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Patty Cooke headshot

Affiliation: Alumna and Former Scandling Scholar
Program: PhD, Human Development
Dissertation: The Impact of Engaging in Philosophy with Middle School Children on the Development of Critical Thinking
Previous Education: BA, University of Rochester (psychology); MS, University of Rochester/Warner School, (counseling and human development)

Awards/Honors: New York State Challenger Fellowship and and Susan B. Anthony Scholarship

Patty Cooke’s research interests in philosophy and education are more timely than ever given the current spotlight on critical thinking, deemed essential to the academic and personal development of young minds.  As Common Core State Standards continue to dictate changes in instruction, the school counselor and lead teacher hopes her work will encourage schools to do more to help students be open-minded, reflective and adaptive.

“I’ve always felt it was a good pedagogical strategy to get kids to think about their thinking,” explains Cooke, who has a master's degree in counseling and a PhD in human development from Warner, “to deeply analyze concepts, to consider why we hold certain beliefs [and] how we form our beliefs, and to acknowledge that through conscious reflection and practice, we can strengthen our reasoning over time.”

In her 2013 study of 26 sixth-graders at a local middle school, Cooke found that a seminar in philosophy, focused on reason and argument, yielded a statistically significant boost in critical thinking skills. She presented her findings this spring at the Reasoning, Argumentation & Critical Thinking Instruction conference in Sweden, where the majority of presenters from around the world focused on college students.

“I am hoping to promote this at the secondary level,” says Cooke, who has received steady guidance and encouragement on conducting valid, rigorous research from Warner advisors Lucia French and Dena Swanson. Cooke was first inspired toward this goal as a University of Rochester undergrad in Rich Feldman's Reason and Argument class. His work greatly influenced her research design and seminar.

As Cooke sees it, middle- and high-school teachers are being asked—without being explicitly shown how—to foster the development of critical thinking in their classrooms. She believes that offering a model dedicated to the training of reasoning skills would reap both instructional and developmental rewards.

“In the past, philosophy was reserved for college-age students,” she says. “The reality is that children are natural arguers; they can learn to become better reasoners, if they’re taught to be.”

Higher-order skills develop and evolve only with regular practice, which is why it’s even more important to start early, believes Cooke, who plans eventually to teach at the college level.

“If this is truly what we want kids to be able to do,” she adds, “we should dedicate more time to teaching children to think critically.”