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Developing Thinking Skills

Захарків М. І., педагогічний коледж ЛНУ ім. Івана Франка, м. Львів

Thinking Skills are the mental processes we use to do things like solving problems, making decisions, asking questions, making plans, passing judgements, organizing information and creating new ideas. Often we’re not aware of our thinking — it happens automatically — but if we take time to ponder what’s going on then we can become more efficient and more creative with our minds. Thinking needs to be developed, as it is not a natural function like sleeping, walking and talking. There are many ways to talk about thinking skills. Terms such as critical thinking, scientific methods, professional or clinical judgment, problem-based inquiry, decisionmaking, information literacy, strategic planning, and life-long learning represent thinking processes.
Thinking skills are the mental processes that we apply when we seek to make sense of experience. Thinking skills enable us to integrate each new experience into the schema that we are constructing of “how things are”. It is apparent that better thinking will help us to learn more from our experience and to make better use of our intelligence.
It has always been the central aim of education to improve the quality of thinking because better thinking will not only enable us to become more successful at learning but will also equip us for life, enabling us to realise our own potential and to contribute to the development of society. Teachers are aware of many of the skills they would like students to exhibit. From the early years of primary school, teachers can do much to encourage students to engage in a variety of talk-based activities that will help to develop their thinkings kills. As students become increasingly confident about expressing their opinion, teachers can do much to foster the development of thinking skills by the imaginative use of questioning techniques in the classroom.
It is, of course, useful to know each student’s Multiple Intelligence profile. This can provide teachers with useful knowledge about the best access routes to engagement for individual students. Similarly, it helps to know each student’s preferred learning style.
Many of the tasks we assign to students require them to correctly recognize, repeat, or paraphrase information found in their textbooks or class notes. However, effective personal and professional functioning requires dealing with open-ended problems that are fraught with significant and enduring uncertainties about such issues as the scope of the problem, interpretations of relevant information, range of solution options, and potential outcomes of various options. So while teaching we have to help students to develop critical thinking. Some categories such as making comparison, sequencing focusing attention, memorizing, making associations, making decisions and solving problems help to develop the learner’s thinking skills. “Rather than teach students answers, we should show them how to ask questions… then they would discover the answers for themselves”.
When teachers use questions:
  • to test recall of knowledge
  • to revise learning
  • to check present understanding
  • to diagnose difficulties they lead to students using lower order thinking skills.
All too often most classroom questioning is closed and “narrow”. Such questions require only a single “right” answer or a very limited “quick fix” response.
The best questions:
  • open up the topic (rather than close it down)
  • do not have easy answers
  • lead to further questions
  • require a considered response
  • are a challenge
Teachers should seek to promote a classroom where it is more important to “have a go” than it is to “get the right answer”. Hence, all responses should be welcomed — even if students are then informed that their answer lacks detail or needs clarification. When challenging, open questions are being used, there is no shame in not getting things right first time. (It is only closed questions that require a “right” answer.)
When teachers use questions:
  • to focus attention
  • to arouse curiosity and interest
  • to stimulate consideration of new concepts
  • to elicit views and opinions, they can lead to students using higher order thinking skills.
There are various different classifications of Thinking Skills, one of the most popular of which is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking.
Bloom’s Taxonomy and Questioning
Knowledge Who…? What…? Where…? When…?
Comprehension What do we mean by…?
Application What other examples can you think of?
How could we use that…?
What other examples can you think of?
How could we use that…?
What is the evidence for…?
How does that connect with…?
What if…? 
What if…?
How could we improve…?
Can you think of a different way to…?
What do you think about…?
How could we improve…?
Teachers should not be averse to giving clues and prompts where necessary, to elicit “broader” and “deeper” responses. Asking supplementary questions is often more productive than giving answers.
Teachers should encourage students to ask their own questions. Not closed questions based on what the students already know — but open-ended enquiries that highlight what they would like to find out. Students who are allowed to decide the direction of their research usually work with greater enthusiasm. Teachers can model this approach by admitting that there is plenty that they do not know but would like to find out about.
Critical thinking is a set of skills or abilities that you can develop over time. Good critical thinking skills require not just knowledge and practice. Persistent practice can bring about improvements only if one has the right kind of motivation and attitude. To improve one’s thinking one must recognize that the importance of reflecting on the reasons for belief and action. One must also be willing to engage in debate, to make mistakes, to break old habits, and to deal with linguistic complexities and abstract concepts.
  1. Lynch C. L. Steps for better thinking: A guide for students / C. L. Lynch, S. K. Wolcott, G. E. Huber. — 2001. [On-line]
  2. Wolcott S. K. Educator resources, conference handouts, and working papers / S. K. Wolcott, C. L. Lynch. — 2001. [On-line]
  3. Wolcott S. K. Designing assignments and classroom discussions to foster critical thinking at different levels in the curriculum. — 2000.
  4. http://www.usyd.edu.au/lc
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