Sunday, October 9, 2011

Implementing Thinking Skills

Thinking skill may be explained as the mental capacity to analyse, synthesise and evaluate a situation and ultimately draw a conclusion or make a decision. Thinking skill is therefore important for each individual in his daily life. On top of that, thinking skill is also a prerequisite of the labour market. Employees across different hierarchies are called upon to make decisions.
However, as McGuiness, C. and Sheehy, N. (2006) mentioned, children cannot become better thinkers – able to give reasons for their conclusions, to think flexibly and creatively, to solve problems and make good decisions – solely by learning a content-based curriculum. We must make clear what we mean by these different forms of thinking and set out to teach them more explicitly than we normally do in classrooms.
 How far the implementation of thinking skills leads to the development of a thinking classroom depends on several conditions. Some conditions do favour in successful outcome but others may not. For instance, to develop a thinking classroom, pupils need to be made to participate in the learning exercise. We need to change their role from passive to active. For that it is important that the learning environment be made conducive to pupils’ participation in creative and critical thinking – a place where no questions or answers are considered as stupid or wrong ones but rather opportunities for the teacher to coach the pupils to think in the right direction. A place where they:
...need to feel free to explore and express opinions, to examine alternative positions on controversial topics, and to justify beliefs about what is true and good, while participating in an orderly classroom discourse (Jerry Thacker, as quoted in Gough 1991, p. 5 as quoted in Cotton, K. 1991).
Precisely, the role of the teacher is very important. The latter should be an effective discussion leader. Therefore, as educators of business subjects, we need to examine our subject of discussion in advance, prepare a set of questions of different order levels to be addressed to our pupils and be attentive to responses. Besides, we need to give enough time to our pupils to think. According to Burden, R. and Williams, M. (1998), students whose teachers extend waiting time in their questioning sessions master inquiry skills more effectively. It also increases the length of student responses and the number of questions students ask, the number of times students make inferences and support them with evidence and the number of contributions from slow learners.
Some of the above characteristics of teacher behaviours that help to foster the development of thinking skills can be found in the following list suggested by Thacker as mentioned in Cotton, K. 1991:
·         Setting ground rules well in advance
·         Providing well-planned activities
·         Showing respect for each student
·         Providing nonthreatening activities
·         Being flexible
·         Accepting individual differences
·         Exhibiting a positive attitude
·         Modeling thinking skills
·         Acknowledging every response
·         Allowing students to be active participants
·         Creating experiences that will ensure success at least part of the time for each student
·         Using a wide variety of teaching modalities.

To develop thinking skills, it is also important to use metacognitively-rich pedagogy. According to McGuiness, C. and Sheehy, N. (2006), metacognition has potential to facilitate the transfer of learning. Metacognitively-rich pedagogy supports children’s learning and thinking so that they would be better placed to plan, monitor and appraise their own thinking which will enhance their future learning and thinking. For instance, as educators, we may coach our pupils to do the following:

  • Planning how and when to work
  • Self-monitoring – that make sure they understand what they do
  • Evaluating why they do mistakes
  • Working hard parts on their own
  • Not doing their work as quickly as possible but diligently
Thinking skills can also be developed by using learner centred teaching strategies – whereby teaching and learning engages both the cognitive as well as the social resources of the classroom. For instance, we can take real life examples and make our pupils to recognise their own role in society in such examples. For example, while teaching “The Law of Demand” in economics, we can use role play to explain our pupils their own behaviours as consumers in real life with respect to increase in prices of commodities while they have the same limited means. Indeed, Robert Fisher quotes the following in his book Teaching Children to think:
A stimulus, to be learning experience, should carry significance and meaning that relates to the wider context of the child’s culture. A given culture can be challenged or rejected at a later stage. What a child needs is a starting point of offered meanings to give him his first bearings in an unfamiliar world (Fisher, R. 1995, p.111)
Another way of enhancing the development of a thinking classroom could be by using guided discovery method as well as case study whereby the pupils are presented with a few situations and allow them to draw conclusions and provide solution.
 Cooperative learning can also help in developing a thinking classroom as mentioned by Jacobs, G. M., Lee, C, & Ng, M. (1997).

… cooperative learning can support an environment in which students feel encouraged to take part in higher order thinking (p.16).
Jacobs, G. M., Lee, C, & Ng, M. (1997) also explain how cooperative learning can help development of thinking skills:
Teachers who use cooperative learning have learning objectives that are academic, affective, and social. Students are encouraged not to think only of their own learning but of their group members as well. Cooperation becomes “a theme”, not just a teaching technique (Jacobs, 1997). Further, cooperation features throughout the school, e.g., teachers cooperate with one another and let their students know about this collaboration (p.2).
Also, given through cooperative learning pupils think about the learning of their peers, they may, therefore, be asked to evaluate and analyse problems of other members of their group.
The quality of teaching aids we use in class may also influence the degree to which the classroom becomes a thinking classroom. For instance, the use of visual aids like charts, graphs, pictures or even videos may help pupils have reflection and thinking on the topics being taught.
However, there are also some conditions that may hinder the development of a teaching classroom.
As educators we are bound by a syllabus. We have to cover all the contents of the syllabus within a specific time frame. Therefore, we may not take all our time letting pupils to think, waiting for slow learners to participate or attending to all responses and questions from pupils; else we run the risk of not completing the syllabus. In addition, lessons plans that are based largely on thinking skills take long time to be prepared while we also have to provide adequate time to the preparation of tasks, assessments, corrections of exercises so as to prepare our pupils for the exams.
Another obstacle about implementing thinking skills could be language problem, especially when the school program is taught in a foreign language. Pupils having difficulties with languages may find it difficult to participate and therefore may not take the pain to think over the question asked.
Moreover, facilities for the use of visual aids like projector and videos may be available in all schools. Even where they are available, they are in limited quantities and prior arrangements need to be made as they may be used by other educators also.
In conclusion, it should be acknowledged that it is important for us educators to strike a fair balance between covering the syllabus content and developing thinking skills in our pupils so that they learn and live more intelligently; though our means are restricted.