Sunday, May 4, 2014

Using Mental Representations to Promote Higher Order Thinking Skills

Senge (1990) characterizes the creation and utilization of mental models as the assumptions held by organizations and individuals.  When considering mental models, it is important to recognize the need for these models to be based on fundamental and "deeply held images of thinking and acting” (Jacobson, 2000, p. 102).  Therefore, system dynamics and systemic thinking allow mental models to become more effectively coordinated and simulated during the process of learning.  Through the creation of explicit, clear, and easily communicated models, system dynamics extend mental models.  Through the improvement of the quality of dynamic decisions based on existing mental models, systemic thinking then provides the means to improve the mental models and thereby improve the quality of dynamic decisions that are based on those mental models.

While clear vision is accepted as essential for attaining goals, there is a need to embrace what vision means in relation to learning.  Effective educators embrace the concept that learning is improved through utilization of graphic mental representations.  Reason (2010) defined the establishment of a mental representation as the capacity to create a vision.  During the learning process, the opportunity for mastery of abstract concepts is optimized when progressively complex steps and increased independence are effectively communicated, respective of the stages of learning (Idol & West, 1993).  During the learning process, mental representations do not automatically emerge.  Therefore, teachers influence the capacity to learn through presentation of graphic mental representations. 

Below is a mental representation of the process for synthesizing two research articles.  Respective of the students’ acquisition stage of learning, students would initially be provided with the common theme by which to begin the process for comparing and synthesizing the two provided articles.  In this example, the expectation for students in a teacher preparation program would be to analyze, summarize, and finally synthesize the Navarete et al (1990) and Heritage (2010) articles based on the theme: Changes in Classroom Assessment Practices since 1990.  Teaching higher order thinking skills requires implementation of good pedagogy that respects the students’ zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1979) and utilizes formative assessment (Black & Wiliam, 1998).  


Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Educational Assessment:

Principles, Policy and Practice. 5(1), 7-74

Heritage, M. (2010) Formative assessment and next-generation assessment systems: Are we losing

an opportunity. Paper prepared for The Council of Chief State School Officers.

Washington DC. Retrieved from:

Idol, L., & West, J. F. (1993). Effective instruction of difficult-to-teach Students: An inservice

and preservice professional development program for classroom, remedial, and special

education teachers. Austin, TX: Pro-ed.

Jacobson, R.D. (2000). Leading for a change: How to master the 5 challenges faced by

every leader. Boston, MA: Butterworth Heinemann

Navarete, C., Wide, J., Nelson, C., Martinerz, R., & Harget. G. (1990) Informal assessment in

educational evaluation.  Paper prepared for The National Clearinghouse for Bilingual

Education (NCBE) Washington, DC.  Retrieved from:

Reason, C. (2010). Leading a learning organization: The science of working with others.

Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline. London: Century Business

Tudge, J., & Scrimsher, S. (2003). Lev S. Vygotsky on education: A cultural-historical,

               interpersonal, and individual approach to development. In B. J. Zimmerman &

D. H. Schunk (Eds.), Educational psychology: A century of contributions

(pp. 207–228) Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

To cite:

Anderson, C.J. (May 4, 2014) Using mental representations to promote higher order thinking skills.

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