Jury 'still out' on thinking skills

19th May 2000 at 01:00
SCHOOLS need to have second thoughts about thinking skills, the Scottish Executive's first education forum for teachers was told this week. Valerie Wilson, director of the Scottish Council for Research in Education, concluded in a specially prepared review of the evidence that the "jury is still out".

Dr Wilson, whose organisation is at loggerheads with the Executive, gives a cautious welcome to thinking skills teaching but maintains there is insufficient long-term research. "Evaluation studies are inconclusive," she states.

Teachers, however, who are deploying such strategies claim substantial progress, although they accept studies are small-scale. The growth in thinking skills has been piloted through at least five different programmes, such as instrumental enrichment and CASE (cognitive development through science education) programmes, and through cross-

curriculum methods, Dr Wilson notes. All claim some success.

Dr Wilson believes there is, as yet, no firm evidence about the best way to introduce pupils to higher levelthinking to boost their all-round intellectual abilities. Special programmes, the "infusion" approach within individual subjects or across the curriculum, or a combination of methods all have drawbacks.

Dr Wilson adds: "Evidence from Wales indicates that teachers believe it is easier to embed core skills within certain areas than in others. For example, within the primary curriculum and history as opposed to modern languages in the secondary school curriculum. What is the experience of teachers in Scottish schools?"

Intriguingly, she observes that by the age of six, the brain in most children is about 90 per cent of its adult size. "This implies that intervention, while the brain is still growing, may be more effective than waiting until the brain is fully developed."

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, whose speech rounded up the conference, again condemned the research community. "I have been unhappy with the level and quality of research and the lack of distillation to the chalkface," Mr Galbraith said.

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