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Thinkers

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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:

  • How can I learn from this?  What are my resources?  How can I draw on my past successes with problems like this?  What do I      already know about the problem?  What resources do I have available or need to generate?

  • How can I approach this problem flexibly?  How might I      look at the situation in another way?  How can I look at this      problem from a fresh perspective?  Am I remaining open to new      possibilities and further learning?

  • How can I illuminate this problem to make it clearer,      more precise?  Do I need to check out my data sources?  How might I      break this problem down into its component parts and develop a      strategy for understanding and accomplishing each step?

  • What do I know or not know?  What questions do I need      to ask?  What strategies are in my mind now?  What am I aware of in      terms of my own beliefs, values, and goals related to this problem?       What feelings or emotions am I aware of that might be blocking or      enhancing my progress?

  • How is this problem affecting others?  How can we solve      it together?  What can I learn from others that would help me become      a better problem solver?



        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

  • A world community that strives to generate more      thoughtful approaches to solving problems in peaceful ways rather      than resorting to violence and terrorism to resolve differences.

  • A world community that values human diversity of other      cultures, races, religions, language systems, time perspectives, and      political and economic views in an effort to bring harmony and      stability.

  • A world of greater consciousness of our human effects      on each other and on the earth's limited resources in an effort to      live more respectfully, graciously, and harmoniously in our delicate      environment.

  • A world of better communication with other peoples,      regardless of what language they speak, to employ clear and      respectful dialogue rather than weapons to resolve      misunderstandings.

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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