Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thinking about Thinking: Core Thinking Skills

Thinking skills are relatively discrete cognitive operations that can be considered the “building blocks” of thinking.
ASCD’s Dimensions of Thinking, Core Thinking Skills Categorized by Intended Outcome for the Learner

Question of the Day: How can we help today’s kids be successful in our increasingly complex world?
Answer: Teach them to think.

The skills that kids today need to succeed and survive are very different from the ones that served their parents. If they are to succeed in school, find meaningful work (and perhaps multiple jobs), and meet the challenges of life in the 21st century, today’s kids need more than just the ability to answer test questions. They need to be able to focus their attention on what is important in a situation, know where to find information, remember what they’ve learned, organize their learning, analyze information, generate new ideas and solutions, put thoughts and information together in new and different ways, and evaluate their ideas and information to be sure they work. In other words, kids today need to ease and familiarity with core thinking skills. I hope you will print the list of these skills (below) and keep them in mind as you plan lessons, and interact with kids.

TIP: A key strategy that teachers, mentors and parents can use to encourage the development of core thinking skills is asking open-ended questions instead of providing answers. Questioning kids encourages thinking, expression, research and interaction. Of course finding the right questions to ask can be a skill in itself. This downloadable page of Thinking Skills/Reasoning Process to Incorporate into a Lesson, is filled with good examples to get you started.  For more ideas, visit Inspiring Ideas: Asking Open-ended Questions

Core Thinking Skills:
  • Have a sound basis in the research and theoretical literature
  • Are important for students (and teachers and parents) to be able to do
  • Can be taught and reinforced at school (and after school and at home)
Focusing skills - directing attention to selected information (What’s really important here? What do I want to know?)
  • Defining problems - clarifying problem situations
  • Setting goals - establishing direction and purpose
Information gathering skills - acquiring relevant data (How and where can I find information?)
  • Observing - obtaining information through one or more senses
  • Questioning - seeking new information by formulating questions
Remembering skills - arranging information so that it can be used more effectively (How can I keep what I learn so that I can use it again?)
  • Encoding - storing information in long-term memory
  • Recalling - retrieving information from long-term memory
Organizing skills - arranging information so that it can be used more effectively (Where does this belong? Does this fit?)
  • Comparing - noting similarities and differences between two or more entitities
  • Classifying - placing entities in groups by common attributes
  • Ordering - sequencing entities according to given criteria
Analyzing skills - clarifying existing information by identifying and distinguishing among components, attributes, and so on (Is this really a dinosaur bone, or just a toy?)
  • Identifying attributes and components - determining characteristics or parts of something.
  • Identifying relationships and patterns - recognizing the way elements are related.
Generating skills - using prior knowledge to add new information (Have I seen something like this before? When the clouds get like this, does it means it is going to rain?)
  • Inferring - reasoning beyond available information to fill in gaps.
  • Predicting - anticipating or forecasting future events.
  • Elaborating - using prior knowledge to add meaning to new information and link it to existing structures.
  • Representing - adding new meaning by changing the form of information.
Integrating skills - connecting and combining information (If this is true and this is too, then, this must be true too, right?)
  • Summarizing - abstracting information efficiently and parsimoniously.
  • Restructuring - changing existing knowledge structures to incorporate new information.
Evaluating skills - assessing the reasonableness and quality of ideas (Will this work? Why or why not?)
  • Establishing criteria - setting standards for making judgments.
  • Verifying - confirming the accuracy of claims.
  • Identifying errors - recognizing logical fallacies.
I will be posting practical ideas for putting many of these ideas to use in YOUR classroom, so please visit often. In the meantime, TELL US PLEASE: How do you integrate thinking into the content you teach? What kinds of questions do you ask? What are some of the results of encouraging kids to find their own answers?

Adapted from: Dimensions of Thinking, Alexandria VA: ASCD. R. Marzano, C. Hughes, BF Jones, B. Pressiesen, S. Ranking, C. Suhor, (1987)