connections between Dimensions and IDM I made five changes:  formulating questions was moved from gathering information into focusing because, like the other focusing skills, the main function of questions is to stimulate and guide action.  Originally categorized as remembering skills (which of course they are), encoding is also a type of conceptual organizing because it is used to organize concepts in memory, and recalling is a way to gather information from memory.  Because elaboration is the process of "adding... information from prior knowledge" I included it in gathering information, even though it also is a way to generate knowledge.  And although identifying errors is an analyzing skill, I moved it into evaluating because critical evaluation is the process that lets us identify logical errors.




This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
 a NON-ITALICIZED LINK opens another page.  Both keep everything inside this window, 
so your browser's BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.

OTHER PAGES:
If you like this page, you may also like the following related pages:

Using Creativity and Critical Thinking
in Science, Design, and Education

a sitemap for Thinking Skills in Education:
Scientific Method, Problem Solving, and Design

An Introduction to Design
how to design a product, strategy, or theory
(this includes almost everything we do in life!

Motivations (and strategies) for Learning
goal-directed personal motives for learning;  teamwork;
how a friend learned to weld, and how I didn't learn to ski

Aesop's Activities for Goal-Directed Education
a creative coordinating of goals and activities will
help students gain experience and learn from it


And the area of THINKING SKILLS has sub-areas of
Productive Thinking (Skills & Methods)
and Creative Thinking in Education
and Critical Thinking in Education


 This page, written by Craig Rusbult, has a URL of
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/think/skills.htm