Monday, February 25, 2008

Teaching Students to Think

In the latest issue of Educational Leadership, Robert Sternberg tackles the issue of teaching students to think. The acronym for his model is WICS, or wisdom, intelligence, and creativity synthesized.


"As an example, in social studies, we might assess understanding of the American Civil War by asking such questions as (1) Compare and contrast the Civil War and the American Revolution (analytical); (2) What might the United States be like today if the Civil War had not taken place (creative)? (3) How has the Civil War affected, even indirectly, the kinds of rights that people have today (practical)? and (4) Are wars ever justified (wisdom)?

In English, we might assess understanding of a novel such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by asking (1) How was the childhood of Tom Sawyer similar to and different from your own childhood (analytical)? (2) Write an alternate ending to the story (creative); (3) What techniques did Tom Sawyer use to persuade his friends to whitewash Aunt Polly's fence (practical)? and (4) Is it ever justified to use such techniques of persuasion to make people do things they do not really want to do (wisdom)?"

Another good idea: opportunities for practical problem solving (e.g. asking a professor for a letter of recommendation when he did not remember you or moving a large bed up a winding staircase).

Sternberg closes by mentioning the results of his study of failed leaders:

"They tend to commit several serious cognitive fallacies. They are (1) unrealistically optimistic, believing that anything they do will turn out well because they are so brilliant; (2) egocentric, believing that the world revolves around them; (3) falsely omniscient, failing to learn from experience because they believe they know everything; (4) falsely omnipotent, believing that they are all-powerful by virtue of their superior skills or education; (5) falsely invulnerable, believing they can get away with almost anything because they are so clever; and (6) ethically disengaged, believing that ethical principles apply only to lesser mortals. In my view, much of what is wrong in the world today stems from people who are simultaneously smart and foolish."

Harvard's Visible Thinking Project is a program to model active thinking and problem solving strategies; for a model of critical thinking through literature, there's an additional article from the National Paideia Center, Thinking is Literacy, Literacy is Thinking.

Just because a teacher or parent is a good critical thinker, doesn't mean they can teach it to all children though. Some children will have developmental obstacles making it harder for them to "get it." In the paper below, children age 6-13 had trouble activating their right rostral prefrontal cortex for analogical problems. They had a higher error rate and they were more likely to use left semantic association areas to arrive at answers.

This is not an invariable developmental limitation though; in our work with young gifted students, the capacity for analogical thinking can be particularly doubt adding to their frustrations when some of their good friends don't get what they're thinking...

Fluid Reasoning in Children and Adults pdf
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

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