IS STUDYING CONDUCIVE TO THINKING?

 by

Giuseppe Tidona

 The following paper was accepted for presentation at the 12th International Conference on Thinking in Melbourne, Australia (2005).

  Abstract

Thinking has been seen as the natural outcome of in-depth studying by many teachers.

This paper examines the relationship between studying and thinking and whether "studying" is the main road to thinking compared to other cognitive processes in a typical school context.

 It presents an experiment, carried out at an Italian secondary school, which involved 141 fourteen-fifteen year old students divided into three groups.

Students were given a story whose conclusion had been cut out. They had the identical task of foreseeing the ending logically, but following different instructions, one of which implied "studying" the tale in their usual manner.  

The groups reached the same good knowledge of the elements necessary for envisaging the conclusion, but the results of their thinking were quite different depending on the conditions.

"Studying" was the worst occasion for thinking.

In the same context, Bono's CoRT lessons have been tested as being highly efficacious for looking ahead to see the consequences and sequels.

 

Introduction

  

What does "Thinking" mean?

 According to F. Bartlett, "Thinking" occurs when there are gaps in the available information. In fact, "Thinking" can be briefly defined as: "The extension of evidence in accord with that evidence so as to fill up gaps in the evidence"[1].

Normally the task is carried out fruitfully only if a series of intermediate, interconnected steps that can lead to the most appropriate conclusion is followed. In other words, it is difficult to try to foresee the solution haphazardly, without considering the "clues" that could point to some direction, to a path. At times a fortuitous solution may be found, but then the point of arrival is convincing only because all the intermediate links are, later, retraced and clarified.  

Gaps, according to Bartlett, can be filled in three different ways:  

1.     by interpolation (in a given numerical series there is, for example, an empty space, a missing number that has to be identified and inserted at that point of the sequence, which then continues);

2.     by extrapolation (a numerical series, for example, is developed up to a certain position and then is interrupted: the reader is asked to continue it until a logical terminus  has been reached);

3.     by "manipulation" (when all the elements of a situation are probably given, but either the relationship- or relationships- among them has to be found or new, more satisfactory solutions, beyond the existing ones, are to be discovered) [2].  

On the other side, if information were complete, the world would be different. If the Truth were in front of us, without any missing part (the category of the missing part has no relevance: it might be even a memory deficit, when "thinking" is performed by drawing data from one's mind), there would not be any need for thinking: everything would happen as if by "instinct", automatically.

True thinking is productive, generative.

Undoubtedly, the most difficult task to carry out of the three above-mentioned typologies is the third, because one has to go beyond what is present. In this last instance it is not any longer a matter of finding the right solution according to the principles inscribed in the facts in front of us, but of discovering new rules on which to base the completion.

 In this case de Bono[3] would speak of the necessity for lateral thinking or, to apply one of his acronyms (utilised by him to label and make the "tools" to direct one's mind towards definite objectives immediately recognisable), for an APC (Alternatives, Possibilities, Choices).

In a paper [4], presented by this author at the Fifth International Conference on Creative Thinking, organised by the University of Malta in June 2004, the occurrence of lateral, productive thinking in a typical school environment was examined through an experiment. Thanks to it, it was seen that even the best students are incapable of innovative thinking, of going beyond the solution that seems satisfactory at a glance.   

Many experiments[5] have already confirmed that even in the wider social context in which we live, we see what we are accustomed to seeing: our mind structures, among the different elements in front of us, select the ones that are consistent with our framework, while the others are being, more or less knowingly, discarded. To discern them, we should give them specific value, but this does not occur unless we are forced to do it!

 In the present paper the relationship between some conditions, which are common or potentially so in the school environment, and thinking, is examined.  

In this case, the involved thinking is of the second type, of the extrapolative category (or, to use de Bono's[6] terminology, capable of C&S- Consequences and Sequels-, that is of foreseeing what will come after).

 In other words, during the study it was investigated to what extent students were able to anticipate the logical continuation of a story on the basis of the available elements, given the diverse situations they had been assigned to. 

 Is projective thinking unaffected by these situations?

 To this end the following experiment was organised.

 

The experiment

 

The experiment was conducted in the second week of December 2004.

 141 fourteen and fifteen year old students, belonging to 8 different classes (five first classes and three second classes) of the Istituto Tecnico Statale Commerciale "F. Besta", a high school in Ragusa, Italy, were assigned to three different conditions. They were studying, playing, and reading. For all of them the experiment foresaw two stages, of which more details will be given below in a specific section. 

