Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Developing reasoning skills

The ability to reason is the fundamental characteristic of human beingsReasoning is a form of thinking or the highest activity stage of thinking. John Dewey described reasoning as ‘speculative thinking’ or ‘reflective thinking.’ Reasoning refers to the act or process of drawing conclusion or inferences from information(observations, facts, guesses or assumptions) following principles or rules of logic.Reasoning is the process by which we advance from what we know already to new knowledge and understanding. Reasoning skills involve clarifying, meaning, explaining, analyzing, opinion forming, decision making, interpreting and giving reasons for conclusions.Though reasoning, problem solving and decision making are different, but they represent overlapping aspects of human intelligence.

Theories of reasoning

Reasoning processes revolves around two theories, mental rules theory and mental model theory. According to mental rules theory, the basic processes involved in deductive reasoning problems are (a) encoding the premises into representations stored in working memory, (b) applying abstract, rule-based schemas to these representations to derive a conclusion and (c) applying other rules to check the contents of working memory for incompatibilities. The mental models theory of deductive reasoning posits that the individual first transforms the premises of an argument into another representation (i.e., mental model) that is consistent with the premises.

Elements of reasoning

1.  All reasoning involves thinking.
2. All reasoning has a purpose.
3. All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some question, to solve some problem.
4. All reasoning is based on assumptions.
5. All reasoning is done from some point of view.
6. All reasoning is based on data, information and evidence.
7. All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by concepts and ideas.
8. All reasoning contains inferences or interpretations by which we draw conclusions and give meanings to data.
9. All reasoning leads somewhere or has implications and consequences.

Kinds of reasoning

Tacit (intuitive) reasoning is the reasoning without conscious intervention and outside awareness. It depends on the network of ideas and associations in the memory. Intentional (explicit) reasoning is the strategic or rule – based reasoning. It requires effort and accumulation of varied experiences. Thus reasoning involves both conscious (and explicit) and unconscious (or tacit) processes. Reasoning depends importantly on knowledge. Everyday reasoning depends on the efficacy of past reasoning processes (stored as knowledge) as well as the efficacy of present reasoning processes.

Mental processes in reasoning (Steinberg, 1986)

1.       Selective encoding refers to the process of distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information.
2.       Selective comparison means retrieving and then comparing only a subset of potentially relevant information about the associated concepts from long-term memory.
3.       Strategic combination is the orderly, strategic or planful combination of information in working memory. It requires deductive reasoning (formulating logical arguments or a mathematical proof).

Categories of reasoning

Analytical reasoning includes classifying, organizing and evaluating information. In some cases analysis is based on deduction. Deduction works by elimination, being a process of dividing the appropriate from the inappropriate items of information.
Spatial reasoning is the deduction of differences, likenesses and parallels in shape and size. It is an  ability to visualize, compare and transform objects.
Numerical or mathematical reasoning is an ability to apply quantitative methods and using models (real-world situations) to make predictions and informed decisions.
Scientific reasoning involves deduction (‘drawing out’ conclusion from an assumed generalization) and induction (drawing conclusions from observations) as well as experiments and statistical analysis.
Verbal reasoning is the ability to understand and communicate using language or ability to analyse information and solve problems using language based reasoning.
Logical reasoning is the ability to find inherent relationship among facts – provided there is one – so that the facts yield ideas or principles. Logic is the science of valid reasoning. Aristotle was the founder of the science of logic.

Development of reasoning ability  

Logical method is studying the logical connections of premises and conclusions and the practical connections of causes and effects.
Scientific method consists of systematic observation, measurement and experiment. It is an ongoing cycle of formulating, testing and modifying hypothesis. Hypothesisàexperimentationàrefines the ideaàexperimentationàfinal statement.
Systems method applies a systems or holistic perspective by taking all aspects of the situation  into account and by concentrating on the interactions between the different elements (systems and components).

Aspects of reasoning

Inductive – begins with a small fact, building upon that to a major conclusion. This is a process of reasoning from parts to the whole from examples to generalization.
Deductive –starts with a major point and gradually defends that point down to the smallest fact. This type of reasoning moves from the whole to its parts, from generalization to underlying concepts and examples.
Chronological – organized according to time, often earliest to most recent.
Spatial – uses diagrams, maps or pictures to guide  the direction of a oral presentation.
Logical – follows some sequence of events or steps in an evolutionary manner.
Topical – presents several content areas with no apparent connection.

Basic processes of reasoning

Storage and retrieval skills enable the thinker to transfer information to and from long-term memory. Visual imagery is used for the information to be remembered. Mnemonic strategies are also examples of storage and retrieval skills.
Matching skills enable a thinker to determine how the incoming information is similar to or different from information already stored in long-term memory. There are 5 types of matching skills.

  1. Categorization enables thinkers to classify objects or ideas as belonging to a group and having the characteristics of that group. This has been referred to as chunking.
  2. Extrapolation enables a thinker to match the pattern of information from one area to that found in another area.
  3. Analogy involves seeing the similarities among essentially different objects or ideas and using the existing knowledge about the first set of objects or ideas to understand others.
  4. Evaluation of logic is the process of comparing the structure of information with an internalized system of logic to see if the information is valid or true.
  5. Evaluation of value is the process of matching information to an internalized value system and analyzing the logic of that system.

Analysis and synthesis

Analysis is taking apart and examining the pieces of collected data. In other words analysis means understanding the whole of something by breaking it down into its parts. It can be contrastive or comparative analysis. In contrastive analysis, you break something down into parts in order to understand something that is different from or that contrasts with the original object of analysis. In comparative analysis, you break something down into parts in order to understand something that is similar with the original object of analysis.
Synthesis is pulling the pieces together again and simplifying and organizing them in a meaningful way. Synthesis is just the reverse of analysis. Synthesis proceeds by induction. It is essentially a process of organizing and adding together concepts and other intellectual data in order to reach new knowledge.

Quotes for reflection

“Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal.”  -Alexander Hamilton.

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”  - Aristotle.

“Give a man a truth and he will think for a day.

  Teach a man to reason and he will think for a lifetime.”

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