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Diffuse Social Problem Solving Task
Introduction to Diffuse Social Problem Solving Task
The theoretical framework for this study is derived from the work of Munro, a renowned influencer in the field of creativity and intelligence, who developed a new approach to gifted identification based on his understanding of gifted knowledge and learning and the characteristics displayed by gifted learners compared to non-gifted learners. This approach incorporates the philosophies of the (WICS) and the theory of successful intelligence. The identification tool is a problem-solving task that Munro refers to as a situational judgment problems (SJPs), diffuse social problem, and authentic problem-solving task (2009; 2010). It will be called a Diffuse Social Problem Solving Task (DSPST) in the proposed study. To further illustrate the implication of this tool in the current study, the next section consists of a discussion on the development of Munro’s research and a detailed description of DSPST.
Munro’s work borrows considerably from Sternberg in his attempt to develop his DSPST, applying some aspects of successful intelligence theory in demystifying the tenets of knowledge development and formation. Munro (2008) acknowledges the validity of the theory of successful intelligence developed by Sternberg, by demonstrating that cultural diversity in knowledge influences giftedness and that individuals with successful intelligence possess various gifted characteristics that may be identified through the application of problem solving tasks. He further explores the situational judgment problems (SJPs), one of the problem solving tasks that Sternberg provides as a means to identify highly successful intelligent individuals. SJPs refer to shorter problems while ‘case scenarios’ denote more complicated problems. Munro considers strong intelligence skills as characteristics that help the gifted in problem-solving, which Sternberg, on the other hand, considers as skills necessary in adaptive task situations.
Through his research, Munro gains enhanced understanding of the nature of talented and gifted knowledge, thus choosing to concentrate on deciphering the learning and knowledge formation processes (Munro, n.d.-a, n.d.-b, 1996, 2002, 2006, 2008). These include implications of far transfer, divergent thinking, metacognition, inferential thinking and their relationship to creative thinking and giftedness. Munro synthesised different knowledge aspects including episodic (Gardner, 1995); abstract conceptual (Anderson, 1982); attitudes and dispositions towards topics or phenomena (Krathwohl, Bloom & Masia, 1956); and how to think and to learn (Pressley & Harris, 1990); in developing a framework to demonstrate the learning patterns portrayed by gifted students. In his studies, Munro has also sought to demonstrate the disparity between the gifted and non-gifted. He posits that gifted and talented students’ knowledge decoding and thinking of knowledge differ from that of average-ability learners (Munro, 2006, 2012). In doing so, the gifted tend to be more proactive in amalgamating new ideas, recognise ordinary features and properties and coalesce them in intricate approaches (Glaser & Chi, 1988). Munro quotes Glaser & Chi (1988) who notes that the gifted build new links in their endeavour to develop core concepts into more elaborated and differentiated clusters. McLelland and Rogers (2003) also contributed to Munro’s work, given their proposition that gifted learners have greater understanding and can relate and link knowledge better compared to non-gifted students. Further, Woolfolk & Margetts (2012) established that the gifted exhibited advanced interconnected meaning networks which ensured that they understood better; while Carr & Schwanenflugel (1996) established that they developed networks that are more elaborated, so that they are likely to apply understanding in utilising complex strategies.
How gifted students demonstrate understanding
Munro provides that the gifted and non-gifted demonstrate their knowledge in varying ways. The first proposition is far transfer, which denotes the ability to decipher contexts which on appearance seem unrelated. Near transfer, on the contrary, refers to knowledge transfer, where meanings are closely related. Far transfer is viewed from the perspective of flexible thinking, given that its application ensures that individuals gain knowledge to enable them interpret different scenarios and hence solve more complex problems. Various researches have determined that the gifted are likely to portray superiority at far transfer including Carr (1996) and Geake (2008) who referred to them as fluid-analogizing. Kanevsky (1990) also established that gifted students aged between 7 and 8 were better at flexible thinking and that their far transfer skills emerged superior in deciphering a puzzle’s rules and strategies. According to Kanevsky (1990), gifted children would demonstrate more significant ability to shift between strategies when faced with complex problems in the puzzle games. For example, gifted students were faster, asked for less hints and had better recognition of task similarity between the two puzzles provided. However, Vogelaar & Resing (2017) in their study found no correlation between giftedness and far transfer skills. Conversely, they note that the students were selected using various means among them the Ravens, a test that only measures analytical skills. Given the opposing views presented above, it may be suggested that students who are well-rounded gifted demonstrate elevated far transfer skills compared to those who are just gifted with analytical abilities.
