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Teaching Students to Think

By Edited Feb 15, 2016 0 0

The outcome of intelligent behaviors is often recognized as 'thinking', hence the plethora of publications about thinking -from Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligence in Frames of Mind (1983) and the sound practical teaching advice in Robert Fisher's Teaching Children to Think (1990), to quick-fix tips like the Top Ten Thinking Skills and, dare I say, the very popular Brain Gym.

I am not disapproving of anything that will help our children to think. If it works for you then use it, but keep an open mind. What works for you today will not necessarily work for you tomorrow. There is a wash-out effect and children can grow tired of approaches and so can teachers. My contention has always been that any method taught by a competent and enthusiastic teacher can be made to succeed. Testaments to this are the various reading approaches that have been pursued over the last 40 years.

From the deeply intellectual treatises to the commercial opportunists there is an overload of publications on the teaching of thinking. When you are overloaded ask yourself the simple question:

What do I want my children to learn?

Easier said than done when faced with all this advice and information. However, I go back to two of my adages: Keep It Simple and the 'Desert Island Discs test', which is: 'You can only take one with you, which will it be?' Then the answer to the last question would be: The Fourth R - Reasoning,

We need to explore in simple terms what we mean by 'reasoning'. Reasoning for me is almost synonymous with thinking. This can be reduced to three strands for simplicity, as follows.

1. Logical: This is the type of thinking mainly associated with Maths and Science. It is a deductive process where one statement or number fact depends on the previous step(s) for its outcome. You are forced to this conclusion whether you like it or not, there is no room for judgement, you have to deduce what the facts are telling you (Sherlock Holmes).

2. Critical: This type of thinking is associated with subjects like History and PSHCE in particular, but really pervades most of the curriculum. It is still a deductive process but here we are looking for reasoned argument based on evidence. Unlike the above, judgement is an essential component. You need to weigh up the case and decide whether 'it is more likely than not' based on the evidence that this is so, or that that is so.

3. Creative: This type of thinking is associated with Art, Design, Drama and Music, but again is used throughout the curriculum. Many of the greatest scientific discoveries have been arrived at in this way and not by pure logic and mathematics, e.g. Einstein's 'Thought Experiments'. It is an imaginative process involving lateral thinking (de Bono), and is divergent and innovative. As our American cousins say: 'off the wall' or 'from left field'!

Children need to know that there are three different ways of approaching their work and problems and we need them to be 'taught rather than caught'. We should not rely on serendipity and chance. As teachers, we should explain and explore these three strands with the children and praise the Fourth R all the time.

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