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Beyond The Information Given. Part 1.

Given the right experiences and a truly nurturing environment, how we can use our minds to go `beyond the information` given to us to solve problems outside of the parameters of the question.

Date : 17/07/2018

Marek

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Uploaded by : Marek
Uploaded on : 17/07/2018
Subject : Psychology

The title of my article comes from a book written by the Psychologist, Jerome Bruner in 1974. At the time I was a student training to be a teacher at Southampton University. To say that Bruner`s book had an effect on me and has done ever since, shows the scale of the impression it made on me as I was preparing for working with secondary age students for the rest of my career.

It is also the work that underpinned my thesis at university, which focused on problem solving skills in Maths and Technology. This article is a shorter synopsis of that thesis brought up-to-date with current, specialist thinking.

What does it actually mean though? You might ask, how can you go beyond the information that is given to you as a question to solve?

There are questions or problems which require knowledge to answer them. They require memory recall or a rote learning system that allows a question to be answered correctly based on what you can remember. Examples of these questions might be as follows:

  1. What is 7 x 8?
  2. What is the current law on the time-frame for when a foetus can be legally aborted in England?
  3. Describe what life was like in the trenches for British soldiers during World War 1.
These questions have a `correct` answer as they rely only on knowledge and recall. They are not asking you to go beyond the information that is given to you in order to provide an answer, or ask you to provide additional information. Students at the concrete operational thought level can answer such questions provided they have learned the knowledge and can recall it.
Now, if the same questions were asked in a slightly different way, knowledge and recall would not be enough. Questions at the higher levels of thinking require you to think about the question, project your thoughts beyond that information which is given, and then give a reasoned answer including the `new` perceptions and knowledge.
So, the questions may now look like this:
  1. Describe clearly what is meant by the sum 7 x 8.
  2. Should the current time-frame for abortions in England be 24 weeks?
  3. Describe what life was really like in the trenches for British soldiers during World War 1.
What is clear now is that what is required is thought and knowledge that is drawn from the experiences and cognitive processes of the student. It is at the level of formal operational thought that children and students seem able to reflect on a situation and offer an insight that others may not have thought of, or come up with a viewpoint that is outside of the normal range of responses.
I suppose the big question is, can you teach this skill? Well, you can certainly try to create a learning environment that will allow children to reflect more deeply into the implications of what the question is asking. You can also have wide ranging discussions on topics that contain many viewpoints and require a certain level of empathy in order to get inside the person`s mind. The more experiences that a learner has, the more equipped they are to have the insights to draw on to answer these higher level questions.
Some children and students are more aware of these insights than others, but the more reading and searching around the topic that the student does, the more likely they are to be able to reflect on this insight and therefore present a more comprehensive and insightful answer.
There is also the question of meta-cognition, where students are encouraged and taught how to understand their own learning, how they learn, and where and when they learn best. Of equal importance is the method of learning. Do they learn best visually, are they practical learners, do they learn from an audio source, or is the old method of `chalk and talk` more inline with the way their brain works?
Have we also to factor in the possibility that there are different levels of intelligent thought and different levels of access to truly being able to develop problem solving skills? Is thinking `outside the box` something that can be taught, or if not, at least nurtured and developed. I believe that, given the right learning conditions, the right nurturing learning environment, and the right motivation to learn, most children and students will move steadily along the learning continuum and achieve varying degrees of personal and academic success.
I think it would also be true to say that intuitive understanding and insight do play a part in the learning process and that some people have more of it than others, but experience tells us that with an open mind, a clear head, an ability to focus for long periods, and sheer determination, as individuals we can make a difference to our own learning.
Remember, try to go beyond the information given, even when reading articles such as this. What is said is important, but so too is what is not said!
Beyond The Information Given, Part 2 will go into more detail on how children learn and how children fail, what the barriers to learning are, and what teaching skills are required to address learning difficulties and disabilities in our current system of education.
Marek 17/07/18



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