Perhaps most importantly in today’s information age, thinking skills are viewed as
crucial for educated persons to cope with a rapidly changing world. Many educators
believe that specific knowledge will not be as important to tomorrow’s workers and
citizens as the ability to learn and make sense of new information.
—D. Gough, 1991
In the twentieth century, the ability to engage in careful, reflective thought has been viewed in various ways: as a fundamental characteristic of an educated person, as a for responsible citizenship in a democratic society, and, more recently, as an employability skill for an increasingly wide range of jobs. It is really important to teach today’s students to think critically and creatively.
Teaching children to become effective thinkers is increasingly recognized as an
immediate goal of education. If students are to function successfully in a highly
technical society, then they must be equipped with lifelong learning and thinking skills
necessary to acquire and process information in an ever-changing world (p. 16).
Thinking skills. Critical thinking. Creative thinking. Higher-order thinking. Those who take an interest in this field of study soon realize that they cannot go tossing off these terms in a casual, since there are no universal agreements as to their precise meanings.
CRITICAL THINKING, for example, has been variously defined as:
Reflective and reasonable thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do (Robert
Ennis, quoted in Presseisen, p. 24)
The disposition to provide evidence in support of one’s conclusions and to request evidence
from others before accepting their conclusions (Hudgins and Edelman 1986, p. 333)
The process of determining the authenticity, accuracy and worth of information or knowledge
claims (Beyer 1985, p. 276).
Thinking skills and related terms are used to indicate a desire to teach processes of thinking and learning that can be applied in a wide range of real-life contexts. The list of thinking skills in the English National Curriculum is similar to many such lists in including information processing, reasoning, enquiry, creative thinking and evaluation. While some approaches to
teaching thinking treat such skills as separate, other approaches treat them all as aspects of high quality thinking or ‘higher order thinking’. Higher order thinking is said to be complex thinking that requires effort and produces valued outcomes. These outcomes are not predictable because the process of higher order thinking is not mechanical. This makes higher order thinking hard to define. Nonetheless it is possible to recognise higher order thinking and to teach it. By using thinking skills pupils can focus on ‘knowing how’ as well as ‘knowing what’ – learning how to learn.
Most approaches to teaching thinking do not focus narrowly on procedural skills. In fact, successful thinking skills programmes promote a variety of apparently quite different kinds of things including, strategies, habits, attitudes, emotions, motivations, aspects of character or self-identity and also engagement in dialogue and in a community of enquiry. These ‘thinking skills’ are not united by any single psychological theory. They are all those things that practitioners believe can and should be taught or encouraged in order to improve the perceived quality and/or the effectiveness of their students’ thinking. Much of the current interest in teaching thinking skills is prompted by technology driven changes in the nature of work. There is a consensus that new technology is bringing about a new kind of economy in which the main products are information and knowledge rather than material goods. Workers in this new economic climate require transferable thinking skills more than content knowledge or task-specific skills. They particularly require an ability to learn how to learn new things since accelerating technological change is making old skills (and knowledge) redundant and generating needs for new skills (and knowledge).
CAN THINKING SKILLS BE TAUGHT?
There have been several rigorous surveys of the impact of different teaching methods and programmes in the last decade. These provide convincing evidence for the value of teaching thinking skills. The emerging consensus, supported by some research evidence, is that the best way to teach thinking skills is not as a separate subject but through ‘infusing’ thinking skills into the teaching of content areas.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN TEACHING THINKING SKILLS?
There are three main ways of thinking about the role of information and communications technology (ICT) in teaching thinking skills: as tutor or teaching machine, as providing ‘mindtools’ and as a support for learning conversations. A review of the evidence suggests that using technology does not, by itself, lead to transferable thinking skills. The success of the activity crucially depends on how the technology is used. Much depends on the role of the teacher. Learners need to know what the thinking skills are that they are learning and these need to be explicitly modelled, drawn out and re-applied in different contexts. The evidence also suggests that collaborative learning improves the effectiveness of most activities. Tutorial software alone is not effective for developing thinking skills, but tutorial software used as a basis for discussion between learners can be a good way of infusing thinking skills into the curriculum. The effectiveness of computer tools, such as concept maps or programming languages, for teaching transferable thinking skills appears to be enhanced when these are used by learners in pairs or groups. The positive effect of collaborative learning is amplified if learners are taught to reason about alternatives and to articulate their thoughts and strategies as they work together. Technology is therefore best thought of as a support and resource for dialogues in which thinking skills are taught, applied and learnt. The computer as a tutor and the computer as a tool can both be ways to support and resource such learning conversations. ICT can also itself be a channel carrying learning conversation.
These enable pupils to give reasons for opinions and actions, to draw inferences
and make deductions, to use precise language to explain what they think, and to make judgements and decisions informed by reasons or evidence.
These enable pupils to ask relevant questions, to pose and define problems, to plan what to do and how to research, to predict outcomes and anticipate consequences, and to test conclusions and improve ideas.
Creative thinking skills
These enable pupils to generate and extend ideas, to suggest hypotheses, to apply imagination, and to look for alternative innovative outcomes.
These enable pupils to evaluate information, to judge the value of what they read, hear and do, to develop criteria for judging the value of their own and others’ work or ideas, and to have confidence in their judgements. (DfES 2002a http://www.nc.uk.net/ learn_think.html) This definition has the advantage of being clear. However it misses out some aspects of thinking skills that most practitioners and experts in the area agree are important. The most authoritative definition of critical thinking is that of ‘The Delphi Report’ (Facione, 1990) which is a consensus report from 46 leading experts in the field. This emphasises the holistic nature of critical thinking, the importance.
Beyer, B. K. “Critical Thinking: What Is It?” SOCIAL EDUCATION 49/4 (1985): 270-276.
Facione, P (1990). Critical thinking: a statement of expert consensus for purposes of
educational assessment and instruction. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Pr
Gough, D. THINKING ABOUT THINKING. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Elementary School Principals, 1991. (ED 327 980)
Hudgins, B., and Edelman, S. “Teaching Critical Thinking Skills to Fourth and Fifth Graders Through Teacher-Led Small-Group Discussions.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH
79/6 (1986): 333-342