In recent years there has been a central paradox in what is asked of our schools in teaching children. There has been a growing support for emphasis upon thinking skills and problem-solving skills.
In 1999 the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) published, and publicized widely, From Thinking Skills to Thinking Classrooms: A review and evaluation of approaches for developing pupils’ thinking by Dr Carol McGuinness of Queen’s University, Belfast. Her remit was clear:
The purpose of the review was (I) to analyse what is currently understood by the term ‘thinking skills’ and their role in the learning process; (2) to identify current approaches to developing children’s thinking and to evaluate their effectiveness; (3) to consider how teachers might be able to integrate thinking skills into their teaching both within subject areas and across the curriculum; (4) to identify the role of ICT in promoting a positive approach to thinking skills; and (5) to evaluate the general direction of current and future research and how it might be translated into classroom practice .
To its great credit, the government has also devoted considerable attention to improving provision for what it calls gifted and talented children. There has been encouragement for teachers to increase the challenge for able pupils by paying more attention to the higher-order thinking skills of analysis, evaluation and synthesis.
In 2002, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) launched its project ‘Creativity: find it, promote it’. One of the areas of stated interest is how teachers promote pupils’ creativity by specifically teaching creative thinking skills.
Excellence and Enjoyment: A Strategy for Primary Schools was published in 2003 for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). One of the principles of education and teaching is to enrich the learning experience by building learning skills across the curriculum. Group problem solving is also suggested as one of the features of making learning vivid and real.
The other pressure, however, and therefore the paradox, has been the emphasis placed upon content. There have been detailed programmes of study that have led to some teachers complaining about an overfull curriculum.
This, in turn, has led a number of professionals to be concerned about where the space was coming from for thinking skills and creativity. This worry has been exacerbated by the demands of test situations that, it has been claimed, do not always lead to, nor reward, higher thinking.
Clearly content is important and, for certain careers, it is essential. The trick is to incorporate content with exciting teaching and learning. Too much content, or content delivered in a dull way, can be damaging. Able students are often in a position where they are a long way ahead of others in terms of content and understanding. They certainly should not be repeating what they already know, nor be forced to go through steps that they do not need, nor doing more examples at the same level of difficulty than is absolutely necessary.
The greatest gift that you can present to able children is exciting and challenging learning that has, at its core, transferable thinking skills and problem solving. That is what Problem-solving and Thinking Skills Resources for Able and Talented Children is about and it takes its place in a series of books for Network Continuum Education. Many of the materials have strong curriculum links. Others prepare able children in more general ways to tackle situations across the curriculum.
After all, why is a historian, such as the author, of use to various companies and organizations? It is not that he or she can tell you what Catherine the Great did at a particular time but, rather, that he or she possesses a strong grounding in the higher-order thinking skills of analysis, evaluation and synthesis that can be applied not only to other periods of history but also to situations outside the subject content.
Even more relevant is the experience gained while working with able children on courses all over the country. In many cases the author could soon see the learning regime that the children were used to. Those who had a very straight-down-the-middle background took time to adjust to material presented in different ways, even though they were very able. On the other hand, those who had experienced a varied approach in the classroom, including some unusual materials, were not fazed by anything. Rather, they applied the skills that they had gained to the new situations to find solutions. It is this confidence, promoted by a wide armoury of skills, that we should be encouraging in able children.
Section 1 Problem solving
Section 2 Wordplay
Section 3 Logical Thinking
Section 4 Lateral Thinking
Section 5 Prediction
Section 6 Evaluation
Section 7 Classification
Section 8 Sequencing
Section 9 Codes
Section 10 Thinking Like Crazy