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Moving Our Thinking Along


Sometimes it’s called the Socratic Method.  Sometimes it’s called Higher Order Thinking Skills.  And sometimes it’s called Thinking.  Regardless of the name it requires the ability to analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and create in order to make logical and rational decisions.  The question is how do we help them achieve this level of thought.  How do we train our minds to be able to dig deeper into our thoughts and those of others and to purposefully question ideas?

Prior Knowledge:  Before higher level thinking can occur, we have to make sure we have the basic information, the facts surrounding what the question is asking.  For instance, if we ask our students to decide whether a piece of text is a biased or not, they must first understand what the word “bias” means.  Then they need information  about the product, idea, or author in order to give a justifiable opinion and be able to back it up.

Examples:  Another way to put it is students need to see what this thinking process looks like in the brain.  You can provide this for them by conveying aloud your own thoughts as you process information.  It might look something like this:

I want to convince the principal we need two breaks outside each day.  Let’s see… what are some good reasons?  Research shows physical activity increases brain function.  I read an article about this in “Weekly Reader”.  I could show it to her.  I want to go outside everyday as much as I can.  Oh wait.  That’s just a personal reason.  What are some more convincing facts I could use?  Physical activity helps keep us healthier, so we are better able to learn.  I think she’ll say we don’t have time for recess twice a day.  I’ll say…

Students need to see this type of thinking many times from you and their peers.

Question/Scaffold:  First the question or idea must come up in class or be presented.  Then most if not all of your students will need support to keep reaching a higher thinking plain.  One of the most effective ways of giving this support is through questioning.  If you were having students evaluate a character’s actions in a story, you might ask questions such as:

What were the character’s actions?  What caused him or her to act this way?  Is there a better way the character could have handled these situations?  Can you defend your answer?  What criteria can you use to assess the consequences of the character’s actions? 

These questions start asking for basic knowledge and move into ones that require more thought.  Starting students with easier questions builds confidence and helps them create higher language and a foundation for their opinions.

Teaching/Scaffolding:  This involves questioning, also, but in a small group or one-on-one teaching situation where you are providing specific support or enrichment to those who need it.  Depending upon your student(s), you might need to frontload your teaching with more factual questions and then move to the more abstract, or you might begin with the abstract and provide types of questions that move thinking further down the continuum.  These might include “What if…”, “If the answer is____ what is the question?”  “How would you determine____?”, “What questions would you ask the class if you were the teacher?”  (This could be a homework assignment for the class after they have read a particular piece of text.)

As educators we want to engage our students in higher level thinking.  In order to do that we must move their thinking from basic to deep through scaffolding.  We want them to become lifelong (autonomous) learners.  This is exactly what we want our students to be able to do to lead us into the next generation successfully.

“Questions allow us to make sense of the world.  They are the most powerful tools we have for making decisions and solving problems, for inventing, changing and improving our lives as well as the lives of others.”  Jamie McKenzie

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