The second way in which the gifted demonstrate knowledge is through making inferences. Referring to the work of Heller (1979), Munro (2006) puts forth that once they learn a concept, gifted students are likely to utilize it more extensively, besides using broader inferences. Further, they can easily transfer interpretation of one problem to related ones more efficiently, and as determined in the study, dominance is observed among gifted students based on their ability to relate new information to what was previously required. Munro (2012) also notes that the gifted are better at understanding and synthesising information, hence they need to differentiate classroom content to accommodate their superior characteristics.
The third way in which knowledge is demonstrated is metacognition. Munro identified gifted skills similar to Sternberg (1999) metacognitive skills, or “metacomponents.” These include skills related to problem identification, definition; formulation of strategy, resource allocation and problem-solving monitoring and evaluation. In recognition of the impact of metacognition on gifted children performance, Munro utilises metacomponents in developing questions for his DSPST.
The fourth manifestation of knowledge is divergent thinking, which symbolizes the ability to apply multiple approaches in resolving a problem. Divergent thinking is considered an element of creative thinking and problem-solving because it encompasses experimentation to ascertain and develop different ideas which could act as a solution to the problem (Cropley, 2006). As noted by Sternberg (2006), solving ill-defined problems requires skills in creation, invention, imagination, discovery and hypothesizing; all which are a reflection of creativity. In a study by Page & Gundersen (2016), the researchers established that closed-ended problems had a negative impact on creativity. In the research which sought to assess the impact of problem-solving mind-sets through the use of LEGO games, they established that where a picture of the outcome or clear goal set was given, creativity and divergent thinking diminished significantly. Therefore, divergent thinking is an imperative aspect in real-life problem-solving. A similar view is given in Han (2003), who determines that divergent thinking is mostly effective when the problems presented are problems that the children face in their daily activities. Wallace &Russ (2015) in the same context established that divergent thinking skills portrayed in pretend play among children between 4th and 6th grades had a direct correlation with longitudinal math achievement. Blanco-Herrera (2017) found that when presented with Minecraft, a game that required divergent thinking, players who were given instructions emerged as being less creative than those who did not receive instructions. However, in addition to creativity, Sterberg & Grigorkeno (2000) note that individuals also require practical and analytical skills necessary in idea evaluation and synthesis.
Differences in gifted/non-gifted Processing time
Steiner & Carr (2003), postulate that individual differences in intelligence manifest through speed processing, particularly in the execution of basic cognitive tasks. Basing their claims on evidence from cognitive development and gifted education, Steiner & Carr (2003) determine that there is a need for further incorporation of cognitive development in giftedness research to effectively understand gifted behaviour.
In differing results, Shore & Lazar (1996) identify that children from middle school who are gifted solve computer-based complex pattern recognition problems considerably faster than average-ability adolescents. They also took fewer steps to unravel the problems, though not significantly less. Interestingly, children with high IQ tended to take longer in the problem’s assessment and planning phases. This according to Steiner and Carr (2003) may be explained by the students’ attention to detail and focus on accuracy; hence the additional time is spent in strategizing. In a related study, Duan & Shi (2013) also determined that gifted students exhibit faster processing speeds, in a study on Chinese research which sought the ability of processing speed to segregate gifted and non-gifted children. Students aged 9, 11 and 13 who were gifted resolved problems quicker and more accurately for all the tasks tested including reaction to choice, time of inspection and abstract matching. Notably, significant statistical difference was only observed among 9 year olds.
The difference in processing times between the gifted and non-gifted gives rise to the concept of constraints, which have proved necessary in determining creativity in problem-solving. According to Peterson,et al. (2013), effective constraint management played a key role in promoting solutions to social innovation problems in terms of originality, quality and elegance. Stokes and Fisher (2005) have also provided evidence on the correlation between creative problem solving and ability to work around constraints. Based on the proposition by Stokes and Fisher (2005), it is possible to support the consideration of constraints in the DSPST. Besides time constraints, Munro developed the DSPST in such a way that there existed resource constraints and other obstacles to obtain a solution. In the research, students had to find different perspectives and alternatives based on the fact that even though it provided money for the fishermen and their families, there is overfishing in the Great Barrier Reef.
The DSPST (Diffuse Social Problem Solving Task)
Munro recognises the significance of enabling gifted students to have opportunities to display their high level thinking and use “learning actions” to enrich their understanding and knowledge of tasks (Munro, 2013). In this relation, Munro (2008) provides that open-ended problem-solving tasks and similar authentic approaches can be useful in helping students to demonstrate their gifted abilities and distinguish the gifted from other ability learners. Munro envisages the creation of a tool that can meritoriously identify gifted knowledge through the use of different tasks aimed at assessing individual thinking capability. The DSPST (Diffuse Social Problem Solving Task) is the result of extensive research and is constructed based on the WICS (Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity, synthesized) and Successful Intelligence theories developed by Sternberg. Through assigning different tasks to individuals, the tool can be used in identifying gifted, successful knowledge and hence differentiate the gifted and non-gifted. Munro (2010) initially refers these tasks as situational judgment problems (SJPs), which consist of tasks meant to test gifted intelligence. These SJPs had long been known as situational judgment tasks (SJTs).
