Disciplined enquiry

30 Nov

Acknowledging the work of Raven, Resnick and Wiggins, Newmann & Archbald conceptualize authentic, as opposed to contrived or trivial, achievement as comprising three elements. The essence of authentic achievement is the intellectual achievement of using knowledge "wisely, fluently, flexibly and aptly in particular and diverse contexts" to address real world tasks and problems. It is this flexible and context appropriate use of knowledge that Wiggins believes constitutes understanding, which is manifest in the production of pieces of discourse, artefacts and performances. The reproduction of cued knowledge, the application of algorithms and the performance of drills and exercises, although prerequisite for subsequent knowledge development, do not of themselves reflect understanding (the quality that Wiggins argues is at the core of authenticity), but are nevertheless the cognitive tasks that have allegedly dominated the traditional, formal educational curriculum. As well as the production of knowledge, Newmann & Archbald's model of authentic achievement includes valued goals and disciplined enquiry. Valued goals refer to the aesthetic, utilitarian or personal ideals that are of concern to the learner and which may be over and above the elements necessary for documenting competence, task completion or achievement. The third element of authentic achievement is disciplined enquiry, which reflects an in-depth understanding of the formal knowledge associated with a particular topic/issue; which develops through looking for, questioning and creating relationships between and among different pieces of knowledge and which precipitates the creation of new knowledge when extant knowledge is recognized as inadequate for a given situation or problem.

While authentic achievement cannot be fully understood without reference to all three elements of Newmann & Archbald's model, the emphasis in this article is on disciplined enquiry since the conceptualization of authenticity suggests that focusing on disciplined enquiry, rather than merely exhorting students to 'be critical' might operationalize critical thinking. Although researchers frequently use the referent, disciplined enquiry, few studies make clear the sense that is being proposed by Newmann. Newmann and his colleagues offer three global criteria, outlined in Table 1, which seem to resonate with at least some of what is meant by critical thinking as characterized by Facione. While the criterion of Analysis perhaps comes closest to summarizing the actual critical thinking skills suggested in the Delphi Report, the criterion of Disciplinary Concepts offers a context for evidencing critical thinking insofar as critical thinking does not take place in a vacuum, and the criterion of Elaborated Written Communication provides the means of observing the possession of disciplinary concepts and the powers of analyses, both of which are essentially cognitive activities. In summary, the aim of this study is to describe the disciplined enquiry evidenced in a sample of essays written on the topic of motivation.

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