Year: 1993

Author: Pears, Gary G.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports some preliminary findings of a multi-faceted study which examines the relative functional thinking skills development of both teachers and year 7 pupils in Western Australian primary schools.

Despite ongoing international calls for demonstrable changes in the educational outcomes for our children, for example, increased emphasis on the Basics-Of-Tomorrow [Shulman, 1986] critical and creative thinking and independent inquiry skills, there is little evidence beyond rhetoric that anything has changed. Rather, research indicates that many practices adopted by our schools and teachers are antithetical to these desired outcomes [Goodlad:1984, Kagan:1990, Clark:1983, 1988, Shulman:1986, Shavelson and Stern:1981, Clark and Peterson:1986].

This study posits that teacher competence could lie at the heart of the matter, that teachers could be unable to foster thinking skills because they themselves lack them [Lipman:1985]. Further, research indicates that teachers are unable to establish appropriate classroom psychosocial environments which will encourage thinking skills development.

Conceptually this study is original in that rather than using the standard pre-test/post-test paradigm, it compares a group of exemplary teachers and students who have, in the first instance, been appointed on the basis of their perceived exceptional thinking and pedagogical skills and in the second, have been identified as being in the top five per cent of the primary school population [Primary Extension and Challenge (PEAC) with teachers and students from standard [Non-PEAC] classrooms].

The design includes seven cohorts; second year pre-service teacher trainees; in-service teachers [private and public]; PEAC teachers; YearÊ7 students [12 years of age] from private, public and PEAC classes totalling approximately 2,000 cases. Preliminary examination of the data suggests that there is an urgent need in Australia to establish specialist gifted and talented education pre and in-service professional development programs, appropriate selection, induction and formative assessment for teachers of gifted and talented students while also highlighting the need for reform in general teacher education with particular reference to the teaching of thinking. Further, there is indeed little difference in the levels of functional cognition between regular classroom teachers and students identified as gifted and talented. Also the general level of cognitive development of the regular YearÊ7 student population as identified in this study, across inquiry, creativity and critical thinking is poor.

Despite billions of educational dollars having been poured into the innovation and reform movement of the 60s and 70s, little has changed to alter the basic structure of what happens at the classroom level. Teachers still established classroom environments and used teaching strategies similar or identical to those used at the turn of the century. (Goodlad:1984)