The DSPST is highly relevant in identifying giftedness because it provides an approach to assess ability, other than standardised tests which only focus on vocabulary and analytical skills. The DSPST aims at identifying knowledge by providing questions based on real world scenarios, and because it is open-ended, it is highly useful in assessing creativity, practical and analytical skills, and wisdom. There are various characteristics of DSPSTs as defined by Munro (2015). First, they are not well defined, require clarification, and do not have a particular solution path. Second, their responses are expected to adapt to changing situations. Third, they are elucidated in ‘real world’ situations and hence susceptible to competing demands and time constraints. Fourth, they since there is a possibility of interacting with other contextual issues, some solutions may deviate from the collective’s broader goals and values. Fifth, information required to resolve them is not apparent or easily accessible.
In his paper “Identifying gifted knowledge and learning in indigenous cultures,” Munro (2010) explains his 2009 study in which he uses SJPs among indigenous fifth to sixth grade adolescents from Kenya and Australia, to determine how gifted thinking and knowledge correlate with culture. The research identifies talented students using tasks that test creativity; innovative and divergent reasoning; unique critical evaluative thinking; and the strength of individual motivation to learn (Munro, 2010). To test their gifted problem-solving ability, students included had to achieve the following:
Identify the problem
Come up with a conceivable solution
Develop a convincing pathway and include details on how they would achieve the action
Determine the kind of information they would require to solve the problem
Provide information on the impact of the solution to the community
Provide a suggestion on how to monitor the solution’s effectiveness.
In assessing and scoring the diffuse problem responses, Munro uses dynamic assessment in addition to the score key. This overcomes the challenges of fixed assessment parameters by allowing students to better express themselves and seek clarification aspects that were previously unclear. To circumnavigate the language barrier, instructions were given in both English and Swahili to ensure the Kenyan students understood effectively.
The results of the research indicated significant association between student solutions and Ravens Progressive Matrices’ scores, which assessed fluid intelligence, and moderate correlation with Creative Writing task performance. The contribution of the variance on composite gifted rating scores by the open-ended problem solving task was estimated at 60%. Based on the research, Munro concluded that open-ended problem-solving tasks provide a robust tool in the identification of talented individuals, based on their ability to test participant creative intelligence skills, divergent thinking, critical and evaluative thinking and reasoning flexibility. The results can be linked to successful intelligence theory upon which Munro’s DSPST is built and even though he did not specially assess creative, practical and analytical abilities, divergent thinking, creative thinking, and critical and evaluative abilities represent some of the aspects of the theory. In addition, Munro includes probes aimed at assessing awareness on how knowledge can be used in addressing everyday problems, an indication that wisdom is also assessed in the research.
In his 2015 study, Munro investigates the efficacy of his DPST in identifying gifted students. To achieve this, 357 students from sixth grade in Melbourne are included in the research and required to respond to various conventional tasks aimed at assessing their learning ability. Similar to the Kenyan research, Munro (2015) determines that gifted learners recorded superior problem solving ability than their non-gifted counterparts. They also depicted superior inferential, divergent thinking; which denotes the aptitude to reason analogistically and to develop intuitive theories related to the context of the problem. Gifted students in both verbal and nonverbal categories scored higher than those who were either only verbally or non-verbally gifted (p < .01). However, unlike in Munro (2009), Munro (2015) does not use dynamic assessment.
The concept of wisdom in this research can be emphasized by Munro’s focus on assessing how students are able to apply their knowledge in providing ethical, yet practical, long-term solutions that can be used to meet the needs of the community. The tool, which was derived from the WICS model developed by Sternberg (2010) was proposed to identify creativity and wisdom. As stated by Munro (2015) the study does not directly address how wisdom as presented in the WICS model is incorporated in the research. However, two of its probes partially estimate this by assessing awareness of how knowledge can resolve problems for a ‘common good.
Munro’s studies demonstrate that gifted students possess outstanding creativity, divergent thinking capability, advanced analytical skills and critical thinking necessary for complex problem-solving. The DSPST presents a tool that supersedes regular assessment in identifying gifted children based on their creativity and critical thinking. While Munro successfully identifies gifted students in Melbourne, there is need to exploit the DSPT in a more diverse population, in order to effectively generalize its outcome.
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