Inferences

The pages below offer an introduction and exploration of inferences, a.k.a. educated guesses. Using this vocabulary in the classroom allows students to explore a larger world of causation and prediction. They can then apply this power to literary, historical, and scientific claims and questions.

The program offered here is an attempt to teach students how to generate and analyze inferences and how to avoid relying on weak inferences when strong inferences are available.

Benefits of teaching inferences and related skills explicitly: 

1. It requires students to “zoom out,” to move beyond their initial intuitions or past impressions, and to search for a wide variety of causal explanations .

2. It reinforces the uncertainties of historical, literary, and scientific inquiry and opens the door to understanding biases and fallacies, quality and quantity of evidence, and other practical limitations.

3. It allows students to question openly without fear of getting “the right answer,” or trying to guess what’s in the teacher’s head.

4. It underscores the importance of understanding the underlying mechanisms and engines of history, e.g. Economics, Government, Social Groups, Religion, etc. and various analytic lenses of literature.

Pages: 

1. Key Skills and the Inference Continuum

2. Bad Inferences: Fallacies and Biases

3. Application: Inferences and History

Summary Points:

1. The ability to generate and evaluate inferences, both weak and strong, is a crucial skill and measure of intelligence. A vocabulary of inferences helps students increase both the quality and quantity of the inferences they generate, and allows them to measure the relative strengths and weaknesses of a given inference.

2. Like any skill, these abilities are plastic and current ability is simply a reflection of a student’s experience, prior knowledge, and practice.

 

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