Article Critique - Cognition and Cooperation: Partners in Excellence - by McCabe & Rhodes

"Taking the time to help students develop thinking skills helps them learn how to learn, which is the most powerful skill we can give our young people." (McCabe & Rhodes, 1992)

The greatest gift that we can give our students is the power to think independently. The article "Cognition and Cooperation: Partners in Excellence" (McCabe & Rhoades,1992) looks closely at the ways that teachers can use cooperative learning to teach thinking skills. Using cooperative learning for this falls in line with what is happening globally in education. More and more, we are asked to work with others in a shrinking globe. Improved advancements in technology are allowing people to deal with others virtually anywhere. Students need to learn how to work with others while increasing their own thinking paths.

There are muddled views on what are true definitions of intelligence, knowledge and thinking. In this article, intelligence becomes the ability to adapt, acquire and think abstractly (McCabe & Rhoades,1992) The authors believe that thinking is a series of mental strategies used to organize and manipulate ideas in order to assimilate, formulate and evaluate new ones (McCabe & Rhoades,1992) Therefore, thinking skills that can be taught include metacognition, transfer, organization, internal dialogue, reflection, and higher level questioning. They also believe that cognitive modifiability or changing and enhancing the level of thinking can be achieved by teaching thinking skills. One of the best ways to achieve cognition is through a partnership with cooperative learning.

Even in the Arctic, where I teach, our students are gaining access to the outside world. We will soon be getting Internet and links to others’ ideas everywhere. But cooperative learning is not only a result of new advances to technology. In the past, members of Inuit families each had a specific role and these roles were important for nomadic survival. In the my classroom, students show more confidence in their work when they are cooperating in small groups especially when the group is made of students who are related, of multi-aged and of mixed gender. Using cooperative learning to increase thinking skills seems a perfect strategy in my cultural teaching situation. Through this article critique I will reflect on such valuable links and connections as they relate to my teaching situation in the Canadian north.

McCabe & Rhoades (1992) first discuss using frame of reference. A frame of reference is an individual’s experience and knowledge which influences their ability to assimilate new information. For example, once I tried to describe the changing of the leaves in fall to Inuit girl. We had just read a poem about fall written by a southern poet. Of course, because the girl had never seen a tree let alone a tree in the fall, she had no frame of reference in which to think about this poem. Finally, I thought of the colour of the tundra in the late summer. Together we went out on the land and were lying on our stomachs and gazing across the surface. The lichen and the small plants change just like leaves do in fall. In this way she was able to see the colour of fall beyond the fact that there were no trees. Providing such a frame of reference for this student allowed her to assimilate the information given in the text.

Frame of reference links very well to the concept of transfer. She was able to sort and combine information because it was relevant to her experience. Thus she was able to transfer this new information to other understandings. As McCabe & Rhoades (1992) state: "Each time we are exposed to a new way to think about something, we add another another strategy or path to our thinking ability" (p. 45). This is indeed the case when we provide a frame of reference from which to start.

McCabe & Rhoades (1992) go on to clarify thinking paths as strategies of learning. One important ability is organization. When children are given new information they cluster and connect the information into thinking banks (Rhoades & McCabe, 1992). One example of this is when a child is given round cookies as treats and learns to label it as "cookie." Then one day the child is given a round cracker and still calls it a "cookie." The child has assimilated this cracker into the cookie bank. The complexity of these thinking paths depends on the input and feedback the child experiences (McCabe & Rhoades,1992) Parents of this child have the opportunity of branching the thinking paths if they give appropriate feedback; in this case, by labelling the new stimulus as a cracker.

This type of input and feedback becomes very important in determining the cognitive growth of a child. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) link the complexity of feedback to Bloom’s taxonomy. They go on to discuss children who grow up in command-only households which function on the knowledge or fact only taxonomy level. The negative result of constant fact-only responses is that children are not provided with options in their long-term memory bank (McCabe & Rhoades,1992)). I have seen many cases of command-only parenting occurring in my town. Many parents lack the parenting skills to foster higher level of thinking. Not only are many households run on command-only principles but also the commands are inconsistent. Children are missing the structure and predictability that go hand in hand with increasing thinking bank options.

Definitely, mediation can enhance intellectual functioning for these children. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) describe a scene where a father is making a cake and he is giving auditory input to the steps of the process. Traditionally, the Inuit are a "watch and learn" people. I think that this way of learning was successful in the past in most cases but changes have happened and these students require more thinking skills to adapt. Time is required for mediation to occur and the mediator must share thought patterns openly (McCabe & Rhoades,1992) Unfortunately, children are not often given enough time for building thinking skills. A major hurdle for schools and parents is to raise the complexity level beyond just the facts. Teachers should be mindful of the thinking skills that they are fostering in their planning. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) touch on the aspect of conscious intent, meaning that selecting a skill and having a plan will enhance the mediation process. Perhaps parenting courses should provide potential parents with information to help their children increase their thinking paths.

Cooperative learning is a fantastic way to facilitate the teaching of these thinking skills (McCabe & Rhoades, 1992). In small groups, students benefit from mediators other than the teacher. Each student takes on this role at various points during their time together. Students must not only state their answers but they must share and explain their thought processes. Metacognition is enhanced by modelling metacognition through sharing, labelling and verbalising thought processes, and encouraging others to participate (McCabe & Rhoades, 1992). In the cooperative learning setting, students share their internal dialogue and self-talk with others in the group as well as how they arrived at their answers.

In my experience, students become far better workers in groups when a one member is asked to direct the discussion and all members are asked to share. Literature circles and book talks with various rotating roles work well for this as well as Science Olympics problem-solving challenges. Often the louder the activity talk is, the more successful it is in creating an atmosphere of sharing within the group.

McCabe & Rhoades (1992) believe that all students should understand the concepts of thinking paths, internal dialogue and mediation. They must realize that there is more than one way to think and that different strategies are better suited to one time than another. Successful effective students are those who are self-talkers and this metacognition makes students more effective thinkers.

The article goes on to give three valuable ways for teachers to enrich the mediation process in the classroom in cooperative learning lessons. One tool they discuss is the wrap-up; a brief closure activity that provides bridging and sharing. A useful list of questions is provided that can be used in learning log situation or in end of class discussions. Another technique is the use of higher-level questioning that ask students to think beyond the recall of facts (Bloom’s taxonomy). Teachers should design lessons that include questions to leaning towards higher-level thinking. Thirdly, McCabe & Rhoades (1992) state that observation is the best way to assessing thinking skills over paper-pencil tests. The authors provide some qualities of students that can be used for observations. I think that students would profit by knowing what expectations are in place for them; in this way self-evaluation and reflection are possible.

"Cognition and Cooperation: Partners in Excellence (McCabe & Rhoades, 1992) is an encouraging article which shows practical, ready to use ways to enrich thinking skills in the classroom. As I read this article I am challenged to capitalise on my cooperative learning techniques to increase thinking skills. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) write:

teachers have the power to increase a student’s thinking paths. . . the more ways we have of thinking, the greater our chances of finding successful solutions to problems and making good decisions in the future. (p.49)

The future is laden with problems needing to be solved; we must give our future leaders the skills they will require to survive. McCabe & Rhoades (1992) give a good way for teachers to start.

References

McCabe, M. & Rhoades, J. "Cognition and Cooperation: Partners in Excellence." In Costa,A., Bellanca, J. & Fogarty, R. (Eds.). If Minds Matter: A Foreword to the Future. vol. 2, (pp. 43 - 51) Illinois: SkyLight Training and Publishing, Inc.