Abrami et al. on Interventions Affecting Dispositions

This particular article was specifically focused on developing critical thinking skills and dispositions.  I have other articles which likewise focus on critical thinking dispositions.  I’m wondering: can I generalize findings about “fostering critical thinking dispositions” to developing dispositions in general?  Already we have asked ourselves to what extent “developing dispositions” is the same as learning as becoming.  What loopholes am I missing as I try to think from one theory to another?

This article shared the results of a meta-analysis of research on teaching CT skills and dispositions.  The most significant factors appear to be the type of CT intervention, and the pedagogical grounding of the CT intervention.  Specifically, they used Ennis’s (1989) typology of four courses to classify the type of intervention (p. 1106):

  • general: teach CT abilities and dispositions separately from the presentation of the content
  • infusion: “deep, thoughtful, and well-understood subject matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically in the subject”; general principles of CT are made explicit
  • immersion: students immersed in subject matter; instruction is thought-provoking; general CT principles NOT made explicit
  • mixed: subject-specific CT instruction AND teaching of general principles of CT

The findings showed that mixed methods worked best, and immersion was least effective.  They conclude that indirect instruction is least effective in improving CT.  Is this true of developing any type of disposition? Does the instructional intervention need to be explicit to be effective? Or does the highly cognitive aspect of CT make cognitive awareness of the process that much more important?

The other most significant factor was pedagogical training. By this they meant that the teacher “received special advanced training in preparation for teaching CT skills…or when extensive observations on course administration and instructors’ CT teaching practices were reported” (p. 1121). The authors write that “better outcomes can be achieved through active, purposeful training and teacher support” (p. 1121).  This certainly doesn’t surprise me. Wasn’t I always a better instructor when I felt well trained in a pedagogical technique I employed? Didn’t feedback from mentor teachers, as well as the chance to brainstorm and plan with colleagues, always improve my teaching?  I’m speaking broadly and a bit hyperbolically, but really. I guess I don’t think it’s just CT that improves with “purposeful training and teacher support.”  I think student performance in pretty much any content or skill improves when teachers are trained well and supported fully.

What does this article tell me about the process of becoming? Firstly, it may be important that the process of becoming is made explicit to students. I am not completely sure about this, however (see my questions above). Secondly, the importance of supporting teachers as they strive to help their students learn and become.  Having taught at the high school level for 10 years, and having had amazing support most of the time, I guess this idea is one that makes me happy, though I don’t think it’s a brilliant insight that helps our thinking about blended learning theory advance that much more.

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