Thinking skills are not mysterious entities existing somewhere in the mind. Nor are they like mental muscles that have a physical presence in the brain. What the term refers to is the human capacity to think in conscious ways to achieve certain purposes. Such processes include remembering, questioning, forming concepts, planning, reasoning, imagining, solving problems, making decisions and judgements, translating thoughts into words and so on.
A skill is commonly defined as a practical ability in doing something or succeeding in a task. Usually we refer to skills in particular contexts, such as being ‘good at cooking’ but they can also refer to general areas of performance, such as having a logical mind, good memory, being creative and so on. A thinking skill is a practical ability to think in ways that are judged to be more or less effective or skilled. They are the habits of intelligent behaviour learned through practice, for example children can become better at giving reasons or asking questions the more they practice doing so.
If thinking skills are the mental capacities we use to investigate the world, to solve problems and make judgements then to identify every such skill would be to enumerate all the capacities of the human mind and the list would be endless. Many researchers have attempted to identify the key skills in human thinking, and the most famous of these is Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Bloom’s taxonomy (what he called ‘the cognitive goals of education’) has been widely used by teachers in planning their teaching and for Instructional Designers like me. This frameowrk identifies a number of basic or ‘lower order’ cognitive skills – knowledge, comprehension and application, and a number of higher order skills – analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
If I was to take a simple example of a story as a mode of delivery, you could break it up like this;
- Knowledge What happened in the story?
- Comprehension Why did it happen that way?
- Application What would you have done?
- Analysis Which part did you like best?
- Synthesis Can you think of a different ending?
- Evaluation What did you think of the story? Why?
And also in a typical ID toolset, we also may utilise the ‘Accelerated learning’ approach like applying VAK – visual, auditory and kin-aesthetic learning styles to teaching . VAK stands for:
- visual – learning best through pictures, charts, diagrams, video, multimedia etc.
- auditory – learning best through listening
- kin-aesthetic – learning best through being physically engaged (hands on) in a task
In recent years there has been much research into ways of developing children’s thinking and learning skills. This has been informed by growing knowledge about how the brain works, how people learn and how teaching approaches can help improve children’s ability to think and learn. ‘Thinking skills’ is a term often used to refer to the many capacities involved in thinking and learning. These skills are seen as fundamental to lifelong learning, active citizenship and emotional intelligence. Research shows that thinking is developed through cognitive challenge, and opportunities for collaborative work and metacognitive discussion. Successful approaches to teaching thinking include cognitive acceleration, brain-based and philosophical approaches.
Bloom, B. & Krathwohl, D.R. (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay