Sunday, June 14, 2015

Watch What You Say! You May be Teaching Thinking Skills


There are many ways to think: Well, let’s see, there is critical, creative, lateral, strategic, divergent, and…... There are thousands of papers and books written on the subject, and assessments, of every ilk, measuring how we think. Yet, parents, teachers and caregivers are most-often left without a clear direction on how best to bolster thinking in our young people. This post is based on excerpts from two publications I authored a number of years ago: The Nurturing Classroom and a chapter entitled Cognition and Cooperation: partners in Excellence which can be found in If Minds Matter a Forward to the Future

It is my hope that this post will help parents and teachers separate the wheat from the chaff and make the task of teaching thinking an everyday adventure.

For sure, we need a reference point, usually referred to as frame of reference, to assimilate new information. If we don’t have a reference point on which to connect the new information, It just sits there or disappears from the thinking field altogether.

For new information to become relevant we must be able to either link it to past experience or construct new meaning. Each time we are exposed to a new way to think about something, we add another strategy or path to our thinking abilities. If there is nothing in our past experience OR if we are unable to construct new meaning, we will not be able to make sense of the information.

As parents, teachers, and caregivers we can create an environment that promotes the development of more and more thinking paths. If we tell young people the why’s and elaborate on some of the how’s rather than just telling them what to do, we help them develop new paths of thinking.

FOR EXAMPLE: in the classroom
If we tell students one of the class standards is that only one person can speak at a time, they will understand the rule and not much more. This is particularly true for the child who comes from a family where two or more people often talk simultaneously. While we make no value judgment on what happens at home, we can offer other choices for students to consider. The teacher can explain: When two students speak at the same time, it is impossible to hear everything each student says. When only one person speaks at a time, everyone can hear the speaker and will know what each person is thinking. Seems obvious? Not to all students.

FOR EXAMPLE: in the home

Parenting Style #1
Assume that it is winter and Rob, an eight year old child, does not close the door completely upon entering the house. Rob may be told: Rob, close the door. To a young child this is just another command to obey or get into some kind of trouble. Parent #1’s preferred form of communication is direct commands.

Parenting Style #2
If the parent explains: Rob, close the door cold air is coming in, then Rob begins to make the mental connection- if the door is open cold air is getting in the house

Parenting Style #3
If the parent elaborates even further: Close the door, cold air is coming in. When this happens the house will get cold causing the heater to come on frequently. If this happens too often, the heating bill will be so high we will not have any money to take our vacation trip to Disneyland.
Rob is learning about cause and effect, which is a critical element in problem solving. Some might say this is common sense. Consider the fact that Rob may not have the opportunity to learn common sense if his life is filled with direct commands.

In each of these instances the stimulus is identical. The parent’s response is the critical factor in determining the child’s cognitive growth pattern. In other words, if a child is living in a command-only household, where the reasons behind a given action are never explained, he may be living in the context of Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy Level 1—Just the facts.

Obviously, it is not appropriate for parents to always give detailed responses. However, if elaboration persists over time a child’s memory bank will be filled with options. Frames of reference will abound. When presented with new information they will have a much better chance to make sense of what comes their way.

You are welcome to make comments and join the conversation.


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