On some occasions learning
has been seen as an outcome of thinking and the process of learning has been
investigated as that of hypothesis testing. For example, it has been assumed by
some scholars that in acquiring a specific concept, learners primarily generate
some conjectures about it and then assess them in the light of the definite
occurrences of it that they can find. This conception sees learning as "explorative".
In this study an
experiment was carried out to test the relationship between learning and
thinking in the school environment.
Two different reading
passages were given to two classes composed of thirty 14 and 15 year old
students to study in an assigned time. The extracts were the same on both
occasions. At the same time pupils were informed that they would answer a number
of written questions on the content later. Some sections of the passages could
be interpreted either in a more literal sense (even if this move led to
something not completely convincing) or in a more creative one (which would give
more depth and richness of meaning to the stories). But to do the latter they
had to think productively, to be mentally able to restructure the absorbed bits
of information in a new fashion.
The two classes were
divided into two halves (9+9 the first class and 6+6 the second one), roughly
composed of students of the same overall abilities and school results: one
constituted the control group and the other the experimental one.
In the control group,
pupils were simply told to think deeply and richly before answering the
questions, after studying the content.
In the test group, the
students were advised, instead, to use the APC "tool" (following
the CoRT lessons by Dr. de Bono), which would help and guide them in
Both groups (the
controlled and the test one) had practised some of the CoRT "tools" (including
the APC) weeks before. While, though, in the experimental condition learners
were explicitly instructed to use the APC, in the controlled condition, as it
was said before, they were only told to be as profound and prolific as possible
in their thinking without any other instruction. The control group students did
not even know that the other half was using de Bono's tool.
As expected in the
controlled condition both times the majority of the students gave only the most
obvious and superficial answers (even the best in the two classes), by choosing
to be strictly faithful to the text.
In the test condition,
instead, all the subjects gave diverse and elaborate responses, which were even
astonishing in their depth.
Thinking is not natural
and learning is not thinking, if one means generative reflection, that is
reasoning which moves from point A to B, for it. In actual reality learning is
more a passive procedure than a productive one.
De Bono's tools are very useful in generative thinking,
if an explicit effort is made to use them.
can find two forms of thinking. First of all, there is simple thinking, which reflects a thing as it is, in other words, it
registers it. We can define this as first
level thinking. This form of thinking confines itself to observing
reality and to absorbing it in its original shape. It is a type of thinking that
requires a minimal effort, only a certain inspection. There is obviously the
need for a clear view: one must be sure that there are no barriers which could
alter the contour of things.
mode of thinking is best exemplified by the very famous sentence by St. Thomas
Aquinas: "adaequatio rei et
intellectus". There is perfect correspondence between the mind and that
to which the mind is directed. This happens naturally, unless one falsifies things deliberately. Reality
inhabits the mind of he who knows, it is neither alien nor strange to it.
sentence by St. Thomas is renowned in the same way: "cognitum
est in cognoscente per modum
cognoscentis". The thing known is found inside the person, even if in a
specific shape, that of a concept.
is, however, a second kind of thinking, more complex and, in many aspects, more
important than that of the first type, even though it has not always been
recognised as such.
explaining it, it is necessary to state clearly that, in day-to-day life,
situations and things are often hazy. It is not always possible to say with
certainty that A is A, both because A is more than A and because one does not
know whether the concept of A has been well constructed. After all, it is not so
common to find a "ready" and defined object within reach to which to
compare one's own mental simulacrum, itself already well outlined, in order to
establish the truth.
these reasons, explorative or productive
thinking often becomes more important: this thinking is capable of moving
from A to B, of spotting unapparent links, of drawing conclusions from premises
not seen at a first glance or, probably, of describing A as something different.
can define this as second level thinking.
examine the other verb in the title briefly. What does "learning" mean?
Are learning and studying, perhaps, synonymous?
is not so.
is a continuous experience in all our lives, but the same cannot be said about
studying which is a particular condition reserved to some.
Studying normally includes learning, but learning might not include
studying. In other words learning is a vaster area than studying.
Goodnow e Austin1
see learning as a by-product of thinking; the type of learning
particularly examined by them is that which brings the formation of concepts.
