Project boosts students’ critical abstract reasoning skills

A project aiming to boost the abstract reasoning skills of senior primary school students has achieved significant results in what has been labelled a “critical learning area for the future”.

Students’ literacy, numeracy, metacognitive, collaborative, and fluid reasoning skills, as well as their growth mindsets, also showed signs of improvement during the innovative two-year project.

Australian Catholic University Professor of Educational Psychology and Exceptional Learning John Munro said the Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools (MACS) Community of Practice project, which involved three primary schools in Melbourne’s west, delivered “solid gains” in student learning including in their reading and maths performance.

“We’ve seen improvement in students’ abstract reasoning scores with effect sizes in the range of 1.1, and 1.2, which means they’ve made more than what would be a year’s growth in the first year of the project alone,” he said.

“Interestingly, the correlations at the end of the project showed 65% shared variance between abstract reasoning and their reading comprehension and maths abilities. This suggests abstract reasoning contributes to that success.”

About 180 Year 5 and 6 students at Sacred Heart Primary School in Newport, St Peter’s Primary School in South-West Sunshine, and St Joseph’s Primary School in Werribee were involved in the project, which saw them regularly tackle a series of abstract reasoning problems in collaboration with their peers.

Professor Munro, who helped design the program of learning and supported MACS and the teachers spearheading the project, said the students were explicitly taught how to apply abstract reasoning skills, such as those tested by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

“We helped children to recognise patterns, seek trends, and be able to identify and manipulate and reason about non-verbal patterns,” he said. “They are learning figural creativity or high level visual spatial problem-solving skills, which is a critical learning area for the future.

“This work is at the forefront of education.  Abstract reasoning is an essential future thinking skill.  One new information technology topic schools have begun to teach over the past decade is coding.  Abstract reasoning underpins coding. This project is helping students step into the future.”

MACS Acting Executive Director Dr Edward Simons said MACS was committed to continuous improvement in teaching and learning practices across its 300 schools.  

“We want our schools to inspire and enable every child to flourish and, in turn, enrich the world around them,” Dr Simons said.

“This partnership with ACU aligns strongly with our commitment to be practical and to foster both individual and systemic improvement.”

The students involved in the project celebrated their success at ACU’s Melbourne campus by challenging adults to a range of abstract reasoning tasks, including ones they designed themselves.

Student Deegan, 12, said he and his peers had enjoyed participating in the project.

“I liked how it helped you to get better at abstract reasoning. It really makes you think and it’s fun,” he said.

Fellow student Ini said she enjoyed working with peers and learning new strategies.

“It gets you to think more. It makes you realise how many different ways there are to solve a problem,” she said.

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