Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thinking from the inside out!

Teaching ‘thinking’ seems an important thing to do but paradoxically too much emphasis on ‘higher order thinking’ (HOT) can actually result in low level thinking!

Teachers can become so enamored with de Bono’s hats, Bloom’s taxonomy, Gardner’s multiple intelligences, graphic organizers, mind maps, Costa’s intelligent behaviors and endless inquiry learning models that the focus is taken off what it is the students are actually learning.

Not that anything is wrong with any of the above – they are all valuable ‘thinking process but they are a means to an end, students able to achieve real in-depth thinking about content felt to be important to the learner. As such they only work if driven by deep curiosity and a passion to find out something by the individual learner. All too often when I visit rooms I see walls full of posters outlining thinking skills but search in vain for quality results of all the processes. Such ‘thinking props’ ought to be placed in a ‘my thinking book’ book for students to refer to as necessary leaving the walls to celebrate student creativity.

It was great then to read in Mark Treadwell’s ‘A Thinking Framework’ Jan /Feb 2006 newsletter that the basis of thinking is personal and revolves around the question, ‘how do I know I am me?’ Thinking is an internal process of self invention; about developing our continually emerging mind by coming to understand ones personal world. It is developing in each learner a learning identity with a particular idiosyncratic voice.

By this process of self invention we all develop mental models which in turn help us interpret ant future experiences – for better or worse. What we think and do, and see other do, is limited by our internal world view. Our views are colored by our life experiences and interpretations. The room for misinterpretation is obvious

Rather than spending time teaching everyone a set of thinking strategies it would be wiser to pay attention to what students think and feel and to focus on what questions and queries they have, and to value their views, current theories and misconceptions.

Our minds are continually on the search to find patterns and meaning in whatever experiences we have. Humans are the only animals dedicated to ‘making meaning’ so as to change their environment suits their needs. It is this desire, or love of learning, that should take priority not imposing out of context think skills.

Helping students become aware of their ‘views’ and ‘thinking’ ought to be the focus of teaching – this awareness of ones own thinking is called meta-cognition and students who can achieve this are the real future thinkers. Encouraging such reflective thinking after any activity is vital if students are to ‘learn’ through their experiences.

The need to learn can be motivated by a number of things – curiosity, confusion, mystery, competition, identity and even fear. Really comprehending how students think is an elusive task but luckily the brain is equipped to process information and even has specialist areas for different modes (multiple intelligences). What is required is the provision of a stimulating environment full of intellectual challenges and a culture that encourages the use of intelligent behaviors (including learning through ‘failure’) to encourage the dispositions, or intellectual ‘habits’, to be life long learners. Any specific thinking skills should be called on appropriately to assist students make meaning. Inevitably whatever is learned is learnt because it has emotional meaning to the individual. Passionate teaching, linked to students needs to know, is vital.

So learning results from when students ‘mental model’ or ‘worldviews’ are challenged and modified. It is not as rational as providing a set of thinking skills. The model of teaching that best fits this approach is constructivism, or better still ‘co-constructivism’ where the teacher and learn together to ‘make up their minds’.

Teachers need to become skilled in establishing learning cultures or communities and in providing tempting learning challenges, and by using 'open', 'rich', or 'fertile' questions, assist their students think deeply about whatever has attracted their attention.

Whe need students when they leave formal schooling with their talents and passions developed, with positive learning values in place, and with the wisdom to be able to interact critically with whatever comes their way.


Anonymous said...

Teachers always believe that they teach students - students learn for themselves with help from adults.

Anonymous said...

Helping student realize their potential makes teaching a far more creative and exciting job than fitting students into a 'one size fits all' imposed curriculum.
What we need to ensure is that the desire to learn is not overwhelmed by 'non-sense'.

Bruce said...

The standardised curriculum, with all its strands , levels and objectives, puts too much pressure on teachers to comply with, in the process taking the emphasis away from focusing on each learners own internal curriculum.

The current curriculum revision project only cuts down the nonsense but doesn't change the faulty 'thinking' behind the original documents.

As such it will lighten the load but not change the direction.

We needed to see more courage from 'our' Ministry officials.

Anonymous said...

Personalisation of learning, focusing on developing the talents of all students, must be the vision for learning in the 21stC.

The fragmented mass production industrial aged education system has gone as far as it can go - it is now dysfunctional, destroying the creative talents of too many students.