During the first phase of the experience, when the copy of an "incomplete" tale was distributed, no one really knew what the final aim was (that is to predict the conclusion), to avoid mixing up the three conditions because of this knowledge. Therefore students were cognisant only of first stage's goals, which were specific to each condition.

 The real, common objective was revealed later, at the beginning of the second phase, after the tales had been withdrawn except in one case. Students were then told to infer the conclusion of the tale, whose ending had been removed, from some given elements.

Clearly the story culmination could be envisaged only by a careful consideration of some "clues" in which the passage was rich. 

On some occasions conditions were implemented by dividing the specific class into two equivalent halves (according to the knowledge that the teacher had of everyone's capacity for logical reasoning and comprehension), and assigning each part to a condition at random (thus putting only two of the three levels into effect).

 On other occasions conditions were fulfilled one at a time in an entire class, but care was then taken of final equivalence as far as pupils' abilities were concerned.

Let us examine studying, playing, and reading in detail.   

 

The three conditions: First phase

 

The different instructions in the three conditions were given only in writing, together with a copy of the "interrupted" story. Therefore none of the students knew that they had possibly been assigned to a different condition from that of the classmates.

 

In the first instance (studying), it was claimed that it was a learning test: each of the concerned pupils had to study the given passage in the best possible way and in their usual manner. It was also stated that the story was incomplete because the continuation lay on another page, which would be handed out later. It was finally communicated that, once the allotted time for study expired, pupils would be handed out written questions on the content (at least this was announced at that moment), without being able to consult the text anymore, and the results would be important for end-of-the-term markings. 52 students were given these rules.

In the second instance (playing), the instructions were that they had to read the given text carefully, in order to be able later, without having the tale with them any longer, to take part in some sort of unspecified play (perhaps a role-play), based on the text. The tale was incomplete and the reasons given for it were the same as before. It was announced that this assignment was important because it would have an impact on end-of-the-term evaluation. 50 pupils worked under this condition.

In the third instance (reading) the same "interrupted" text was distributed; this time students had the only task of reading it carefully, because this would be important in an unspecified way for end-of-the-term assessment. At that moment no other instruction was given. 39 students participated in this instance. 

The overall total of the three situations was therefore 141.

The remark on the importance for the end-of-the term evaluation (present in each condition) was added to have comparability as far as "performance" anxiety, which can be an impeding factor when the ability to think is involved, was concerned.

The time assigned to all for this part of the task was 20 minutes (which were more than enough); afterwards, the second stage took place.  

 

The three conditions, second phase: Thinking  

 

At the beginning of the second stage, the copies with the story were withdrawn with the exception of the students in the third condition, to whom the tale was left.  

All of the students were asked how many already knew the story just read (which had been taken from a book) and the names of these pupils were written down to exclude them from final computation. It is clear that if students were cognisant of the "end", this knowledge would nullify their test.  

Blank sheets with the instructions were then distributed to everyone: pupils were invited to complete the story logically and consequentially, on the basis of the elements already given in the part handed out before (within the assigned time: 15-20 minutes, flexible according to necessity). As a matter of fact no specific question was asked on content at this time, because it could inappropriately direct pupils' attention towards some specific directions. 

The students to whom the "shortened" tale had been left (reading) received the same instructions as the others. 

Only at the end, when everyone had handed in their sheets, students were orally tested to assess their knowledge about the important elements for their final objective (that is to foresee the conclusion).

No significant difference regarding this knowledge among the three conditions was found.

Similarly the trends  (which will be discussed later) were roughly the same across the classes and the involved ages (14-15 years old).

Now it is necessary to go into the some more details about the story before examining the results.

The chosen tale, whose ending had been removed, was "The Long Voyage" by the Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia[7].

To assess to what extent the particular story picked out could have an impact on the experiment, a second suitably "shortened" tale ("Chichibio" by Giovanni Boccaccio, another Italian writer) was selected and tried on 39 students: the results however did not change in comparison with the first instance. 

The summary and some excerpts (the most significant ones up to the removed part) of Sciascia's tale follow; then Bocaccio's story (translated into English by the present author) is integrally displayed.

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First tale

This is a brief summary of the tale.

  "The Long Voyage" by Leonardo Sciascia tells the story, set some decades ago, of a group of Sicilians that one night embarked between Gela and Licata (in Sicily) to sail illegally in a steamer for the United States. The man (his name was Melfa) who, for money, would transport them up to a beach in New Jersey, recommended that all those who had relatives residing in America should write to them and establish the Trenton railway station (New York) as the meeting point.  

