Kids are reluctant thinkers!
Being a good thinker does not happen by accident, humans by nature are reluctant thinkers. In fact, our brain works to avoid thinking too much and spends significant energy resolving the problem of thinking by automating processes. The brain looks for repetitive actions in our life so that it can automate it, in this way it doesn’t need to think about it anymore and can focus on things that hold more interest. The brain is not interested in “thinking outside the box” for mundane tasks that hold little meaning or purpose and especially if it’s already found a way to do it without thinking. Forcing our kids to think critically about things that hold little interest to them is hard for both the student and teacher. There has to be a better way to learn.
So what helps thinking?
- Dopamine – this is the natural chemical the brain produces when it receives rewards for achieving something worthwhile
- Mental work that individuals enjoy with a problem that is neither too easy or too hard to solve
- The student or teacher choose meaningful content. If chosen by the teacher there is no knowing if this will push the buttons for that individual and neither is there any guarantee that what a student chooses will also sustain interest. It’s a fragile relationship
- Gratification of solving a problem that is neither too easy or too hard
- Believing that the mental pay off will be worth it
- Curiosity when it has staying power
When do kids stop thinking?
- When a task is overwhelming
- When a task is perceived as being too easy and presents little challenge
- When a task is too difficult
- When it holds no meaning or connection to their environment or long-term memory
- When the students can’t rearrange the information into new thinking
The ability to think requires
- Environment: The brain reacting to the environment
- Working memory: The brain interacting with the environment and using past experiences to build new knowledge (working memory). This is where you combine and manipulate information. Understanding the capacity of the working memory will help you to pace lessons for your students and give you more compassion for those that are struggling.
- Long-term memory: The brain is storing these experiences and new knowledge into long-term memory. It will pass on this knowledge to help make meaning and new connections when faced with new environments or interactions within the working memory.
For thinking to happen students must be able to combine and rearrange ideas in their working memory. If there is too much confusion and little connection to their past, or present environments, or long-term memory the brain will soon lose interest and struggle to maintain motivation. Hence it seeks new avenues of interest. Like what are my friends doing right now, I’m hungry; I don’t want to be here, etc.
Of course, there is more about the thinking process such as procedural and factual knowledge which helps execute tasks efficiently and supports the brain to solve problems faster. You can learn more about this by reading “Why Don't Students Like School?” Written by Daniel Willingham
How to plan for thinking
- Make problems solvable, meaningful and understandable
- Moderate your plan execution and be sensitive to your students’ cognitive limits
- Make sure they understand the problem and what is to be solved
- Hold their curiosity by making sure they have sufficient background knowledge on the principles studied
- Change the pace, slow down and give students time to engage with the procedures and knowledge being processed
- Don’t expect every student to produce the same results – each student has different backgrounds and will process things differently
- Know your students
Fortunately, the brain is also seeking out opportunities for thinking but only about those things which hold potential for engagement, meaning, problem-solving and leveled mental activity. Forcing our kids to carry out tasks which hold little meaning or connection to their personal lives makes learning very dreary indeed!
For example; a student is more likely to understand the properties of air to move something if they first have experienced the physical sensations of pushing something along with their hands or body.
For thinking to happen the conditions need to be right.
Get your students to think critically is no easy task for any teacher, and the challenges are very real!
Wishing you all the very best!
Your comments are always welcome. Link