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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Analogy, higher order thinking, and education

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Analogical reasoning, the ability to understand phenomena as systems of structured relationships that can be aligned, compared, and mapped together, plays a fundamental role in the technology rich, increasingly globalized educational climate of the 21st century. Flexible, conceptual thinking is prioritized in this view of education, and schools are emphasizing ‘higher order thinking’, rather than memorization of a cannon of key topics. The lack of a cognitively grounded definition for higher order thinking, however, has led to a field of research and practice with little coherence across domains or connection to the large body of cognitive science research on thinking. We review literature on analogy and disciplinary higher order thinking to propose that relational reasoning can be productively considered the cognitive underpinning of higher order thinking. We highlight the utility of this framework for developing insights into practice through a review of mathematics, science, and history educational contexts. In these disciplines, analogy is essential to developing expert‐like disciplinary knowledge in which concepts are understood to be systems of relationships that can be connected and flexibly manipulated. At the same time, analogies in education require explicit support to ensure that learners notice the relevance of relational thinking, have adequate processing resources available to mentally hold and manipulate relations, and are able to recognize both the similarities and differences when drawing analogies between systems of relationships. WIREs Cogn Sci 2015, 6:177–192. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1336

This article is categorized under:

  • Psychology > Reasoning and Decision Making
  • Psychology > Learning
Estimated verbal analogy scores at 15 for children with low, average, and high vocabulary and EF skills at entry to school. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2013 Sage Publications).
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Posttest accuracy on problems familiar or novel to participants, for students who compared two simultaneously visible solutions to a problem versus those who viewed these solutions sequentially. (Reprinted with permission from Ref , p. 569. Copyright 2007 American Psychological Association).
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Frequency of supports for analogy across 8th grade mathematics classrooms within nations with high and lower national achievement in mathematics (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2007 American Association for the Advancement of Science).
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Community college students' solutions to a series of problems reveal attempts to execute procedures without attention to simplifying relationships between problems (Reprinted with permission from Ref 6. Copyright 2011 American Mathematical Association of Two‐Year Colleges).
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