Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Knowing/Reasoning

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Why is applied and abstract reasoning so important to the learning process?
Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.


Learning is finding out what you already know, Doing is demonstrating that you know it, Teaching is reminding others that they know it as well as you do. We are all learners, doers, and teachers.

—Richard David Bach

The "zombie" look is a blank stare that a teacher gets when he or she has lost the majority of their class, at this point they are no longer learning. The average attention span of a student in a classroom has proven to be about fifteen to twenty minutes. What would you say if I told you that some of your students wouldn’t make it past the first five minutes of a lecture? If the students aren’t listening then they are not learning. The question is not how to make students listen and learn but how to embrace their learning abilities. A person’s ability to learn stems from what type of reasoning they gain knowledge from. Applied and Abstract reasoning are two completely different forms of learning and in order for us, as educators, to reach out to students we must first find out a way to engage each and every one of them. We must not only engage our students but do so in a matter that makes sense to them at their own personal level. If we do not allow everyone to learn in their own way than the fifteen minutes you spent lecturing will throw many students off, possibly be detrimental to their understanding and show in their grades. So before you classify a student as learning disabled try to think of a way for them to get to you not a way for you to get to them.

Applied Reasoning[edit]

Aristotle one said “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand”. This quote explains how some individuals learn, through applied reasoning. There is nothing wrong with someone who does not understand material given through a lecture or can not figure out how to assemble something by being told once. Sometimes, no matter how easy a task, applied learners will fail to comprehend the material until they are literally shown how to do it. These learners are classified as the creative ones or the hands-on learners. Stick an applied learner in a lecture hall they walk out confused, show him or her a picture or diagram they walk out understanding. This type of learner tends to trail behind due to the lack of teaching methods used in everyday classrooms that include such learners. But despite their lack of comprehension in a lecture environment, applied reasoning can be extremely helpful in and outside of a classroom.

Students need to be provided hands on activities, group work, and guided questioning. In the classroom these students will be accomplishing a real world goal; like, building something, testing hypothesis, or simply using counting blocks (Munden). With applied learners it is always important to remember that the demonstration of the material is critical to their understanding of the information. Lesson plans should include handouts, worksheets, videos, and posters to help applied learners apply and visualize the information. The majority of people learn best by actively working with new concepts and ideas, solving problems, asking and answering questions, discussing, debating, brainstorming, researching and explaining. So, by encouraging the applied learners to engage in lecture and class discussions you will help them to evolve into well rounded students who can learn in any situation.

Abstract Reasoning[edit]

No single individual is born with a particular “way” or learning or comprehending information, it is more so taught over time. By the time students reach college, they have compensated for how they comprehend things and for the most part will understand when taught hands on or by lecture. The college life, unlike grade school demands that you understand and comprehend in any setting. Abstract learners have a “one up” in this manner because college professors find that the easiest method to relay lots of information in a small amount of time is by lecturing. According to, "abstract reasoning ability is important because it enables students to apply what they learn in complex ways. Analogical or abstract reasoning is an important cognitive skill involved in abstract mental processes such as creating metaphors, constructing explanations, and solving complex problems" (Goswami, 2007, p. 437–470).These learners may find it hard to perform more creative tasks that involve the senses or other activities such as coloring and anything artistic.

Abstract reasoning tasks involve skills such as:

  • Forming theories about the nature of objects, ideas, processes, and problem solving
  • Understanding subjects on a complex level through complex analysis and evaluation
  • Ability to apply knowledge in problem-solving using theory, metaphor, or complex analogy. (


"One of the most fascinating and mysterious properties of the brain is its capacity to learn, or its ability to change in response to experience and to retain that knowledge throughout an organism’s lifetime." (2003,under how do we learn and remember)It is extremely important to young learners to feel encouraged about their intelligence. By not engaging all kinds of learning processes teachers make whoever they are not reaching feel less intelligent. Discouraged students may stop trying or lash out as a way to show inner struggles. How an individual in taught and how well they learn can be detrimental to their future success in and outside of school. "Cooperative learning and problem-based learning are two topics that school divisions are now spending considerable money and professional development time."(Schultz, 2007, p2.PBL) If teachers learn how to involve all students in their classrooms it will make learning more enjoyable for everyone. We, as educators are setting students up for future troubles and disappointment if we do not move away from traditional teaching methods. Educators cannot carry on producing real-world disabled students by having all work done independently and with unambiguous and fixed directions. Many teachers now dispute that it is crucial to engage students with "real world" problems that they must unravel in collaboration with others. (Schultz, 2007, P2.PBL)

Involving Everyone[edit]

Okay, let’s break this down a little further. Now that you know all of the information about abstract and applied learners you may be asking yourself how exactly do you involve both in classroom functions. There is a simple answer to this question and that is by combining techniques. Instead of just lecturing provide pictures and charts that illustrate what you are talking about. Using a short lecture followed by a hands on activity also encourages both types of reasoning and can also reiterate new materials to all students allowing them to not only learn temporarily but learn for life. "Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject."[1]

Research has shown that cooperative learning techniques:

  • Promote student learning and academic achievement
  • Increase student retention
  • Enhance student satisfaction with their learning experience
  • Help students develop skills in oral communication
  • Develop students' social skills
  • Promote student self-esteem
  • Help to promote positive race relations [2]

Both applied and abstract learners can benefit from using dialogue in the classroom. “Involving students in discussion fosters retention of information, application of knowledge to new situations, and development of higher order thinking skills” (Gardiner,1998). By having your students engage in dialogue you are allowing them to have a better understanding of the material being covered. You can still have a lecture, which the abstract learners benefit most from. But, then you can have the entire class, as a whole or in individual groups, have a discussion about the topic just lectured on. Applied learners will benefit from this because they learn best from being involved. Not only will you be teaching in a way that every student will learn from, but also you are engaging the students in a way that will help them have a deeper understanding of the material. By using dialogue in the classroom, your students will be better prepared for life after school because they will have learned how to express their thoughts and be respectful listeners.