After an 11-day crossing, the emigrants were summoned on the deck by the boat owner who showed them America in the distance and invited them to get ready for disembarkation. Thus, after landing, they started off to get to the established point of arrival.  

................................................................................................................................

 At this point the plot stopped and students were invited to complete the story logically.

 As a matter of fact, it has a sad conclusion: those poor Sicilians had been cheated and after an 11-day voyage off the Sicilian coast they had been brought back to the island! 

 The clues leading to this conclusion were spread across the assigned text.

If pupils thought over the "traces" included before the interruption, they would be able to outline the conclusion.

 The most important ones are indicated here:

-           the sea voyage lasted less than foreseen;

-           the doubt that the land might not be the United Stated was cast explicitly by one of the emigrants, because in the sea there are "neither roads nor paths"[8] and it is easy to get lost;

-           Mr. Melfa in answering patently pitied him and soon after revealed irony in his remark on the difference of a "horizon like this"[9];

-           when they started going, after landing, the first car they met on the road seemed a "Fiat seicento", while the second one looked like a "Fiat 1100". And this was very strange for the United States!

-           there were road signs that displayed the names of two towns: students did not know these names, but knew that two of the emigrants had this reaction after reading one of them: " - this name is not new to me"

                                           - Neither is it new to me"[10].

In reality, they were two small Sicilian villages (Santa Croce Camerina and Scoglitti) of which the emigrants vaguely remembered having heard.   

In closing, it must be added that the subjects of "swindling" and "clandestine immigration", this time towards Sicily, are topical nowadays, because there are nightly landings along its shores.   

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Second tale

Chichibìo

 Corrado Gianfigliazzi, having hawked at cranes near Peretola once and killed one of them, gave it to his good cook, named Chichibìo, to have it served for dinner.  Now while Chichibìo was cooking it, a girl, called Brunetta, whom he had madly fallen in love with, passed by. She on smelling something really good went into the kitchen and begged Chichibìo to give her a crane's leg. Chichibìo, in order not to annoy his beloved friend, gave her the leg even if he knew that this would get him into trouble with his master. As a matter of fact, when dinner was ready, Corrado noticed that a leg was missing. Thus he called Chichibio and asked him what had happened to the other leg. -Oh, sir- the lying cook answered - cranes have only one leg and one foot! - What are you saying?-  Corrado burst out - Do you think perhaps that this is the first crane that I have seen? - Oh sir- the cook calmly replied - It is really the way I am saying, and I can prove it by showing you a live crane.

At that moment, Corrado, for sake of peace and, what mattered more, because he had dinner guests, decided to end that discussion, after adding, though: - Tomorrow, then, you'll show me the cranes that have only one leg, but if cranes have two legs, as I say, I swear that I will beat you in a way that you will remember for your entire life!

The day after they went to a river, where cranes usually stopped. Chichibìo was more dead than alive with fright: at this point he did not know how to make up for the lie. 

Luckily near the water he spotted twelve cranes that slept and stood only on a foot as they usually do when they sleep. He showed them hastily and triumphantly to Corrado, but Corrado reacted quickly by saying: - Wait a moment,  for now I'll show you that they have two legs- and shouted violently: - Hohò-, several times so that the frightened cranes woke up, lowered the other leg and ran away.

-Did you see?- Corrado said- it's now clear that they have two legs. 

At this point, Chichibìo had a flash of genius.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

 Here the tale (freely adapted from Boccacio's text) was interrupted.

The story as a matter of fact ends with a Chichibìo's quip: "But, sir, you did not shout 'hoho' at that crane yesterday!"  which transforms Corrado's anger into a loud laugh.

The clues that could lead to the right conclusion were:

-                     first of all, the overall tenor of the tale which in good measure is that of a continual gamble. We come across a gamble for the first time when Chichibìo maintains that cranes have only one leg and one foot;

                for the second time when Corrado feels the need for proving that they have two legs almost as if it were not known and taken for granted;  

                for the third time when Chichibìo states that he is able to prove his assertion;

                for the fourth time when Chichibìo, on seeing that cranes stand on a leg if they sleep, keeps his thesis;

                therefore, when Corrado shouts at the cranes and forces them to lower the other leg to run away, another gamble must take place, Chichibìo's answer must necessarily pertain to this category;

-           finally, as far as the concrete content of Chichibìo's reply is concerned, when Corrado shouts "Hohò" repeatedly at the cranes, so that they lower the other leg, the cook is said to have had a flash of genius, on observing what was happening at that moment (and what presumably had not happened the day before). Then his remark must read like this: "But, sir, you did not shout 'Hoho' at that crane yesterday evening, thus it was left only with a leg!"

