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 Many schools are currently trying to teach thinking to their students with varying degrees of success. Some have chosen to focus on one particular facet such as De Bono's six thinking hats, Costa's habits of mind or Gardner's multiple intelligences. Others seek to teach thinking within the context of inquiry or other constructivist approaches. Some of my thoughts on the topic, based on books and articles I've read and workshops I've attended, are recorded below.

 Approaches to Teaching Thinking

For those who are thinking about thinking I can recommend reading a great article by Yoram Harpaz: Approaches to Teaching Thinking: Towards a Conceptual Mapping of the Field.  Harpaz starts by asking what he terms the crucial question “What is good thinking and how is it developed? He puts forward the idea that good thinking = thinking skills + thinking dispositions + understanding of knowledge.

Thinking skills are defined as techniques and strategies (the toolbox) and developed by impartation (ordering skills, demonstration and practice). The aim is to develop processes of thinking and results in an efficient thinker - one who thinks quickly and precisely.  Examples are Perkins & Swartz’ graphic organisers and De Bono’s CoRT.

Thinking dispositions are attitudes, character traits and inclinations (deep currents directing our thinking behaviour) and developed by cultivation. Dispositions are the link between skills and action. They are cultivated by personal example (modelling), cultivating activities (specific activities eg. inquiry research) and explicit dealing with dispositions.  The aim is to develop qualities of thinking and results in a wise thinker. Examples are Costa’s Habits of Mind and Facione’s critical thinking dispositions.

Understanding is defined as education, knowledge and expertise in the thought-about topic (the net of web of concepts) and developed by construction. “The explicit role of the teacher in teaching understanding is to arouse motivation for investigative learning by arousing interest or undermining basic premises and taken-for-granted beliefs.” (Harpaz, p. 15). The aim is to develop the contents of thinking (or the way they are kept in the mind) and results in a learned thinker who can locate concepts in the context of other concepts and apply them in new contexts. Examples are Brook’s & Brook’s constructivist instruction and Harpaz’ communities of thinking.

 Harpaz believes that constructing understanding should be the dominant approach, but that dispositions and skills need to be taught within this approach: “We must emphasize that the adoption of the understanding approach does not mean forsaking the imparting of thinking skills or the cultivation of thinking dispositions. The understanding approach must impart and cultivate both of these in the framework of its own aims and means. Skills must be imparted in an authentic context in which learners-researchers experience them as essential for developing their understanding; dispositions must be cultivated through embodying them in ongoing behaviour, dealing with them in adequate opportunities, and experiencing intellectual activity that invites them.” (Harpaz, p.30).

Swartz on Thinking

I attended a workshop led by Robert Swartz director of the National Centre for Teaching Thinking in the USA. He talked about how we should explicitly teach thinking skills. One aspect that  seems particularly applicable to inquiry is 'Assessing the Reliability of Ideas' including accuracy of observations, reliability of sources, inference and deduction. An interesting example of introducing the idea of checking the reliability of sources to younger children was using the story 'Henny Penny'.
One useful idea could be for students to have a 'Thinking Journal' where they record strategies they develop, lists of criteria e.g. criteria to judge the accuracy of an account, and any useful thinking tools.
Strategies he suggested for the ways thinking skills can be taught were:
* Modelling
* Collaborative thinking
* Asking sequenced prompting questions
* Use of graphic organisers to guide thinking
* Using thinking strategy maps/guides to guide the teacher who guides the students
* Infusing thinking into content learning
* Working with students at the start of the lesson to help develop the thinking strategies they will use
* Scaffolding
* Making strategies explicit
* Reviewing strategies used at the end of the session
* Getting students to put strategies into their own words
* Naming strategies used

His book is worth a look: ‘Infusing the teaching of Critical and Creative Thinking into Content Instruction” by Robert Swartz & Sandra Parks (The Critical Thinking Co.) It can be purchased online from The Learning Network NZ.

SOLO Taxonomy

SOLO, or the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes is a taxonomy developed by Biggs & Collis (1982, Evaluating the quality of learning). It describes five stages of understanding of a subject. It can be used for formative and summative assessment and to design learning activities.

SOLO stages:

Prestructural: The point or concept has not been understood. The student may have a number of unconnected ideas but cannot distinguish relevance.

Unistructural: One relevant idea is explained. Can separate relevant from non-relevant ideas. May be a couple of simple and obvious connections but their significance isn’t grasped.

Multistructural: Several relevant ideas on the topic. Several connections may be made but their significance to the whole isn’t grasped.

Relational: Understands and explains complex relationships related to the idea or concept. Understands relationship of parts to the whole.

Extended Abstract: Shows profound understanding. Transfer takes place. Makes new connections. Can apply to wider contexts and new applications.

SOLO-related Websites:

Pam Hooks has produced an excellent resource on SOLO

Other SOLO Resources from Pam Hook

Other Websites of Interest

Tony Ryan's Thinker's Keys

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2017 Jan-Marie Kellow
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