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Teaching Thinking Skills - reflection paper

REFLECTION: On Teaching Thinking Skills: Redesigning Classroom
Practices By Abdullah Mohd Noor
The Study
Abdullah Mohd Noor, working on a study he named, Teaching Thinking Skills:
Redesigning Classroom Practices, quoted Rajendran (2000) saying that “many
students are unable to give evidence of a more than superficial understanding of
concepts and relationships that are fundamental to the subjects they have
studied, or an ability to apply the content knowledge they have acquired to real
world problems.” This suggests a lack of ability among students to apply the
knowledge they learn from schools to real world problems. As a response, Noor
emphasizes the importance of thinking skills in the classroom, and that the lack of
a thinking culture in our schools may have been due to the prevalent use of the
teacher-centered approach which does not particularly promote higher-order
thinking skills.
Noor aimed his study at seeing the reactions of education students towards the
application of knowledge of thinking culture into the local classroom setting. He
wanted to elicit answers as to the changes that need to be done in the current
classroom setting, the constraints a teacher faces in integrating skills among
students, and the need to redesign pedagogy for teaching thinking skills in the
classroom. For this study, Noor arranged to expose a group of 40 teacher
education students to a course on culture of thinking in the classroom whose
content includes the following: the language of thinking, idea of the culture of
thinking, thinking dispositions, mental management, the strategic spirit, higher
order knowledge, and teaching for transfer. These students were then asked to
respond to questions related to current classroom setting, constraints a teacher
faces in integrating thinking skills among students, and the necessary changes to
pedagogy in the teaching of thinking skills in the classroom.
In terms of changes needed to be done in the current classroom setting, the
respondents offered the following observations, and are ranked accordingly: (1)
Emphasis is on memory-based learning; (2) Student-centered learning is limited;
(3) Classroom setting is too formal; (4) Students cannot be active when it is too
formal; and (5) Deep thinking activities are not possible.
For constraints in integrating thinking skills among students, the study listed (1)
Assessment as the top constraint, and is followed by the following; (2) Teaching
strategies; (3) Preplanning the lesson; (4) Time in implementing thinking; and (5)
Exam-oriented educational system.
Finally for pedagogy redesign, the students want to see these changes in the
following order: (1) change from memory-based to thinking-based learning; (2)
change exam­oriented curriculum to thoughtful curriculum; (3) needs teacher’s
creativity in imposing culture of thinking; (4) integrate thinking skills in lesson
planning; (5) and teaching thinking skills across curriculum.
In his discussion of the results of the study as well as its implication, Noor believes
that it is possible to change teaching approaches from teacher-centered to
student-centered but would require that teachers must be well-equipped with
various approaches and methods of teaching, that teachers must be well-trained
in the culture of thinking, that schools must have goals in developing independent
learners and thinkers, and that schools must encourage the implementation of
teaching approaches that develop thinking students and thinking culture in a
progressive manner.
The pedagogical redesign as suggested by the participants to the study requires
that the integration of the thinking culture in the classroom should consider
lesson planning, thinking­based learning, teacher’s creativity, thoughtful
curriculum and teaching thinking skills across curriculum.
Noor in his conclusion agrees with the student-participants that developing a
thinking culture in the classroom is a big challenge for teachers, and concedes
that implementing thinking skills will definitely takes time. But he offers an
advice. He said that teachers as well as teaching thinking skills needed
reorientation in order to integrate the teaching of thinking skills. He further
suggests that constant attempts shall be made at developing thinking as a habit of
the mind and the eventual creation of a culture of thinking. Teachers, he said, will
have to be familiar with the thinking culture, and should embody all of its features
before a thinking culture can fully be implemented in the classroom.
My take
Noor findings are no surprise to us in the Philippine academe. In fact, the many
international exams involving our students validate what I lament to be the
current state of Philippine education – the lack of a motivated and purposive
desire to change. It is no secret that the educational system has been held
hostage by teacher-centeredness and the apathy of those who hold the reins in
educational governance. Results of surveys related to reading comprehension
among our students leave much to be desired, and in essence, have magnified the
problem, and put it on center stage. And yet, we plod on as if there is nothing to
worry about.
Would setting up, developing, nurturing, and encouraging a culture of thinking
help? The answer of course is yes. Abdullah Mohd Noor, in his study, Teaching
Thinking Skills: Redesigning Classroom Practices, said so. A thinking culture,
according to Noor’s source, is about how to transform the culture of a particular
classroom into a culture of thinking, with the purpose of teaching thinking to
prepare students for a future of effective problem-solving, thoughtful decision
making and lifelong learning. Preparing our children and sending them into the
adult world amid the vortex of rapid changes in life, society, and economics
requires that we prepare them with the necessary tools of life. Our children
should be equipped with critical thinking, problem-solving, and creative thinking
skills. This is where every educator agrees. But why are we not there yet?
Focus, motivation, will, determination. As a nation, we simply lack focus. We lack
motivation, the will, and the determination to succeed. The department of
education, the government agency tasked to educate the country, has gone so
vast and unwieldy, and the people running it, weighed down by the enormity of
its responsibility. We also have not had the luck of having national leaders who
make education their priority. Every Philippine leader starts with a vision, and
ends with nonchalance.
So how has the idea of culture of thinking not taken off at our public schools
when it has become the toast of the education world?
Culture of thinking includes the language of thinking, thinking dispositions, mental
management, strategic spirit, higher order knowledge, and teaching for transfer.
All of this combine and find expressions in the way a student solves a problem or
approach an issue by employing critical thinking, logic, creativity, and reflection.
This of course mean that teachers should start moving away from teacheroriented approach and begin to embrace and cultivate student-centered delivery
of lessons. Would this work in today’s public schools?
My thought is that it could, very much so, the unwieldiness of the education
system and our political leaders’ nonchalance notwithstanding. Teachers are
within their professional capacity to exercise the power to create and develop a
culture of thinking in their classrooms. Noor’s study is a welcome revelation that
teachers can make use of to start their journey in this regard. Teachers have it in
them to make culture of thinking a permanent fixture in their classrooms, and
most especially in their lives.
But isn’t it great if all of our energy and focus are directed towards making
education a priority, and the establishment of culture of thinking something that
we all can embrace?