………………………………………………………………………………………….

Some questions  

 

But what are the results?

Does any difference among the different conditions emerge by comparing correct and wrong answers? Which among the three situations is the best to "think"? 

To what extent is it possible to say that the most recurring condition in our schools, that of studying, activates "thinking abilities"?

Is it true what many teachers support, that "studying seriously" (whatever it means in our schools) is the best way to develop "thinking"?

Is "true studying" intrinsically "thinking"?

Let us examine the results, to see if these questions can be answered (see table 1).

 

 Results

 

Table 1

 

 

Condition:

 studying

Condition:

playing

Condition:

 reading

 

Totals

 

Correct answer

 

 

8

 

16

 

31

 

55

 

Incorrect answer

 

 

44

 

34

 

8

 

86

 

Totals

 

52

 

50

 

39

 

141

 

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Note on table 1: a certain part of incorrect answers was based on expectations, that is on what "I would like to happen now"; others were either the output of their flights of fancy or were grounded on "What I have heard happens in cases like this".

Students were almost reluctant to take the elements present in the tales into consideration (even if in an inferior measure in the second and in the third condition), notwithstanding they knew them. This reluctance was ascertained later when it was possible to go back to many classes and discuss their answers with pupils. 

A chi square analysis of the difference between correct and incorrect answers across the three conditions shows that this difference is statistically significant, X² (2, N= 141)=40.089, p ‹ .001,    2-sided.

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Considerations on the table

 

As it can be seen by observing the table, there is no equality between studying, playing and reading, as far as the ability to foresee the conclusion is concerned, because the difference between correct and incorrect answers across the three conditions is statistically significant (see note on table 1).  

The best condition is the third, that of simple reading, if thinking, at least the second type of thinking (which was defined above as extrapolative) must take place. Afterwards, there is playing while, as a matter of fact, studying seems the worst situation if one at the same time wants pupils to think! This seems to contradict many teachers' saying, "thinking is an output of studying". 

Different suppositions could be made as far as this strange result is concerned. It could be stated, for example, that the cognitive load imposed on students in the third situation prevents them from calmly and completely considering all the available data. There is a problem, though, with this hypothesis: in absolute terms the playing condition was not very different if true impact on memory is considered;  notwithstanding this, in the second case results were considerably better. 

It could be that in the studying condition there is an extra load due to pupils' attempts to remember not only the elements of the story, but all the minute details too, etc.

It could be also that under this circumstance the ability to interconnect all the available elements diminishes and this hampers the production of useful results.

 The available data do not allow a clear answer to these questions.  

During the discussion phase, which was briefly mentioned in the note on the table 1 (see), the most frequent reaction of students who had answered wrongly was simply: "Now everything is clear, but at that moment I did not think of it, I do not know why".

It can only be hypothesised that there is something in the cognitive process called studying that directs one's mind towards other operations instead of productive thinking. 

Other studies are required, it is necessary to involve diverse ages; it is also essential to replicate international studies in the Italian context.

The current state of things seems however to indicate that studying as such, by itself, is not the best means of thinking (therefore many teachers' faith in it is wrongly placed). 

It is necessary a specific effort to bring about generative thinking (which is essential and agreed upon by all teachers); it is indispensable to train students in it progressively, because thinking is not engendered by study nor by nature in itself (as experience attests).

The CoRT  lessons by E. de Bono

 

In the same school, the Istituto tecnico commerciale "Besta" in Ragusa,  (as in many other schools of the same area), the CoRT lessons by E. de Bono[11], devised to foster thinking and creativity, have been applied repeatedly to numerous classes (but different from these of the present experiment. 

The results of this teaching are encouraging[12], as far as the objective that was set is concerned: namely the enhancement of thinking. 

The most recent available data are those of the school year (2004/2005) which has just ended and they, too, confirm the positive results obtained before. 

E. de Bono takes a perspective, which emerges from the present research too, as a starting point for the CORT lessons: thinking is not an ineluctable output of studying.  Thinking is a specific ability which can be trained through appropriate practice and thus improved, just like any other ability: no one calls into question, for example, that a tennis player who trains regularly is better at playing than one who does not. 

In order to develop any ability, though, it is necessary to know the parts it is composed of.

