Label and Describe How to Perform the Skill
Giving a skill an appropriate label is an important part of thinking skills teaching. A name allows the teacher to discuss the skill in other contexts and gives the learners and teacher a common language about thinking. Depending on the age of learners, consider creating catchy names for skills that will be used often, such as Mr. Spocking for logical thinking, or Prove It for evaluating evidence.
After giving the skill a name, suggest a series of steps to go through to perform it, keeping in mind that you are explaining to learners how to do something that can apply in a variety of contexts. Keep the suggestions general and, whenever possible, include variations that learners can apply to suit their particular learning and thinking styles.
For example, give learners the following questions to ask about a website:
The steps to performing a skill can come from many places, most often from the minds of teachers who are aware of their own thinking processes. Asking yourself questions like, “What do I do when I have to put items in different categories?” or “How do I know that this article is biased?” can help you determine some steps that will help your learners. As you think more about your own thinking, especially in different subject areas, you will become more and more proficient at identifying your thinking processes and better at sharing those processes with your learners.
- Who is the author? Is the site supported by an organization with a reputation for credibility? Is it a personal Web page?
- Are the sources cited and can you check them yourself?
- What is the date of the site? When was it last updated?
Model the Skill
The most critical part of explicit teaching is modelling the use of the thinking skill. This is most effectively accomplished through a think-aloud, a method through which a person articulates their thoughts as they think about an issue or a problem. This is one way in which learners can see how an expert thinks about the subject.
When performing a think-aloud, keep the following tips in mind:
- Decide ahead of time what thinking skill you are modelling and limit your comments to just those that support that skill.
- Explain what you are going to do before you do it and make sure learners understand the purpose of the think-aloud.
- If you’re performing the think-aloud while reading a text of some kind, practice ways of helping learners understand the difference between when you are reading and when you are thinking. You can turn your head in a different direction. Some teachers look out into space or put their fingers on their chins to show that they are thinking, not reading.
- Don’t get distracted by expanding your comments to lecture on the topic. It’s easy to “explain” about the topic instead of thinking about it.
Doing think-alouds can feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, but with practice it becomes much easier. Teachers are often surprised at the positive response they get from learners when they try this method. Asking learners to do think-alouds is also an excellent way to help them become more metacognitive, to identify the thinking strategies they use, and to become aware of those of others.
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