We can be aware of the three strands of thinking and illustrate, explain and explore them with our children as and when they naturally occur in our teaching. We can also emphasise them when we feel it is appropriate to apply that thinking strategy to what we are teaching at the time. However, it has been my experience that there are some common barriers to children's behaving intelligently that we need to address.
For many children we need to get them to stop and think. They need to know that this is a valued expectation of the teacher. We also need to give them a simple method to consider the situation, e.g. clarify the problem/task; make a plan; where are we going? Is there anything further we need to know?
Many children give up too easily or don't even begin. This is sometimes because they have poor self-esteem, ('I'm rubbish, me!') or they don't know where to begin or continue because the task is too difficult. Tasks need to be challenging and to extend children. This is something that we point out when they visit you, and quite rightly so, but before we get children to run we need to teach them to walk.
At first, make the problems on the easy side to demonstrate the methodology and give them early success and build confidence. For those who are struggling, show them and differentiate by extending the task for the more able. Help, support and coach: it is not rocket science, it is sound teaching.
This often occurs as a result of impulsiveness or lack of concentration. We need to get children into the habit of checking and re-reading their work whenever possible. We need to give them time and encouragement so they begin to learn that this is an expectation of the teacher. I accept that there will be times when it will not be appropriate to check, in our 'hurry along' and 'test-driven' curriculum.
Teach them to keep an open mind
This is not always a natural tendency for children or adults. We feel much safer with certainty than uncertainty, so it is not surprising that we jump to the first conclusion and stick with it. Unfortunately it encourages a resistance to flexible thinking and tends to produce closed minds.
We need to encourage 'open minds' and discourage 'closed minds'. We need to praise the good start they have made in coming to their first speculations and encourage children to consider the 'howevers', the 'buts' and the 'if you look at it another way'.
If you raise these kinds of challenges first, this behavior will begin to be transferred to the children. Further, if we encourage them to challenge each other in this way, hopefully they will further internalise this behavior and begin to challenge their own thinking.
Children never stop asking questions: unfortunately they are usually of the Can I go to the toilet? and What do I do next? kind! We need to model, look for and praise the questions that promote enquiry, discussion and knowledge. The flexible thinking questions above with: What would happen if? How do you know it's true?; What's the evidence? What is your reasoning? etc.
Stimulate curiosity and wonderment
Many children lose their natural curiosity once they have been in school for a few years. They stop noticing and asking
questions: they look but they do not see. They will look at a tree, for example, but not notice that the leaves are different, that they seem to get smaller towards the top of the tree.
We need to provide the children with wonder and amazement whenever possible: from swifts migrating to Africa without once touching the ground, to amazing records from the Guinness Book of Records, to mysterious numbers and beautiful literature. We need to ask the curiosity questions ourselves, and hopefully the children will begin to copy our behavior and share our enthusiasm.
Many of you reading this will recognize things that you do this already. This doesn't surprise me; it is good teaching and common sense, but you need to do it more systematically and consciously. Also, you need to follow our simple maxim of normally addressing only one thing at a time.
We need to be more explicit in addressing these barriers so that intelligent behavior is 'taught' as opposed to being 'caught'.