In the case of tennis it means to understand, for example, what the basic movements of the hand are; the various ways of holding the racket and of hitting the ball; how to play a backhand and a lob, etc. A detailed analysis of the accompanying movements of the body is necessary as well. The concrete things on which exercises can be done are these, not the generic "tennis playing" (and this is true of every other sport too![13]).

In the same way thinking is divided by de Bono into its elementary constituents, and each of them is given a specific name, very easy to remember and useful to focus pupils' attention on it: this makes the training of students conceivable.

Each CORT lesson illustrates one of these fundamental aspects, but it is not a theoretical dissertation, it is not abstract information, it is mainly organised as a series of exercises done on various concrete subjects. 

The lessons, in their basic format, can be taught, for an hour a week, in a school year (for about 20-30 hours in all). They are suitable for students from elementary to university level.

 The data amassed until now point out that the CoRT lessons are efficacious, while study in itself is not enough to promote thinking.

 To get the right content is important for one's future, but it is more important the use and the value that we are able to attach to it. For this reason thinking is so vital and deserves more attention than now in our schools. 

 

Giuseppe Tidona

e-mail: gtidon@tin.it

Ragusa, summer 2005


 

[1] Bartlett F. (1958), Thinking- An Experimental and Social Study, London, George Allen & Unwin LTD, p. 75.

[2] Bartlett F. (1958), Thinking- An Experimental and Social Study, London, George Allen & Unwin LTD, p. 22.

[3] de Bono E. (1973-1975), CoRT Thinking, Blandford, Dorset, Direct Education Services Limited; also de Bono E. (1987), CoRT Thinking Program. Workcards and Teacher's Notes, Chicago, Science Research Associates, see in particular the CoRT 1 section.

[4] Tidona G. (2004), Thinking and Learning- The Results of an Experiment, paper presented at the Fifth International Conference on Creative Thinking, organised by the University of Malta in June 2004.

[5] Bartlett F. (1958), Thinking- An Experimental and Social Study, London, George Allen & Unwin LTD, p.175.

[6] de Bono E. (1973-1975), CoRT Thinking, Blandford, Dorset, Direct Education Services Limited; also de Bono E. (1987), CoRT Thinking Program. Workcards and Teacher's Notes, Chicago, Science Research Associates, see in particular the CoRT 1 section.

[7] Il lungo viaggio by Leonardo Sciascia was taken from the textbook, that is from Mariotti A., Sclafani M.C., Stancanelli A (2001), Il libro arancione - dal Rosso e dal Giallo, Firenze, D'Anna. L. Sciascia's story is on pag.160.

[8] Sciascia L., Il lungo viaggio, in Mariotti A., Sclafani M.C., Stancanelli A (2001), Il libro arancione - dal Rosso e dal Giallo, Firenze, D'Anna, p.161.

[9] Sciascia L., Il lungo viaggio, in Mariotti A., Sclafani M.C., Stancanelli A (2001), Il libro arancione - dal Rosso e dal Giallo, Firenze, D'Anna, p.161.

[10] Sciascia L., Il lungo viaggio, in Mariotti A., Sclafani M.C., Stancanelli A (2001), Il libro arancione - dal Rosso e dal Giallo, Firenze, D'Anna, p.162.

[11]de Bono E. (1973-1975), CoRT Thinking, Blandford, Dorset, Direct Education Services Limited; also de Bono E. (1987), CoRT Thinking Program. Workcards and Teacher's Notes, Chicago, Science Research Associates.

[12] Tidona G. (2001), "E' possibile migliorare la creatività e la riflessività dei ragazzi?", in Dialogo, anno XXVI, n.7, Modica, pp 1-9,  and Tidona G. (2002), "Riflessività e creatività a scuola", in Dialogo, anno XXVII, n. 7, Modica, pp.7-8.

[13] de Bono E., see the section Philosophy and Background to the CoRT Lessons, id.

 

Laboratorio Scuola (altre ricerche del prof. Giuseppe Tidona):

Impedimenti ad una vera riflessione (estate 2007)

Studiare e pensare: i risultati di un esperimento (maggio 2004)

 Insegnare e apprendere  (autunno 2003)

Studenti capaci e studenti incapaci (maggio 2003)

    Il tema: quali metodiche per aiutare gli studenti nello sviluppo di idee? (gennaio 2003)

  Riflessività e creatività a scuola: le lezioni Co.R.T., un secondo esperimento (settembre 2002)

Competenze e ... sesso (gennaio 2002)

E' possibile migliorare la creatività e la riflessività dei ragazzi? (settembre 2001)

 

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