We, As teachers,can only imagine what the future lives of the children we teach will be like. It is our responsibility to not only be encouraging but to provide for the knowledge that will be carried with them for the rest of their lives. Education is not a thing that should be forgotten it is something that should be built upon; we as educators provide the building blocks for the rest of the students lives. So when making lesson plans remember that your goal is not to make students learn but to help students to learn for life. This educating can only be executed properly if it pertains to every type of learner whether they use abstract or applied reasoning to process the materials. As Clay P. Bedford once said,"You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives."

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

What kind of reasoning does a student use when they are considered "creative"?
A. Abstract
B. Applied
C. Artistic
D. Social

B. Applied

What classroom activity could a teacher do to encourage all students?
A. Lecture
B. Paint
C. Paint and lecture
D. Read to them

C. Paint and lecture

What might encourage positive classroom involvement?
A. Letting the students do everything on their own.
B. Stimulating thought as well as creativity.
C. Having them recite from a book they just read.
D. Having the students draw pictures of what they just learned from a lecture.

B. Stimulating thought as well as creativity.

Susan is discouraged about her classroom because she feels like she is learning a lot slower than the other students. What might be the reason, based on the article above, for Susan's discouragement?
A. The teacher was painting and lecturing today.
B. Susan's classmates are smarter than her.
C. The teacher is favoring a one-sided teaching environment with lectures only.
D. She should be in a class for ADD students only.

C. The teacher is favoring a one-sided teaching environment with lectures only.

When students are not learning the material a teacher should...
A. Blame the students.
B. Blame the parents.
C. Reevaluate their teaching strategies.
D. Assign more homework.

C. Reevaluate their teaching strategies.

Which is a way to help everybody in the classroom have a better understanding of the subject?
A. Only lecture on the material.
B. Only have your students do group work.
C. Have a lecture and then have the class participate in a discussion or dialogue.
D. Tell your students to put their heads down.

C. Have a lecture and then have the class participate in a discussion or dialogue.

Why should a teacher use dialogue in the classroom?
A. To let the students get all their problems off their minds.
B. To help the students get a better understanding of the subject.
C. Because most students won't stop talking.
D. Because it's the "cool" thing to do.

B. To help the students get a better understanding of the subject.

What's the difference between applied and abstract learners?
A. Applied learners like to eat while they study and abstract learners don't.
B. Applied learners have more fun than abstract learners.
C. Applied learners don't know anything and abstract learners know even less
D. Applied learners learn best from a hands-on method while abstract learners learn best from a lecture.

D. Applied learners learn best from a hands-on method while abstract learners learn best from a lecture.

John works hard to take notes in lecture but still feels like he can’t grasp the information completely. He is probably what kind of learner?
A. Abstract learner
B. Slow learner
C. Applied learner
D. Visual learner

C. Applied learner

Mrs. Johnson Science class is working on creating cell models to display the concepts learned in lecture. This is a good example of what type of learning?
A. Model building
B. Applied learning
C. Abstract learning
D. Distance learning

B. Applied learning

Tony does well on tests and takes great notes but when asked to perform a task demonstrating what he has learned Tony has a hard time. Tony may be what kind of learner?
A. Applied learner
B. Emotional learner
C. Social learner
D. Abstract learner

D. Abstract learner

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Based on the information above, do you feel it is fair to judge all students based on complex analysis tests such as the SATs?

Standardized testing, in my opinion, is an invalid way to assess a student’s intelligence. No student is classified as standard and by testing them this way it provides nothing short of an inaccurate print-out of whether someone is smart enough or not for the college of their choice. I feel that schools should allow students to show their knowledge based on a test that involves both applied and abstract reasoning. Another factor that might be considered in the creation of these tests in the black and white scantron set before them that will determine “the rest of their life”. Don’t you think these test would make any student nervous enough to make mistakes? So if you’re asking if these tests are fair, absolutely not. Giving a group of students an advantage by providing them with a test catered to their personal reasoning skills singles out others. These tests have the ability to make creatively smart students feel obsolete in a world of complex analogy testing. We are experiencing the biggest educational reform since the introduction of electricity in schools. Educators are moving away from the teacher-based class and focusing on the students. If there are so many changes in technology and we are focusing more on the students then why are these tests that determine knowledge still lagging behind?

Although I know many standardized tests are relatively accurate predictors of behavior and future performance I do not feel that it is fair to judge all students on tests such as the SATs. As the school systems move more and more toward standardized testing because of NCLB, I feel that in fact, many students are being left behind. There are many students who simply excel at things such as presentations, creative projects, plays etc. These students are just as intelligent as their fellow students who excel at tests, they just uses more applied reasoning. I think that we need to judge students on a more individual basis, it may be more costly and time consuming, but to be fair we need to let each student demonstrate his strengths. Besides the students who can show their knowledge in hands on projects better than standardized tests, you also have students who are just poor test takers, either they get nervous or they question themselves and change their answers even when they knew the right one. It isn’t fair to these students to base their future, in essence, on these tests. It determines which schools they get into, etc and the test is so limited. The SATs and other standardized forms of evaluation need to be rethought and perhaps reworked or eliminated.