Training helps children with learning to think analytically
Christine Pronk (Developmental and Educational Psychology) investigated how children learn to think analytically, and to what extent they benefit from training. According to Pronk, it is more important to investigate how individual children learn, than to measure whether or not they have achieved a certain skill. Her promotion took place on 19 February 2014.
Insight into learning processes
There are several methods to research the cognitive abilities of children. A commonly used method is administering a test, and comparing a child’s score to the norm. “This method is very useful for selection purposes, for example with regard to the most suitable educational level for a child, but does not provide insight into the learning processes that, ultimately, led to said test score”, Pronk notes. She believes that these learning processes can provide a starting point for adjusting instruction or educational interventions to the (hidden) capacities of an individual child. “Once you know that a child gave an incorrect answer, because he or she applied an incorrect strategy to the problem, you can give individualised feedback that can lead to change of the strategy used.”
A is to B
Pronk presented primary school children analogy tasks in order to investigate which strategies they use, and which learning processes play a role. The word analogy is derived from the Greek ana logon: according to ratio. Aristotle defined an analogy as follows: “A is to B, as C is to D”. For example: “A town gate is to a city, as a door is to a house”. Pronk compared a group of children that had been traditionally, statically, tested for a number of weeks, with a group that, in addition to these static tests, had also been tested dynamically. Training is included in a dynamic test, and, if needed, feedback or hints are given in order to come to the correct solution. Static testing does not include these features. “Dynamic tests can provide insight into the type, and quantity of help a child needs”, according to Pronk. “We can also find out whether children benefit from training. We found that children that had received feedback and hints subsequently used more diverse and more complex strategies than children that were tested statically”.
After the children had been presented with analogy tasks for a number of weeks, the roles were reversed. Children were now asked to construct an analogy task for the researcher, a “construction task”. They were presented with the necessary materials, but did not receive any content-wise instruction on how such a puzzle could be constructed. The children that had progressed most in their use of analogical strategies performed best when it came to constructing analogies themselves. In addition, it was found that children that had been tested dynamically were better than the children that had been tested statically at identifying which analogical relations they had used when constructing their own analogies. Pronk: “Reversing the roles was very interesting. It allowed us to investigate the depth of the growth process that children had gone through during the static and dynamic testing phases.”
Guidelines for cognitive tests
The combination of tasks used in this study can, according to Pronk, provide insight into the cognitive functioning of individual children, regardless of whether they are low, average or high functioning. “This study can provide useful guidelines for developing cognitive tests that can provide detailed advice regarding specific educational interventions.” Moreover, Pronk emphasises that the results of her study contribute to both the general knowledge of the development of analytical intelligence, and the predicting of individual learning trajectories among young children.
(17 February 2014 / Lizet Ketelaar)
'Learning trajectories in analogical reasoning. Exploring individual differences in children’s strategy paths'
PhD student: Ms C.M.E. Pronk
19 February 2014, 03.00PM
Academiegebouw, Rapenburg 73, Leiden
Promotor: Prof.dr. W.C.M. Resing