“When all think alike, then no one is thinking.“ — Walter Lippmann, writer
Having trained as a teacher in England and also having lived and worked in many different countries and cultures, I can appreciate that there are many different attitudes towards school and education.
What I have noticed throughout my nine years in Southeast Asia is that there is an admirable recognition that hard work will bring success. This is very true; we would be extremely lucky to succeed without working hard. Indeed, Carol Dweck from Stanford University, has written several papers on the need for learners to have a ‘growth mindset’; that is a belief that learning is something that we can all do when we work at it, as opposed to a ‘fixed mindset’, which suggests that there are those who intrinsically have ‘it’ and those that do not and there’s not a lot we can do about it.
In an educational setting, most teachers prefer to talk about learning rather than work. Learning can be greatly enhanced through hard work but hard work does not necessarily mean that children are learning. Good, deep learning that leads to understanding comes about through the right kind of hard work.
Think about your child’s last homework then ask yourself whether your child worked hard to complete a time-consuming task with minimal thinking or whether they had to work hard and think carefully, in order to learn something. I would suggest that unless your child was learning something then the time was not used well. Many teachers use the phrase home learning rather than homework to illustrate this point.
I think we all would agree that knowledge is important and learning facts should be part of any curriculum. However, I would argue that it is not the most important thing. Knowledge is ever more easily accessible to those with access to the Internet and most of us have almost instant access. It is essential for schools to recognise the need for learners to learn how to evaluate and analyse the information that they find and to have programmes in place that encourage learners to do this rather than merely listening, absorbing and then repeating.
As far back as the late 1950s educationalists were questioning the equality of different types of thinking skills. Benjamin Bloom, an American academic, developed an ordered list (a taxonomy) of thinking skills. He argued that some types of thinking were of a higher order than others. At the bottom of the taxonomy comes remembering things. A low order, but still important, thinking skill.
The higher order thinking skills are things like evaluating or justifying a point of view or decision and creating a new product or new viewpoint.
British author Ken Robinson has spoken regularly about the need to embrace creativity in our schools. Some schools, he argues ‘kill creativity’ with too much of a focus on low order remembering of facts, which some call knowledge, and not enough focus on the cultivation of higher order skills and understanding.
Many modern curricula do highlight the importance of thinking skills and recognise their increasing importance in our society. Recently I asked a selection of learners, teachers and parents at my school to list the skills that they thought were important to take with them from school. Amongst the most important was for children to be ‘flexible thinkers’. All parties recognise that the workplace is changing and in these times of great change our children are going to need the skills to cope with the change.
The International Primary Curriculum (IPC) recognises the need to be a flexible thinker and embedded within the curriculum are personal goals such as ‘be able to draw conclusions and develop their own reasoned point of view.’ The International Baccalaureate too makes a similar point about ‘applying thinking skills critically and creatively’ within its learner profile.
There are many ways that schools can promote flexibility in thinking for their learners. There are lots of tools that promote ‘thinking skills’ available to schools. Physician and author Edward De Bono’s thinking hats are used in a lot of schools.
At my school we explicitly teach this technique to our 3 to 7 year olds but the technique is also used with much older learners, teachers and in industry. Some multi-nationals, such as IBM, Shell and JP Morgan use the technique.
It basically involves a series of different coloured hats depicting different kinds of thinking. For our learners it shows them that there is more than one way of trying to solve a problem and validates both cautionary and optimistic input to a problem solving situation.
As learners get older they are then introduced to other techniques such as Australian teacher Tony Ryan’s thinker’s keys and Bloom‘s Taxonomy. The end result is that learners leave school as flexible thinkers who can solve problems efficiently and creatively.
David Griffiths is the Head of Primary ate Nexus International School, Putrajaya. He is also an avid supporter of Manchester City football club and enjoys playing the game himself. Aside from football, he enjoys reading on educational issues and loves spending time with his two daughters.
By David Griffiths
Source: New Straits Times Zero to 12: Challenging minds by encouraging flexible thinking - Extras - 2 April 2012