The Ability of Third, Fifth, and Seventh Graders to Understand and Apply a General Problem-solving Heuristic Scheme
Ann Jaffe Pace
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, California, April 1986.
This study was conducted to assess the ability of third-, fifth-, and seventh-graders to learn a problem-solving heuristic scheme and apply it to grade-appropriate tasks. A framework was utilized that focused on metacognitive aspects of task performance, such as planfulness, strategy selection, monitoring, and evaluation. It was expected that use of this scheme would require a degree of reflection about one's own ...view middle of the document...
On the one hand are a growing number of often elaborate programs for the training of general thinking skills. On the other hand are arguments that general thinking strategies may be too content-free and inadequate for the demands of specific domains of knowledge. Instead, effective strategy use may be a function of the acquisition of expertise in a particular domain (Chipman & Segal, 1985; Glaser, 1984).
Though the latter argument may be valid, and while some programs may have had a measure of success in training transferable thinking skills, the kind of approach that may be appropriate for teaching "higher order" or critical thinking skills in elementary or secondary schools is still not clear. Special programs demand a great deal of resources, which are often limited. On the other hand, most students may not acquire sufficient "expertise" in any one (scholastic) domain, even by 12th grade, to become proficient problem solvers or thinkers within that domain. Further, if domain-specific skills or strategies were to be taught, the number adequate to cover the breadth and complexity of the school curriculum would be vast. A viable instructional alternative may be to identify intellectual skills which are, at the same time, content-relevant and general enough to have some utility across a wide range of knowledge domains.
Frequently mentioned as skills which may be generalizable across specific domains are cognitive-control or metacognitive strategies that involve students' abilities to monitor, control, and evaluate their own task performances (Bransford, Arbitman-Smith, Stein, & Vye, 1985; Brown, 1985; Glaser, 1984; Meichenbaum, 1985; Perkins, 1985; and Polson & Jeffries, 1985). Instruction in such strategies may induce students to become more reflective about their own thought processes, as well as about task demands. This reflective attitude may
General Problem-solving Scheme - page 2
Be viewed more appropriately as an aspect of cognitive style, as Baron (1985) suggests. In any case, it represents characteristics associated with academic achievement (Baron, 1985). Thus, explicit instruction may help monitoring and self-regulating behaviors become habitual among students who do not acquire them on their own and thereby provide such students with a greater measure of control over academic activities.
The present investigation was designed to gauge the ease with which students of different ages (third, fifth, and seventh graders) could learn to understand a metacognitively oriented heuristic scheme and apply it to age-appropriate tasks. This approach utilized a problem-solving framework that is similar in many respects to familiar conceptions of problem solving (Dewey, 1933; Polya, 1957). It differs from these examples, however, in that it focuses explicitly on metacognitive aspects of task performance, such as planfulness, strategy selection, monitoring of progress, and evaluation of outcome(s).