THINKING SKILLS – what are they?

There are many thinking skills taxonomies. For better learning, and as an adequate preparation for life beyond schooling, schools need to address a number of cross-curricular skills in thinking. These are listed below. Emphasis is put on the acquisition of skills for learning and for communication.

The relevance for other organisations and business is obvious. The development of critical and creative thinking skills enhances (moral) reasoning, motivation, cooperation and mutual understanding. Learning to question and to distinguish between better from worse questions is essential for good leadership. The role of leadership has changed from that of the person with the right answers to that of the person with the right questions. Thinking skills approaches focus on puzzles or problems that provoke ‘cognitive conflict’. They offer opportunities for reflection on vocabulary and actions through a rigorous process of reasoning with others, to identify and resolve problems, and to progress together as a team.

Information-processing skills enable people to locate, interpret, analyse and understand information.

Reasoning skills enable people to:

  • give reasons for opinions
  • draw inferences and make deductions
  • use precise language to explain what they think
  • make judgments and decisions informed by reasons or evidence

Enquiry skills enable people to:

  • ask relevant questions
  • pose and define problems 
  • plan what to do and how to research
  • predict outcomes, test conclusions and improve ideas

Creative thinking skills enable pupils to:

  • generate and extend ideas
  • suggest possible hypotheses
  • apply imagination to their thinking
  • look for alternative innovative outcomes

Evaluation skills enable pupils to:

  • evaluate information
  • judge the value of what they read, hear and do
  • develop criteria for judging the value of their own and others’ work or ideas
  • have confidence in their judgments

MORE IS NEEDED THAN THINKING SKILLS

Thinking skills, especially those relevant to creative and critical thinking, are rapidly becoming seen as such a good ‘thing’, that there is a danger of not applying our critical faculties to the whole idea. At the least, let us bear in mind that thinking is not easily broken down into separate pieces. It is a dynamic activity, unique in every person. This is probably part of what D. H. Lawrence had in mind when he described thought as the ‘wholeness’ of a person wholly attending.

Another critical point is that skills of any sort are worthless if one has neither the inclination nor the good sense to use them. We need above all to help people to develop the general disposition to think better – to become more reasonable.

A PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH TO THINKING SKILLS

For those involved in a more philosophical approach to the teaching of thinking, the key practice that starts and drives the whole thinking process is indeed enquiry (interpreted as going beyond information to seek understanding); and the key practice that results in significant changes of thought and action is reflection. Central to the enquiries are issues arising from people’s own experiences and practice, and the facilitator skillfully helps to draw out the questions embedded in the examples put forward. Such reflective practice results in a more effective and reasonable workforce.

In enquiries or dialogues, the emphasis is on questioning, hypothesising, giving reasons and examples, making connections and distinctions, drawing out implications and intentions, searching for criteria, and striving for consistency.

What is involved in this process is more than practicing certain identifiable skills. It involves many dialogical virtues or habits of mind. These dispositions are internal to the practice of a good facilitator, who models reasonableness and good judgment by the skilful management of the dialogues.