Treat people as if they were what they ought
to be. and you help them to become what
they are capable of being.
|—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Undergraduates are assumed to be capable of creative and critical
thinking, and problem-solving skills. With large classes of
over a few hundred and over-crowded syllabuses, explicit teaching
of thinking skills during lectures and tutorials is not considered
a practical choice.
In recent years, the adoption of problem-based learning
by the Medical Faculty at NUS, the para-medical department
at Nanyang Polytechnic and the engineering faculties at NTU
and other polytechnics has taken tertiary education forward
towards self-directed learning and thinking-through learning.
Teaching for Thinking, Teaching of Thinking, and Teaching
The teaching of thinking should include three components
for a balanced programme (Costa, 2001):
Teaching for Thinking
Teaching for Thinking means that lecturers/tutors
should examine, monitor and create conditions that are conducive
to undergraduates thinking. This indicates that lecturers/tutors
- pose problems, raise questions and intervene with paradoxes,
dilemmas and discrepancies that challenge and engage students
- structure the learning environment for thinkingexhorting
it as a goal, valuing it, making time for it, securing a
variety of materials (manipulatives, rich data resources,
technology and raw materials) to support it.
- gather evidence of, reflect on, evaluate and report on
- respond to students ideas positively so as to create
trust, allow risk-taking and be experimental and creative.
This requires non-judgemental listening and the probing
of students and each others ideas and assumptions.
- strive to improve and model the behaviours of thinking
that are desired in students.
Teaching of Thinking
The Teaching of Thinking requires that lecturers/tutors
instruct students directly in the processes of thinking through
carefully crafted tasks, requiring the use of thinking skills
such as competence and contrast, analyse,
evaluate and synthesize and organize and sequence
(Commonwealth of Virgina, 1995).
Teaching of Thinking not only includes teaching the steps
and strategies of problem solving, creative thinking and decision
making, it also includes habituating those attitudes, dispositions
or habits of mind that characterise effective, skilful thinkers.
Such habits are formed over time by opportunities created
to apply them in a variety of settings and contexts. Students
should be able to develop scientific dispositions and habits
of mind including:
- demand for verification
- request for logic and rational thinking
- consideration for premises and consequences
- attention to accuracy and precision
- patience and persistence
Teaching about Thinking
The focus on Teaching about Thinking in learning is
metacognition. Metacognition in learning may be characterised
by having discussions with students about what is going on
inside their minds while thinking is occurring, comparing
different students approaches to problem solving and
decision making, identifying what is known, what needs to
be known, and how to produce that knowledge. Interestingly,
it has been found that good problem-solvers employ metacognitionplanning
a course of action before commencing a task, monitoring themselves
during execution of a plan, backing up or adjusting a plan
consciously and evaluating themselves upon completion. Metacognition
in learning involves awareness of ones goals and intentions
and reflections taken to achieve these goals.
It may seem difficult to promote reflective learning in a
large lecture class. A simple and effective way to engage
students attention and reflection during a large lecture
class is to get students to spend the last FIVE minutes to
write down three points in the lecture which they consider
most important to them and give justification for their choices.
A more elaborate device is to keep a learning log, registering
the learning activities and reflecting on these learning activities.
Lecturers/Tutors Behaviours That Enable Student
Lecturers behaviours that invite, maintain and enhance
students thinking can be classified into three major
- Questioning to challenge students
intellect and recollect information, process the information
into meaningful relationships, and apply those relationships
in different situations. Questions can focus students on
their own emotions, motivations and metacognitive processes.
- Responding to students so as to create a
trusting environment and to help maintain, extend and become
aware of their thinking.
- Modelling behaviour that reflects desirable
intellectual capabilities and dispositions lecturers would
encounter in everyday problems and strategies.
Skilful questioning strategies can engage and transform students
minds. Higher Order Thinking Questions are a powerful tool
to challenge students intellect. Application questions
invite students to think creatively and hypothetically to
use imagination, to expose their value systems or make judgement.
These questions could powerfully lend themselves to the process
of research because the answers cannot be found in books or
in databases. If the lecturer/tutor desires student behaviours
at the level of application, the following verbs could be
used to elicit the desired cognitive behaviour:
- applying a principle
- model building
The following five patterns of response behavioursusing
silence, facilitating the acquisition of data, accepting without
judgement, clarifying, and empathisingcan be employed
to create an environment in which students can experience
and practise complex and creative thought processes.
