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Teaching Thinking

to Minds NOT

Designed for it...

“Contrary to popular belief, the brain is not designed for thinking.”

Daniel T. Willingham, Why don’t students like school?

         Teaching Thinking to minds not designed for it, also the puzzling title of this paper, must be the most Sisyphean attempt of any educator in the history of mankind. Spending countless hours researching and authoring papers on the teaching of Thinking skills should also be equally futile, and you, dear reader, would be better off pursuing any other endeavour than reading any further. Nevertheless, countless teachers continue to relentlessly pursue this seemingly futile activity each day in their classrooms, numerous researchers in diverse fields ranging from psychology to business continue to explore the effects of and conditions for the teaching of thinking in classrooms and workplaces, and politicians and policymakers from America to Zimbabwe are instituting the teaching of thinking in classrooms and society-at-large. The general public and the media are constantly lamenting the absence of thinking instruction in schools while students all around the world, whose brains are NOT designed for thinking, continue to have little say in sitting through lessons which undoubtedly prove to be just a waste of time.

         The truth is, despite the fact that our brains are poorly designed for thinking, Thinking CAN be taught. However, instead of rushing headlong into any fashionable trends in education, of which creative and critical thinking seem to be at the fore right now, the whats, whys and hows of teaching Thinking need to be critically examined before such programmes are introduced in schools. This paper thus seeks to explore how Thinking programmes are developed and taught, and what the conditions for their successes or failures are. As an educator, a psycholinguist and an economist by training, and as the lead designer for a highly-acclaimed Thinking Programme in Singapore, I will be drawing from theories and experiences in the field, as well as from my field experiences and observations in the United States of America as part of my Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Programme for International Teachers from January to May 2019. Private conversations with 50 adult residents in the United States of America, distributed over the geographical regions of the US, i.e. the Northeast, Southwest, West, Southeast, and Midwest, also shaped my thinking process and approach in this paper. While these individuals have diverse occupations ranging from architects to applied physicists, and have contrasting social and economic circumstances ranging from a divorced homeless war veteran to an academic living on a 200-acre homestead with three children, all their thoughts about and experiences in the American education system paint a comprehensive picture of what education was, is and ought to be. And that ideal education system and process, above all, is predicated on effective teaching of thinking in schools.

Brain Teaser


Cubic Puzzle


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