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# Cognitive Styles and Dispositions (page 3)

By J.E. Ormrod
Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall

Researchers do not yet have a good understanding of where various cognitive styles and dispositions come from. Perhaps inherited characteristics play a role; for example, a student may have an energetic, inquisitive temperament or a biologically based strength in visual processing. Perhaps parents or cultural groups encourage certain ways of looking at and dealing with the world (Irvine & York, 1995; Kuhn, Daniels, & Krishnan, 2003). For instance, if oral histories have been a significant part of students’ cultural heritage, students might be accustomed to learning from information presented auditorily rather than visually (Kirk, 1972; Trawick-Smith, 2003). And quite possibly, teachers’ actions in the classroom make a difference—for instance whether teachers encourage exploration, risk taking, and critical thinking relative to classroom topics (Flum & Kaplan, 2006; Kuhn, 2001b, 2006). In the following classroom interaction, the teacher actually seems to discourage any disposition to think analytically and critically about classroom material:

Teacher:  Write this on your paper . . . it’s simply memorizing this pattern. We have meters, centimeters, and millimeters. Let’s say . . . write millimeters, centimeters, and meters. We want to make sure that our metric measurement is the same. If I gave you this decimal, let’s say .234 m (yes, write that). In order to come up with .234 m in centimeters, the only thing that is necessary is that you move the decimal. How do we move the decimal? You move it to the right two places. (Jason, sit up please.) If I move it to the right two places, what should .234 m look like, Daniel, in centimeters? What does it look like, Ashley?

Ashley:  23.4 cm.

Teacher:  Twenty-three point four. Simple stuff. In order to find [millimeters], we’re still moving that decimal to the right, but this time, boys and girls, we’re only going to move it one place. So, if I move this decimal one place, what is my answer for millimeters? (J. C. Turner, Meyer, et al., 1998, p. 741)

Undoubtedly this teacher means well: She wants her students to understand how to convert one unit of measurement to another. But notice the attitude she engenders by suggesting that the task is “simply memorizing this pattern.”

Although researchers have not yet determined how best to promote productive styles and dispositions, we can reasonably assume that modeling and encouraging effective ways of thinking about classroom subject matter will get students off to a good start. For instance, as teachers, we should consistently demonstrate open-mindedness about diverse perspectives, and we might regularly ask students to evaluate the quality of scientific evidence (Halpern, 1998; Kuhn, 2001b; Messer, 1976; Perkins & Ritchhart, 2004). The Into the Classroom feature “Promoting Productive Styles and Dispositions” presents other examples of what we might do.

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