Teaching Thinking (and Other Critical Skills)!

Teaching Thinking!  Is this an impossible task?

Clearly the work of teachers and parents is to help students become better thinkers, problem solvers, and communicators.  We want students to become more creative and critical in their thinking.  It is challenging work.  How do you support students in becoming true inquirers who are curious, interested, and capable of asking probing questions?  How do we support students as they engage with their own thinking?  How do we help students develop resilience?

True Resilience!

True Resilience!  (www.jscottfitness.com)

Below is a “story” that I’ve held onto for years. I remember hearing this story when my own children were young boys.  I found a source of the story online as a letter to the editor to the New York Times.

The following letter to the editor appeared in the New York Times on January 18, 1988

‘Izzy, Did You Ask a Good Question Today?’

Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics who died Jan. 11 (1988), was once asked, ”Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?”

His answer has served as an inspiration for me as an educator, as a credo for my son during his schooling and should be framed on the walls of all the pedagogues, power brokers and politicians who purport to run our society.

The question was posed to Dr. Rabi by his friend and mine, Arthur Sackler, himself a multitalented genius, who, sadly, also passed away recently. Dr. Rabi’s answer, as reported by Dr. Sackler, was profound: ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions -made me become a scientist!”

I attended a workshop last year entitled “Eight Key Principles of Effective Teaching”.  The workshop was conducted by Lance King (www.taolearn.com).  We spent much time talking about the explicit teaching of effective learning skills – both cognitive and affective.

Cognitive skills that are active information processing and retrieval strategies such as:

  • organizing information
  • asking good questions
  • taking good classroom notes
  • using memory techniques
  • goal setting
  • time management

and  Affective Skills that support students in gaining control over their mood, motivation, and attitude such as:

  • persistence and perseverance
  • focus and concentration, overcoming distractions
  • self-motivation
  • mindfulness
  • reducing anxiety
  • delaying gratification
  • managing impulsiveness
  • developing resilience

The cognitive skills noted above around  information processing and retrieval is something that teachers and  parents can focus upon with relative ease.  These occur often within a school setting. These cognitive skills are teachable!

The Affective Skills are much harder to address.  In fact, they are weakly addressed in a specific or targeted manner, if at all, in a school setting. However, we all recognize the absolute importance of helping students learn to persevere, to overcome challenges, to manage impulsiveness, and to become self-motivated.

Supporting students as they explore their strengths and areas for growth is essential. Students must become self-aware.  Teachers and parents can and should help students reflect and consider their personal attributes. I cannot think of a more important affective skill then teaching resilience.  All students must figure out how to bounce back from “failure”.  Resilience and perseverance are critical.

If our goal is to support students in becoming self-regulated and self-motivated learners, then we must help lay the groundwork of skills. Within the IB program The Approaches to Learning Skills (ATL Skills) and the Learner Profile must continue to be focused upon.

How are you teaching resilience today? How are we addressing the affective skills necessary for success? How do we teach thinking and questioning?  How do we know that students are learning these skills?

One thought on “Teaching Thinking (and Other Critical Skills)!

  1. The last four questions are the one I make to myself as a parent. In this moment the most important thing has become how to get my son to “fail well”. I did such a long journey as well as a parent, thinking to be able, like may be most of the parents, to transmit and transfer all I know and all the skills to my son, like to add the perfect ingredients for a marvellous cake, everybody will appreciate, admire and taste …but a son is not a cake !
    I followed with interest the seminar that Mr.Lance King did for parents ,I found very interesting and crucial the concept of “failing well”, it goes to the heart of the problems. There is no better gift to a son in this unpredictable world than helping him to gain perseverance and resilience. I agree, the fear of failure is a cruel enemy for our children, but it is not easy as a parent to be aware of the scars that our words or our attitudes will leave inside them. It is such a big challenge, the time goes by, my son is growing and I look for the magic tip to adjust things and make the wake-up call for him.

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