One can describe the generation of concepts as the production of sets of rules
which serve the purpose of classifying objects.
and his colleagues view learning as a particular form, first, of generation, and
later, of testing of hypotheses.
learner, according to them, normally produces some suppositions, with regard to
the salient features of the concept being acquired, which he or she later
verifies by carefully examining its instances traceable in the outside world.
example, if the concept being learned is that of "mushroom", I can
soon perceive that some mushrooms are edible and others are poisonous.
But the next step, more importantly, will be that of finding the features
which differentiate them.
I wanted for example to define the concept of "edible mushroom"
exactly, I could taste a small bit of it (to be sure not to die, if poisonous),
produce some hypotheses about its attributes and then test them against the
instances I can find in the world. I would, in this way, discover if the "markers"
established by me are good or not at defining the concept I am interested in.
view that learning in "informal" situations can be examined as an
outcome of thinking is acceptable; that this way of seeing things can be then
extended to studying, as a particular form of learning, is less agreeable. In
other words, the notion that study, in its canonical form of "methodical
application" to books or other similar tools, is normally characterised by
the generation first and the testing later of hypotheses is a less convincing
scholars have made a distinction between the generation of hypotheses2,
on the one hand, and their application, on the other. It is more probable then,
that for the most part the second aspect is developed in our schools.
same distinction can also be rephrased in terms of inductive and deductive
processes: there is, without any doubt, more emphasis on the latter in the
the same differentiation can be sketched out in terms of reasoning and thinking.
Surely reasoning is more common than thinking in our schools.
speaks of guided thinking and autonomous thinking. For many
aspects reasoning is a form of guided thinking, led by the rules set in advance.
can also state, to use the terminology applied before, that reasoning is first
must not forget either that in order to develop second
level thinking three other factors are needed: the will to think,
perseverance to reach results, and a taste for alternatives and
all these reasons it is difficult to see how thinking can be the salient feature
of the above-mentioned form of studying.
many school situations, only the most elementary type of thinking is required:
it consists then simply in relating things with clarity. Thus thinking is solely
"reflection", adequate mirroring in one's mind.
process of developing appropriate understanding amounts to this: after absorbing
other people's views (which fundamentally is the substance of study), the pupil
(at most) tries to map their perspectives completely, to sense their reasons.
Studying then is focusing, arriving at a destination, at the same place that
someone has reached before. Thinking is therefore identificatory reflection.
in its highest form should be, instead, going beyond, not arriving simply at an
established point where one is expected.
the most authentic thinking takes place when it is autonomous, that is when one
is not guided in his or her reflection and is alone even regarding direction.
it is so, then one must necessarily assume the responsibility for each move.
True thinking is, therefore, mature. To reach this goal, though, it is necessary
for pupils in the school environment to be accustomed to forming personal
judgements, to acquiring a taste for them and to being proud of their individual
intuitions. Reflection thus evolves from identificatory into explorative
is the main worry in the typical school environment? Do teachers and students go
beyond identificatory reflection? Are students capable of autonomous thinking?
CoRT4 lessons were developed by E. de
Bono just in order to instil a taste for thinking and the aptitude for it in
pupils. The lessons were arranged in the early seventies and consist of sixty
educational units, grouped in six sets, each of ten lessons, to expand thinking
and creativity in pupils. The lessons, suitable for students of diverse ages and
abilities, should be taught for one or one and a half hours a week by a teacher
who has assimilated them before. In effect, the CoRT name is an acronym which
stands for Cognitive Research
Trust (the research organisation within which they were composed, in
lessons, as de Bono says5, give students
some useful "tools" for rendering certain mental operations visible,
for making them concrete: in their absence these operations would be elusive,
not well defined, imprecise, therefore carried out, most of the time,
a teacher told a student, for example, to be accurate while assessing a given
idea, undoubtedly this would be a noble recommendation, but it would bring out
poor practical results. What does it mean exactly: "You must be precise and
deep in your consideration"? How could a student convert this useful advice
into a concrete activity?
process would remain really vague and pupils would not be certain how to act
instead, I told a student: "Do a PMI" (it is the name of a specific
exercise in the CoRT lessons- see below), then everything would be clear and
that demand would become at once a feasible exercise.
"mind tools" offered by de Bono are often composed of a chain of
operations which must be implemented in the shown sequence. These activities, to
be performed step by step, one after the other, help students to overcome
uncertainty, especially typical of adolescents when they are to carry out
something which remains on an indefinite level.
lesson addresses a specific thinking ability. Many "mental" activities
that students are invited to perform are characterised by "nicknames"
to facilitate their memorisation. These are the acronyms formed by the initials
of the words used to denominate the ability under scrutiny.
was mentioned above. In this specific instance P
stands for Plus, the positive aspects of things, M for Minus, the negative
sides of them, and I means Interesting,
the new and interesting facets of the concept at hand (in itself neither
positive nor negative yet, but which are worth both considering and developing).
for example the following idea were proposed7:
"All seats should be taken out of buses", then one could carry
out the following analysis in applying the scheme:
is plus, positive aspects)
More people can get into each bus.
(that is minus, negative
Passengers would fall over if the bus stopped suddenly.
Old people and disabled people would not be able to use buses.
(that is interesting, new
idea that could lead to two types of buses, one with and one without
way, "mental" activities acquire identity and visibility and it is
easier to train students on them.
CoRT lessons structure
it was said before, the corpus is made up of sixty lessons divided into six sets.
The six series are composed as following. The first is called Breadth (the aim is to broaden the way pupils think); the second Organisation,
whose objective is to help pupils organise thinking; the third Interaction, which deals with interactive and critical thinking; the fourth Creativity
and offers some suggestions and techniques to promote creativity; the fifth
is Information and Feeling,
about how to obtain and evaluate information, and the last Action, which devises ways of turning thinking into action.
is not necessary, however, to impart all the units. It is possible to carry them
out in a basic format of 20-25 hours,
that is within the school year.
have taught the CoRT lessons repeatedly, particularly to adolescents, with very
positive effects. I have also devised experiments to measure their objective
efficacy. For example, in two successive school years (that is in 2000/2001 and
in 2001/2002), to be more certain, I repeated the same experiment involving
first classes (fourteen years old) of the Istituto
Tecnico Statale Commerciale "Besta" in Ragusa (Italy).
experimental classes, tested before and after the experiment (which consisted in
teaching the First and the Fourth series of the CoRT lessons, for the entire
school year, see above) got much higher scores than the control classes at the
Williams test and at an ideational test. The control classes, too, had been pre-
tested at the beginning of the school year and post- tested at the end of it:
they were comparable to the test classes in terms of overall ability at the
start, but they were not instructed on the lessons (for more information on the
results, see the Italian periodical Dialogo8).
overall results were very encouraging. The papers on the two experiments were
submitted to the XI Conference on Thinking
(Phoenix-USA, 2003) evaluation
committee and accepted for presentation.
of the more important "tools" offered by the CoRT lessons is APC.
It forces pupils to broaden their horizons and take into consideration options
otherwise ignored. The APC acronym
A = Alternatives
C = Choices
we think, we often have the sensation that all the available ideas,
possibilities and choices are simply there in front of us and, therefore, that
we can limit ourselves to examining these. Frequently, though, the answer to our
problems is not constituted by the most obvious solutions: a deliberate effort
and a structured attempt at looking for different options are necessary and are
perhaps more adequate than those that come to mind spontaneously. To reach this
goal, though, a mind "organiser" is necessary. This mind "organiser"
is needed to support thinking and guide it through the different directions.
After all, thinking is not natural: that which is natural is instinctive,
see if studying in itself implies thinking (understood as productive
thinking) the following experiment was organised. It involved two classes of the
Istituto Tecnico Statale "F. Besta"
in Ragusa (Italy), to which the CoRT lessons had been taught in the same manner
from the beginning of the present school year (2003-2004).
I C, comprising students whose average age was 14 and class II E, consisting of
fifteen year olds, were divided into two halves (I C 9+9 and II E 6+6), which
included pupils roughly comparable in terms of overall abilities and school
results. Inside each class, half acted as test group and the other as control.
To both groups, in the two classes, two reading passages were assigned to study.