Wait Time (Silence)
Wait Time 1 is the length of time a lecturer/tutor pauses
after asking a question. Wait Time 2 is the length of
time a lecturer/tutor waits after a student comments or
asks a question. A minimum of three seconds of pausing
is recommended. With higher-level cognitive questions,
five seconds or more of wait time may be required for
achieving the desirable results. Wait Time 3 is pausing
and modelling thoughtfulness after the student asks the
lecturer a question.
It takes time for students to be able to think. The use
of longer pauses during tutorial discussions provide students
with the necessary thinking time that helps them manage
their impulsivity and take responsible risks as they answer
questions posed by the lecturer/tutor.
Facilitating the Acquisition of Data
If lessons are to process data by comparing, classifying,
making inferences, or drawing causal relationships for
themselves, then data must be available for them to process.
Facilitating the acquisition of data means that the lecturer/tutor
should provide information on available resources to students
Accepting Without Judgement
Non-judgemental acceptance provides conditions in which
students are encouraged to examine and compare their own
data, values, ideas, criteria, and feelings with those
of others as well as those of the lecturer/tutor. There
are two types of non-judgemental acceptance: acknowledging
Acknowledgement is responding by simply receiving without
judging what the student says. It communicates that the
students ideas have been heard. Examples of this
type of response are Thats one way of looking
at it and I understand.
Paraphrasing is responding to what the student says or
does by rephrasing, recasting, translating or summarising.
Lecturers/tutors can use these responses when they want
to extend, build on, compare, or give an example based
on what the student has said. By using different words,
the lecturer/tutor attempts to maintain the interest and
accurate meaning of the students idea.
Help Students Analyse Their Own Answers
Lecturers/tutors need to encourage students to analyse
their own answers through probing questions. Giving direct
feedback to students on the strengths and weaknesses of
their answers would discourage analytical and metacognitive
The intent of clarifying is to better understand the
students ideas, feelings, and thought process. By
clarifying, the lecturer/tutor shows the students that
their ideas are worthy of exploration and consideration
but that the full meaning is not yet understood. When
a lecturer/tutor spends time, responding to students
comments by encouraging them to elaborate further, students
become more purposeful in their thinking and behaviour.
Empathic acceptance is a response that accepts feelings
in addition to cognition. Lecturers/tutors respond empathically
when they want to accept a students feelings, emotions
Modelling tends to reinforce students perceptions
of values and goals stated by the lecturer/tutor. By exhibiting
the kinds of behaviour desired in students, lecturers can
strongly influence students behavioural patterns. Examples
of desirable patterns modelled are:
- listening attentively to one another
- solving problems in a rational scientific manner
- managing impulsivity, reacting calmly and patiently during
- accepting students differences
- showing enthusiasm for challenges, puzzles and complex
- seeking feedback and evaluation of their actions from
- admitting that they do not know an answer but designing
ways to produce an answer
- having a clearly stated value system and making decisions
consistent with that value system.
Thinking is best effected through group work or pair work.
This may seem to be a difficult task for a large lecture class
but Think-Pair-Share is an easy activity to manage
even in a class of a few hundred students.
Undergraduates at NUS and NTU had indicated that tutorials
and Project Work provide better opportunities to develop thinking
skills than mass lectures. Interactions of any form and problem-solving
activities would stimulate and foster thinking in students.
The Singapore Thinking Programme had been implemented in
all schools and at all levels by 2001. In 2003, SATI scores
will be one of the criteria considered for admission into
the local universities. By 2005, Project Work will be another
criterion added to the list of university admission criteria.
It is hence rational and imperative for all tertiary institutions
to carry on the effort to develop our high flyers into critical
thinkers and creative problem-solvers.
- Commonwealth of Virginia. (1995). Standards of Learning
for Virginia Public Schools. Richmond Board of Education,
Commonwealth of Virginia.
- Costa, Arthur L. (Ed). (2001). Developing Minds: A
Resource Book for Teaching Thinking (3rd ed.). Alexandria,
Virginia, USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
- Forgarty, Robin. (1994). Teach for Metacognitive Reflection.
Arlington Heights, Illinosis: Skylight.