What do we mean by “Thinking Skills”?
Thinking skills are the mental processes that we apply when we seek to make sense of experience. Thinking skills enable us to integrate each new experience into the schema that we are constructing of “how things are”. It is apparent that better thinking will help us to learn more from our experience and to make better use of our intelligence.
It has always been the central aim of education to improve the quality of thinking because better thinking will not only enable us to become more successful at learning but will also equip us for life, enabling us to realise our own potential and to contribute to the development of society.
Why do we need to develop thinking skills?
When I was at school (in the 1950’s and 1960’s) students were largely considered to be “clever” if they demonstrated the ability to commit to memory huge amounts of data and to recall that data on the appropriate occasion. At that time, I recall, Australia had a population of 6 million people and 60 million sheep! Oh, how I have longed for that particular piece of information to become relevant. Not only have I not been able to utilise that particular piece of information, but I suspect that it is no longer true. The problem with learning such “facts” is that they become outdated, or new research requires modification of previously accepted “knowledge”. Even more importantly, the rate of discovery of new phenomena and the theories associated with such discovery is increasing at an alarming rate. If we are merely equipped with a bank of past “knowledge” we will soon find ourselves unable to relate to the current world in which we live, and inadequately prepared for the demands of a rapidly changing future.
In “How to Create and Develop a Thinking Classroom”, Mike Fleetham writes:
“In our evolving world, the ability to think is fast becoming more desirable than any fixed set of skills or knowledge. We need problem solvers, decision makers and innovators. And to produce them, we need new ways to teach and learn. We need to prepare our children for their future, not for our past.”
Incidentally, the current population of Australia (on 20 March 2011) is 22,594,438. I know because I’ve just checked out an up-to-the-minute projection on the website of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a facility that had not been invented when I was at school; thus highlighting the necessity to developing information-processing skills rather than cramming students’ heads with “facts”.
Is it possible to define a set of “Thinking Skills”
There are various different classifications of Thinking Skills, one of the most popular of which is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking.
Click here to see the Thinking Skills model adopted for use as part of the National Curriculum.
Whereas it is apparent that there are differences in these two models (and there are others which are equally as useful), it is nevertheless possible to detect that there appears to be a progression from that kind of thinking that is largely “passive” towards that which is “pro-active”. As they become more proficient, thinkers move from being merely “recipients” of information, to become “manipulators” and “judges” of information, and ultimately to “discoverers” and “creators” of new information. This might also be identified as a progression from the past, through the present and into the future.
How can we teach Thinking Skills?
There is evidence to suggest that “Brain-gym”-type activities are a useful foundation for the development of Thinking Skills. Such activities can be used with children from the early years of schooling onwards. The activities described in the “BrainBites” section of this website are designed to encourage students to think in a diversity of ways. Many of them call upon a number of the brain’s modules and are intended to encourage lateral thinking.
One of the sub-goals of Feuerstein’s Instrumental Enrichment Programme is to further the student’s acquisition of vocabulary, thus providing the student with the verbal tools necessary for the analysis of internalised mental processes. From the early years of primary school, teachers can do much to encourage students to engage in a variety of talk-based activities that will help to develop their thinking skills. For a selection of strategies, see the section on using TALK in the classroom.
As students become increasingly confident about expressing their opinion, teachers can do much to foster the development of thinking skills by the imaginative use of questioning techniques in the classroom.
Edward de Bono’s “Thinking hats” is a simple but useful approach that can be used in the classroom to ensure that issues are addressed from a variety of perspectives.
Although philosophy has traditionally been regarded as an activity more suitable for older students, recently there has been a move towards introducing philosophy into primary schools. Younger children have demonstrated that, with the right stimulus, they are capable of posing philosophical questions and addressing a range of abstract issues. (See Philosophy for Children links in the column on right.)
See also “Problem-solving skills for kids”.
It is, of course, useful to know each student’s Multiple Intelligence profile. This can provide teachers with useful knowledge about the best access routes to engagement for individual students.
Similarly, it helps to know each student’s preferred (VAK) learning style. There is a brief questionnaire to help students discover their preferred style. Students with a preference for processing information visually are likely to benefit from learning how to Mindmap.