Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thinking About Thinking

The thought occurred to me recently that I like to think. Furthermore, I like to think about thinking [metacognition]. My ability to do this is an integral part of my humanity. Perhaps that is why I find it so appealing. I like thinking so much that I decided to research the ‘idea’. It turns out that a lot of people … intelligent people … have been thinking about thinking for a very long time. I learned (although I think I already knew) that there are many different kinds of thinking – critical thinking, creative and innovative thinking, purposive-kinetic thinking, meditative thinking (a favorite of mine), and hyper-alert instinctive thinking. Who would have thought there were so many ways to think?

But this is a blog about gifted parenting and the children they parent. I've come to the conclusion that teaching gifted students how to think more effectively is the most important thing we can teach them. It provides fuel for their insatiable curiosity. It trumps subject matter, job training, gym class, and learning how to select color coordinated outfits for the first day of school. By encouraging gifted children to think and providing them with an environment conducive to good thinking, we help them to fulfill their potential as leaders, problem-solvers and decision-makers.

Teaching any type of thinking seems to go in and out of fashion more often than mini-skirts. But, it’s no laughing matter. It is, in fact, critical that we encourage critical thought. Parents play an important role in this facet of their child’s education. Some would argue that critical thought is second-nature to gifted children. It may be for some, but our society has de-valued the need for it in many insidious (classroom inclusion comes to mind) ways and our children will suffer the consequences.

So, where did the idea of critical thinking come from? Most people would agree that Socrates had a lot to do with it. He loved to ask questions! In fact, it was his fellow Greeks that gave us the word ‘critical’ – kritikos – being able to discern or judge. Socratic questioning can be used to develop critical thought because it seeks a depth of understanding in a systematic way while considering the plausibility and truthfulness of the answers being sought. In 1605, Sir Francis Bacon defined critical thinking as a “desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture [fraud].” I think he summarized it quite nicely.

In her article, Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child (Roeper Review, August 1994), Stephanie Tolan writes, “Our relentless focus on achievement rather than the unusual mental processing that constitutes giftedness makes the necessary recognition and understanding difficult if not impossible for many.” She goes on to say, “… it is in childhood that the gifted individual begins to form that critical sense of self, his initial understanding of his own mental processing, his own mind.” This speaks to the crux of the matter – gifted children have a unique capacity for critical thinking.

“… it is in childhood that the gifted individual begins to form that critical sense of self, his initial understanding of his own mental processing, his own mind.”


Why don’t many of our schools teach critical thinking? Critical thinkers have a knack for challenging the status quo. And the status quo likes things just the way they are. It can be difficult to control a thinking populace. Another consideration to keep in mind is that teachers of critical thinking really need to know what they’re talking about! It’s one thing to teach ‘out of the book’ … something administrators continually stress to their faculty as a good thing … it’s quite another thing to reach outside the box! Finally, critical thinkers are truth seekers and what constitutes ‘truth’ these days has been marred by charlatans posing as media experts and politicians as well.

Zoe Burgess, in a recent blog post, asked the question, “Can We Teach Creative and Critical Thinking?” She provides excellent suggestions for how critical thinking can be taught and cultivated through modeling by the teacher, project-based learning, cross-curriculum teaching, and service learning. Assessing this type of learning requires the teacher to move out of their comfort zone. One must possess the ability to pose questions of students which will allow them to demonstrate their depth of understanding.

As the parent of a gifted student, where do you start? Provide your child with a place to think; an area with resources to aid in thinking. Encourage them to get rest and provide a healthy diet. Value their independent thinking through discussion and listening to your child. Prompt their thinking through Socratic questioning. In their book, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder list 9 strategies that students can use themselves to develop critical thinking. The full list can be found here. They include using wasted time, keeping an intellectual journal, and by redefining the way one thinks about oneself. Good advice for students and parents alike!

6 comments:

  1. An excellent and thought provoking post, Lisa!
    Time to think and encouragement to develop and share their thoughts is one of the most valuable gifts parents can give their children.

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  2. Fabulous article. I love to think too. Not enough schools value this. How do you think the Waldorf education style ranks in this area? It's one of two schools I'm evaluating for my son. So happy to have found this blog!

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  3. Hi,
    So glad you enjoyed this post! I do not know enough about the Waldorf style to critique it, but I can refer you to some folks who may be able to help. The first would be Dr. Roya Klingner who runs a gifted center in Germany and can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/Begabungs and has a website at http://www.begabungszentrum-bayern.de/english/ . Aso, check out several of the blogs I follow at left - Teach a Gifted Kid (gifted teacher near Houston, TX) and Innreach's Blog (gifted lecturer from Dublin, Ireland). hth!
    Regards, Lisa

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  4. Great article. Thank you. It all makes sense now...DD2 ever since she was 2 years old enjoyed just sitting on the couch hugging her angel bear and staring off into space. I took it as a sign of boredom and would rattle off some activities. She would (and still do at age 8)) say, "No. I'm fine. I'm just thinking." And I'd reply, "Okay. And if you want to to talk, just let me know." Sometimes she'd take up on my offer to talk and sometimes not.

    @Goodland: I sent my daughter to a Montessori Preschool and she loved it there. She's in public school now and absolutely loves school.

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  5. I agree with your quote from Stephanie Tolan, (from "Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child", Roeper Review, August 1994)... “Our relentless focus on achievement rather than the unusual mental processing that constitutes giftedness makes the necessary recognition and understanding difficult if not impossible for many.” See http://thinkersonline.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/gifted-is-as-gifted-does/#comments

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