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Thinking


As our society continues its movement away from an “industrial age” and into an “information age” it becomes ever more critical for students to develop the skills necessary to thrive in this new environment. These skills have moved away from the physical, rote type abilities of the past and into an era that necessitates the abilities to collect and analyze the massive amounts of information being generated by today's society in math, science, technology, and other disciplines. As such, it is imperative that today's students be taught how to approach today's problems; how to not just memorize the known, but rather, to find solutions to the unknown. Indeed, it is vital that students learn and practice how to think. It is with these concepts in mind that I approach my classes and the driving force behind my classroom activities and assignments.

 

 

The following passages are excerpted from Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking (3rd Edition). Editor: Arthur L. Costa
(Published by ASCD 2001)

 

Introduction: The Vision (Arthur L. Costa)

As we enter an era in which knowledge doubles in less than five years-the projection is that by the year 2020 it will double every 73 days-it is no longer feasible to anticipate an individual's future information requirements. We now have more information than the collective minds of science can understand.

Our world has shifted away from an industrial model of society to a learning society, from Newtonian to quantum sciences, and from a linear to a complex and chaotic world view. These changes require education to develop individuals with the knowledge, problem-solving skills, cognitive processes, intellectual dispositions, and habits of mind necessary to engage in lifelong learning.

Students entering the new millennium must come fully equipped with skills that enable them to think for themselves and be self-initiating, self-modifying, and self-directing. They must acquire the capacity to learn and change consciously, continuously, and quickly. They will require skills that cannot be gained learning content alone. They must possess process capabilities beyond just fixing problems. Rather, they must anticipate what might happen and search continuously for more creative solutions. Our society further recognizes a growing need for informed, skilled, and compassionate citizens who value truth, openness, creativity, interdependence, balance, and love as well as the search for personal and spiritual freedom in all areas of one's life.

We are at a time in education when professional educators are being pressured for immediate, measurable results on standardized performances (Colvin & Helfand, 2000). This assumes that if teachers taught academic subjects and students were evaluated on how well they learned the minute subskills in those content areas, they would “somehow become the kind of people we want them to become” (Seiger-Ehrenberg, 1991, p. 6).

...such misguided efforts...are the antithesis of our desire to make learning and instruction more reflective, more complex, and more relevant to society's and students' diverse needs and interests now and in the future.

Learning to Think

It takes much time and coaching for human movement to be performed with precision, style, and grace. It takes years of practice, concentration, reflection, and coaching to become a skilled gymnast or ice skater. Improvement is demonstrated by the increasing mastery of complex and intricate maneuvers performed repeatedly on command with sustained, seemingly effortless agility. The distinction between awkwardness and grace is obvious even to the most undisciplined observer.

Like strenuous movement, effective, skillful thinking is also hard work. Similarly, with proper instruction human thought processes can become more broadly applied, more spontaneously generated, more precisely focused, more intricately complex, more metaphorically abstract, and more insightfully divergent. Such refinement also requires practice, concentration, reflection, and coaching.

Thinking to Learn

Meaning making is not a spectator sport. It is an engagement of the mind that transforms the mind. Knowledge is a constructive process rather than a finding. The brain's capacity and desire to make or elicit patterns of meaning is one of the keys of brain-based learning. We never really understand something until we can create a model or metaphor derived from our own personal world. The reality we perceive, feel, see, and hear is influenced by the constructive processes of the brain as well as by the cues that impinge upon it. It is not the content stored in memory but the activity of constructing it that gets stored. Humans don't get ideas, they make ideas.

Furthermore, meaning making is not just an individual operation. The individual interacts with others to construct shared knowledge. There is a cycle of internalization of what is socially constructed as shared meaning, which is then externalized to affect the learner's social participation. Constructivist learning, therefore, is viewed as a reciprocal process in which the individual influences the group and the group influences the individual (Vygotsky, 1978).