They were told that at the end they would receive marks (in order to simulate
the most typical school situation), on the basis of their written answers to
some questions, which they would be given at a later stage, at the end of the
study session (20 minutes for the two passages).
the allotted period elapsed, the texts were withdrawn. Soon after the
experimental half was invited outside to receive some particular instructions:
these students were told that they simply
had to use the APC tool (without it being explained again) in answering the
questions. While these pupils were in the corridor, the others in the class
received the recommendation that they had to
think accurately and answer the questions as richly as possible: but the APC
tool did not get any specific mention. It is worth reaffirming what was said
before: both groups had studied APC in the same way some weeks before.
two halves were then reunited and were assigned the same questions on the
reading passages, not being possible for any of the students to exchange either
information or ideas. The same procedure was followed on both occasions (on the
12/1/2004 for I C and on the 13/1/2004 for II E).
of the texts was a historical piece (at least this was what was stated) by
Plutarch on Alexander the Great. The other one was, instead, a passage allegedly
taken from a science fiction story, by an Italian writer, Giorgio Corradini: in
actual fact, both texts had been arranged in the appropriate style by the author
of the present research.
texts are related below.
the Great expedition
Alexander the great
crossed the Hellespont, leading an Army trained for battle composed of Thracians,
Macedonians, Illyrians, and Greeks (but there were no Spartans, or at least
there were very few from that town, seeing as they had withdrawn into fruitless
isolation, a telling sign of their decadence): 4 by 10,000 men composed it and
all of them were determined to defeat the Persian Army. Alexander the Great
often took part in the action on the battle-front, instilling courage in his
soldiers. The undertaking appeared as an epic endeavour from the start, given
the foreseeable difficulties that they would surely run into. But his Army was
well trained and ready for every eventuality. (Plutarch)
That poor soldier stood
alone, there outside, in the cold and in the rain. He was 1,000 light-years from
Earth and just at that moment he was thinking of his loved ones who, in the
warmth of a comfortably heated home, were having dinner. Of course at that time
down there it was a holiday, the one you most look forward to and the dearest of
all: Christmas! But he could not take part in the joy and the serenity of that
special gathering, or in the friendly talk of his family. He was instead, on the
planet of Kebola, four times bigger than Earth, in a desolate environment, in
dim, ash coloured light, rich in sulphur vapours. He had not studied much: he
had been very bad at school and had left it early. So he could not aspire to a
higher status either. He and his fellow soldiers had come from the distant Earth
as conquerors and now had to protect themselves from probable counterattacks.
They had the task of spreading terrestrial civilisation, this at least was what
they had been told by their superiors. Gravity, that gravity though, made
everything unbearable! Air was heavy to breathe: therefore the reason why even
the slightest movement was a terrible pain had seemed clear to the soldier.
"Ah if the air were purer and more invigorating, I could at least go
jogging here around the base, to stretch my legs and loosen my muscles!" he
said to himself. And in his mind he went back to the bracing air of home and to
how for this reason he could move with agility there.
His companion James, on
planet Kebola with him, listened to his reflections: James (who had been good at
school and had got a good education) treated him as if he was ignorant. So they
had not formed a real friendship.
Now the winter climate was
making their guard duty at the base camp unbearable. (Giorgio
The questions were partly "factual", that is pupils were
invited to remember and relate some data, which was contained in the two texts:
and this, obviously, concerned the simplest questions. But there were also other
questions that required an effort of a different, more "elaborative"
nature (supposing that students were capable of this!).
the instance of the first text, the "factual" question was: "How
did Alexander the Great behave in battle?". To answer it, students had
to simply recall the implied portion of the text: after all information about it
was given directly by "Plutarch".
second question - still relating to the first text- was at that point more
engaging, because an effort of "transforming" reflection was required
in order to answer it in a meaningful and logical way. The question was: "How
many soldiers did Alexander the Great
have at his disposal?".
meet this request, one needed to take into account a section of the text, which
was undoubtedly puzzling. In fact, it affirms that the Army was made of 4
by 10,000 soldiers, which is unquestionably a curious way of relating an
manner of presenting the information could possibly make students think either
of the marching formation of the Army or of the contribution given by the
various peoples, but if one ponders over the matter, none of these suppositions
are really convincing.
get out of trouble, anyway, the most persuasive mode was that of carrying out
the multiplication and communicating the total. To answer in this way, though,
students had to make a minimal effort to think "productively". The
alternative would have been that of relating the information in the same way (4
by 10,000), namely that of taking the text literally, thereby eliminating the
for the second text, the "factual" question (which, in other words,
demanded only recalling effort) was: "Why
had they moved from Earth to the Kebola planet?"
