Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thinking, Who Would Have Thought? – Part B


A tool that mimics the process that your parents employed while teaching you to first talk is the flash card.  According to Wikipedia (again, our favorite resource), flash cards are a set of cards that contains information that is used as a learning tool to aid in the memorization process through a learning technique called space repetition.  Space repetition uses increasing time intervals between the reviews of previously learned material to improve memorization skills.  For years, these cards have been used to make individuals focus on a single correct answer.

With these cards, the mental process of active recall is employed, where a prompt or question is given and the one correct answer is produced.  Again, there is usually some type of positive response associated with every correct answer and usually something negative that is associated with each wrong response the individual gives.  The end result is again “convergent thinking,” where the individual has been conditioned to give the “correct answer” to standard questions that does not require any significant level of creativity on his or her part.

As you got older, another tool was used that took the flash card process to another level.  That tool became known as the standardized multiple-choice format where individuals are again taught to focus on yet more single correct answers.  According to Wikipedia, this standardized multi-choice format is an assessment tool that requires individuals to select the best possible answers from list of pre-selected responses that usually only contains at least one correct answer.

Mostly popular in the United States, the standardized multiple-choice format can be seen used most frequently in educational testing, market research, and elections, where there exists a choice between multiple candidates, parties, or policies.  In this process, a question, an incomplete statement, or mathematical equation, which is often referred to as items, is used to make an individual focus on a single correct answer.

The standardized multiple-choice format usually consist of two parts; an item that is presented as a problem to be solved and a set of pre-selected options that consist of possible answers that an individual is to select from.  In this set of pre-selected options that consist of possible answers that an individual is to select from, there is only one correct answer, which is referred to as the key.  All other answers are referred to as the distracters.

For the purposes of this illustration, we will not discuss the more complex forms of the standardized multiple-choice format.  There are some advantages to using the standardized multiple-choice format from an assessment standpoint but they do not outnumber the disadvantages to using such a format.  Depending on the item writers themselves, his or her training, and his or her personal agendas, items can be subjective in nature, poor in quality, and very ineffective as a teaching tool.

Because of the natural design of the standardized multiple-choice format, individuals are evaluated based on their ability to process and remember all of the information that they have been shown and to make logical decisions and give correct answers accordingly when asked.  Basically, the individual is expected to make the best selection from within the set of pre-selected options he or she is given.

This leads us to some of the problems with using this particular tool.  The main problem with using the standardized multiple-choice format where an individual has to choose the correct answer from within a set of pre-selected options is the fact that the tool automatically creates restrictions in an individual’s thinking process.

With the standardized multiple-choice format, where an individual has to choose the correct answer from within a set of pre-selected options, it tears down an individual’s ability to think, it deteriorates an individual’s ability to reason, and it renders useless an individual’s ability to problem solve.  With the standardized multiple-choice format, the object is to select the best answer from within a set of pre-selected options, but this best answer does not necessarily mean that the choice is the correct answer, just the best choice under the current conditions.

With the standardized multiple-choice format, where an individual has to choose the correct answer from within a set of pre-selected options, items can be written in a way that is beneficial for teaching well-defined, lower-order, or task-oriented reasoning skills, but this format does not lend itself well to teaching any problem-solving or higher-order reasoning skills.  With the standardized multiple-choice format, there is a positive response associated with every correct answer and a negative response associated with each wrong answer given.  The end result is again “convergent thinking,” where the individual has been conditioned to give the “correct answer” to standard questions that does not require any significant level of creativity on his or her part.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is a process known as “divergent thinking.”  According to Wikipedia (you know that favorite resource of ours), “divergent thinking” is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.  With “divergent thinking,” an individual is free to explore in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner the many possible solutions that can be generated by a question, by an incomplete statement, or even by some mathematical equations, without limitations or restrictions.

Unlike “convergent thinking,” “divergent thinking” improves an individual’s ability to think, builds confidence to an individual’s ability to reason, and encourages the growth and development of an individual’s ability to problem solve.  “Divergent thinking” focuses on exploring many possible solutions to a single question or problem and not just on a set of pre-selected options from which the individual must select.  “Divergent thinking” has been linked to individuals who have personality traits that include nonconformity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, and persistence.  Who would have thought?

Enjoy your blessings. - KW


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