For years a tiny statue lived on my desk in my classroom. It was a statue of a young girl with a light bulb hovering over her head, and the words, “just think” inscribed on it. This often reminded my students (and me) about the importance of thinking. The statue always made me smile because “just think” sounded so easy, and yet it was sometimes so hard to do, and even harder to teach. Thus began my journey into examining creative and critical thinking strategies, and decision-making and problem-solving, which utilize both creative and critical thinking skills.
Over the years, I found that a kitchen funnel served as a great tool to help my students understand the difference between these types of thinking. To illustrate creative thinking also known as divergent thinking, or brainstorming), I inserted an “idea” into the narrow end of the funnel and encouraged students to use their creativity to imagine as many ideas as possible to come out of the flared end of the funnel. For example, in a second grade classroom, we brainstormed ways to get out of the classroom, which, as you might imagine, led to some hilarious scenarios. I encouraged Fluidity with ideas, Flexibility with ideas, Originality, and Elaboration of ideas. (I coined this - F2OE - the “chemical formula,” for creative thinking.) Creative thinking can be very concrete (for example, list all of the trees or flowers or insects that you can think of) or very complex (imagine all of the factors that could be contributing to global warming or list all of the ways that too many sweets can harm your health).
Conversely, to illustrate critical thinking (also known as convergent thinking) I positioned the funnel so that I could “insert” lots of possibilities into the wide end, and “filter” them, or vet them, through criteria to the narrow end of the funnel. So, for example, if one were buying a new car, one could have lots of options for possible purchase, but “filter” them through the lenses of cost, mileage, upkeep, horsepower, suitability for one’s needs, number of cupholders, etc. In this case, “in” has many ideas, but “out” comes one preferred answer or option, (and generally speaking, the option makes sense and you can prove it...just like logical thinking.) Examples of this kind of thinking would be choosing what to do at recess, deciding where to go on a family vacation, or choosing which homework assignment to do first.
Over my decades of teaching, I have used creative and critical thinking to aid good decision-making and problem-solving with students. One resource that has been extremely helpful is CoRT thinking, (Cognitive Research Trust), the work of the late Dr. Edward deBono. DeBono was the originator of the term “lateral thinking,” and is regarded as a leading international authority in conceptual and creative thinking. He advocated for the direct teaching of thinking as a skill, through the use of structures such as PMI - Plus, Minus, and Interesting ratings, CAF - Considering All Factors, OPV - Other People’s Views, FIP - First Important Priorities, C & S - Consequence and Sequel, AGO - Aims, Goals, and Objectives, and APC - Alternatives, Possibilities, and Choices. He also developed the Six Thinking Hats method, to help thinkers analyze the roles they play when problem solving. DeBono’s work can be found online, and resources can be ordered. Check out DeBono’s work - it is outstanding!
Recently, my curiosity was piqued by a TED x Xiguan Talk entitled
Critical Thinking is a 21st Century Essential; Here's How to Help Kids Learn It
In this TED Talk, Brian Oshiro speaks to an audience of students, educators, and parents. He asserts that asking high level questions is the best way to teach critical thinking. According to Oshiro, we can do this by following these steps:
Finally, we want our students (and our own children and grandchildren) to be good problem-solvers. An article, in PBS Kids, How to Raise a Good Problem-Solver, gives many good tips. Beginning with helping our children to manage their needs and emotions by using executive functioning skills, the article stresses the importance of helping children to focus their attention and effort, drawing on knowledge from past experiences, and choosing to think creatively, fixing mistakes and trying new ways of solving problems. Parents and educators can do this by:
“Just think” sounds like an easy suggestion, but can be very difficult to do well. With practice, all of us can become better thinkers and doers, and can share this skill with our children and our students. Better thinkers will also help our world become a better place in which to live.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President and Board Advisor
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can also be found in our website blogs.)
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.