question which, instead, could be answered either in an almost "obvious"
manner, without making the effort to think by keeping to what was clearly stated
in the text, or in a richer way, linking distant elements in the passage, was: "Why does James treat the
soldier as an ignorant person?". The
most predictable answer was that James was more cultured because he did better
at school: thus, he was rather big-headed.
another response was possible, if students were only capable of connecting far
away elements of the text. The soldier attributed every difficulty in movement
to the "heaviness" of air, so to speak. But somewhere else it is said
that on the Kebola planet gravity was four times greater than on Earth:
therefore he is only expressing an ingenuous vision, which is also a common
prejudice among adolescents, notwithstanding the fact that they have "formally"
studied the phenomenon in Science several times over the years9.
"heaviness" and difficulty in movement are not due to air but to
gravity. Therefore it is more probable that James' severe opinion is engendered
by this persistent, mistaken attribution of the soldier rather than by the title
of study. To come to this
conclusion an effort to think to a certain degree was undoubtedly necessary,
considering that pupils must avoid the trap represented by the "natural",
naive conception, always present in them, in spite of the attempts of Science
teachers to overcome it.
can also state that, given the above-mentioned situation, the generative effort
was inferior in the first instance but much greater in the second text.
starting hypothesis was that control group students, at least the great majority
of them, despite the written and oral recommendations for beginning to respond
only after thinking deeply and richly, would answer the two "reflective"
questions in the most obvious way. And this would happen even if control group
pupils demonstrated that they had studied well by relating correct data with
regard to the "factual" questions: almost as if second
level thinking were not implied in "normal" study.
supposition was still that test students (all of them) who, instead, had been
explicitly invited to use those mind tools that can guide productive thinking,
in this instance de Bono's APC, would
articulate more convincing answers, going beyond what was indicated above as
results are shown here in the following tables.
Note: In the case of the first text, in some of the answers given by the two
test groups, in addition to "40,000", there were unexpected responses
like: "There would be 40,000 of them, but I am sure that to this number,
one must add some of the prisoners captured during the expedition and forced to
fight according to the ancient custom"; or "Many, countless, seeing as
he was loved by his men, for Alexander was always among them"; or, "If
one is allowed to play with numbers, we can then say: 20,000+20,000 or
30,000+10,000, etc!"; and finally "Enough to win so many battles".
both control groups the "obvious" answer was given by some students
considered by their teachers as the brightest!
Note: in the two test groups, apart from generic, but not "obvious"
answers like: " James treated him badly because the soldier didn't
understand how things were there"; or "He treated him badly because
the soldier didn't understand the difference in life between Kebola and Earth",
it was possible to find very specific responses. Two pupils, one from I C and
one from II E, were able, with considerable insight, to outline the mistaken
attribution to air instead of the Kebola mass, with regard to the "heaviness"
in movement, as the cause of James' opinion about the soldier who was considered
to be "an ignorant person".
the 15 control groups students none were able to reach this conclusion (due to
one of the most entrenched and difficult prejudices to eradicate in adolescents,
as was said before). All control group students gave only the most "obvious"
answer (even the brightest ones), except one girl who added "the soldier
had not studied, thus he did not understand how things were". The current
interpretation in the control groups was, instead, that it was only a matter of
Note on the two tables:
the χ square test is, in any case,
very significant **, p<0.001, as one can already
infer on a first reading.
what measure is it possible to state that pupils who answered in the least
"obvious" manner have for this reason reached a deep comprehension of
the text10? Is productive, second
level thinking similar perhaps to deep understanding?
comprehension can be defined as such, first of all because it is able to connect
concepts with meanings already present in the learner's mind.
for deep comprehension we mean only this it is still what I defined as first
level thinking. Yes, there is linkage with what is personal inside the subject; there is a connection with the net of
subjective meanings, but we remain at the textual
level. In other words, we are confined to the "superficial" layout
of the text and to the lines of sense that it seems to suggest.
is required by the two "thinking" questions is not, though, first
level comprehension, because one must start a "movement": The answerer
is being asked for "productivity" with regard to the text, in other
words, to do something that, logically speaking, is not necessary, because
meaning is available there and one could declare oneself pleased with it!
