Sunday, September 21, 2008

Middle School Critical for Developing Complex Thinking Skills for Youngsters

I'm back! I just couldn't pull myself together to do any posts over the summer, but it's September (almost October) and I'm starting to feel guilty about not writing anything here for more than three months.

One of the resources I use to motivate me to write about education is the Public Education Newsblast that comes out every Friday.

This week's edition had an interesting report of research that was done at the University of Texas at Dallas that found that the middle school years are the optimal time for training adolescence in complex reasoning skills, and critical thinking skills.

The study used teenagers diagnosed with attention deficit problems, and researchers applied recent cognitive neuroscience findings to create a program called SMART-Strategic Memory and Reasoning Training-to teach teens how to think critically and effectively use the information they learn.

Dallas Morning News
reporter Robert Miller says that the university researchers are ready to apply the findings to develop a Web-based training program to teach strategic reasoning to all students, teachers and parents. All they are seeking is $20 million.

One of the researchers, Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino, says that if the SMART program works with ADHD students, "then it makes sense that those without cognitive deficits will be able to improve as well."

That's not necessarily so, especially if you remove the personal interactions that adolescents connect to. A Web-based program might be too impersonal. Yet, the research sounds interesting because it does attempt to bring the latest findings in brain research into the realm of pedagogy. Think about how a person learns, or how you learn as an adult and then think about how you can codify that knowledge and use it in a daily classroom environment.Then think about how you learned to think critically about a subject.

Also, how does this research stand up against Reuven Feuerstein's Structural Cognitive Modifiability theories? Feuerstein worked with special ed and other low functioning children and young adults and proved that they could learn high order thinking skills.

Now there is another push to improve middle schools in NYC. Maybe instead of the DOE turning things over to bureaucrats who unenthusiastically deal with the challenge, the DOE can turn program development over to brain/cognitive development researchers. Egad, I can't believe that I'm opening the door for more Aussies and Teacher's College programs!

How about something simpler--require that all middle school teachers be subject certified middle school specialists instead of Common Branch non-specialists and reduce class sizes so that teachers and students can connect with each other for more than a minute or two a day? How about hiring school leaders who have specialized knowledge of middle school education and perhaps even taught in middle schools? How about that?

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