While many practical suggestions are provided for teaching thinking directly as well as infusing thought into all areas of the curriculum, the greater purpose is to enhance instructional decision making to employ content, not as an end of instruction, but rather as a vehicle for activating and engaging the mind. Content is selected merely as a vehicle for experiencing the joy ride of learning.

Thinking Together

A great problem facing education is caused by the fragmentation of thinking and acting-a way of thinking that divides and fails to see the interconnections and coherence of divergent views. Fixated on his own certainties, each stakeholder perceives the solution to educational reform from his individual perspective. ... People become convinced that their own perspectives on the problem are essentially right and that others have it wrong. But thinking in this way prevents us from gaining a wider perspective-one that would enable all of us to determine what we are missing. This egocentric view hinders serious reflection and honest inquiry.

Therefore, while there are numerous suggestions for cooperative and social discourse, another purpose of this book is to stimulate dialogue as a means of building an “ecology of thought” (Isaacs, 1999)-a living network of memory and awareness that becomes a complex web linking community members together. This is a difficult task, as it means temporarily suspending what we individually think-relaxing our grip on our certainties, entertaining others' points of view, and acting with a willingness to abide by and support the group's decisions arrived at through deep and respectful listening and dialogue. Out of this collective atmosphere in which we think and work together unfolds a fresh group intelligence that promotes action toward common goals.

Thinking About Our Own Thoughtfulness

In this volume, there are many descriptions of the benefits of and suggestions for inviting students to think about their thinking: metacognition. Indeed, human beings, to the best of our knowledge, are the only form of life with the capacity to stand off and examine their own thoughts while they engage in them. Although the human brain is able to generate reflective consciousness, however, not everyone seems to use it equally (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Thus a broader intent of this publication is heightened consciousness for all of us, not only students.

Thinking involves the whole of us-our emotions, our ways of feeling in the body, our ideas, our beliefs, our qualities of character, and our visions of being. Learning to think begins with recognizing how we are thinking now. Generally we are not all that conscious of how we are thinking. We can begin to think by listening first to ourselves and to our own reactions-by learning to watch how our thoughts encapsulate us. Much of what we think happens simply by virtue of our agreement that it should, not because of any close examination of our bounded assumptions, limited history, and existing mental models.

When confronted with problematic situations, we all must learn to habitually monitor our reactions by asking ourselves, “What is the most intelligent thing I can do right now?”

Further self-probing questions include the following:


Thinking Big

When the first astronauts went into space and looked back on earth, they realized that there were no lines on the planet. The scars of national boundaries were gone. Dividing lines disappear when you get enough perspective. And yet, divisions still exist among people, children, nations, institutions, religions, and political ideologies.

Another mission of this book, therefore, is to build a more thoughtful world as an interdependent learning community, where all people are continually searching for ways to trust each other, to learn together, and to grow toward greater intelligence. By caring for and learning from one another and sharing the riches and resources in one part of the globe, we can help the less fortunate others achieve their fullest intellectual potential and together build

The larger mission of this book, therefore is to support a vision of a world filled with classrooms, schools, and communities that are more thoughtful places. We must learn to unite and not divide. As Alan Kay (1990) stated, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

If we want a future that is much more thoughtful, vastly more cooperative, greatly more compassionate, and a lot more loving, then we have to invent it. The future is in our schools and classrooms today.

References

Colvin, R. L., & Helfand, D. (2000, July 1). Millions for schools tied to Stanford 9 test scores. Los Angeles Times, pp. A20-21.

Costa, Arthur L. (Ed.) (2001). Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking (3rd Edition). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row Publisher.

Isaacs, W. (1990). Dialogue and the art of thinking together: A pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life. New York: Currency.

Kay, Alan (1990, March). The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Keynote presentation delivered at the 45th Annual Conference of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, San Antonio, TX.

Seiger-Ehrenberg, S. (1991). Educational outcomes for a k-12 curriculum. In A. Costa (Ed.), Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking (Rev. ed., Vol. 1, pp. 6-9). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


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