lateral thinking effort, as de Bono
would say11, is indispensable instead,
to avoid the "surface plot trap" and to link the elements in the
passage in an unusual manner.
comprehension can certainly be understood also in this last manner, that is as
the ability to succeed in establishing second level connections- in other words,
in going beyond the textual and personal
planes to the productive one- but in
my opinion this is already generative thinking because it implies an attempt to
restructure the field.
comprehension is not usually included in current learning, even in the brightest
the other side no one can deny that second
level thinking is "thinking" in the true sense of the word, to
which to commit oneself: it makes mankind what it is, assuring its genuine
results of this experiment, certainly centring only on two classes of
adolescents, confirm the initial hypothesis. They seem to point out that
learning in a typical school situation is, in good measure, a distinct process
evidence was provided the following day to that in which the experiments were
students of both classes a new task was given, which was simpler this time.
assignment was: "List all the verbs of which the word 'to study' reminds
II E the 5 most chosen verbs (in order of frequency) were to memorise, to be bored (!),
to understand, to learn, to remember; in I C (in the same order) to
read, to learn, to repeat, to memorise, to understand.
both cases the verb "to think" was the least cited of all.
we can see, studying is memorising, remembering,
repeating, at most understanding,
which is, though, trying, in short, to spot the author's point of view. Thus
respect for the text prevails over any other consideration of a personal and
"reflective" nature (as the first and the second reading passage in
the experiment have briefly demonstrated: let us think of the many students in
the control group who with regard to the text on Alexander the Great chose the
annotation 4 by 10,000, even if it was more than perplexing).
generic appeal to students is not enough to lead them to true thinking, though:
it does not have any practical effect.
use of mind tools, like those offered by the de Bono's CoRT lessons (among which
there is APC), is more effective because they can guide and organise the
thinking efforts in a fruitful manner. But it is necessary to apply them
deliberately, that is they should
be evoked explicitly in order for them to produce considerable effects.
See Bruner,J., Goodnow, J.J., & Austin, G.A., A
Study of Thinking, New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1956.
Nickerson, R., S., Perkins, D., Smith E., The
Teaching of Thinking, Hillsdale, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlabaum
Associates, 1985, p. 50.
See Petter, G., La mente efficiente, Firenze, Giunti, 2002.
E. de Bono, CoRT Thinking, Blandford, Dorset, Direct Education Services Limited,
1973-1975; see also de Bono, CoRT
Thinking Program. Workcards and Teacher's Notes. Chicago, Science
Research Associates, 1987.
Ibid., see the section Philosophy and Background to the CoRT Lessons.
Ibid., see the section CoRT 1.
Ibid., see the section CoRT 1.
See, E' possibile migliorare la creatività e la riflessività dei ragazzi?,
in Dialogo, anno XXVI, n.7,
October 2001, Modica (Italy), pp 1-9, and Riflessività e creatività a
scuola in Dialogo, anno XXVII, n.
7, October 2002, Modica (Italy), pp.7-8.
On adolescents' prejudices, see my article, Comprensione e competenze, in Dialogo,
anno XXV, n. 6, June 2000, Modica (Italy), p.4.
On deep comprehension, see Marton, F., & Saljo, R., On qualitative
differences in learning- I: Outcome and process, in British
Journal of Educational Psychology, 1976, 46, pp. 4-11 and On qualitative
differences in learning- II: Outcome as a function of the learner's
conception of the task in British
Journal of Educational Psychology, 1976, 46, pp. 115-27.
See, E. de Bono, Lateral Thinking, N.Y., Harper & Row, 1970.
Prof. Giuseppe Tidona e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. G.Tidona's other essays:
Insegnare e apprendere (ottobre 2003)
Studenti capaci e studenti incapaci (maggio 2003)
Competenze e ... sesso (gennaio 2002)
E' possibile migliorare la creatività e la riflessività dei ragazzi? (settembre 2001)
Direttore: Pippo Palazzolo
Registrazione Tribunale di Ragusa n.8/96 - Direttore Responsabile: Faustina Morgante - Editore A.s.tr.um. Ragusa
Ultimo aggiornamento: 21 giugno 2011