One of my personal favorite techniques in the classroom is to write lessons that build on inductive learning. Students think inductively when we let them explore messy information, spot interesting patterns, and generate their own conclusions. Inductive learning is, quite simply, human learning. You see it in even the youngest of infants.
Sherlock Thinks Inductively
Sherlock Holmes is famous for making incredible inferences from the tiniest details. Here’s an example from the movie Young Sherlock Holmes:
Holmes famously calls this process “deductive thinking.” But, guess what?
It’s actually the complete opposite! Moving from details towards a big idea is “inductive thinking”. Deductive thinking is when we start with a big idea and find details to back it up. And, yes, you should correct people at parties!
Inductive vs Deductive Thinking
Inductive thinking: Holmes sees a bunch of seemingly unrelated details. He notes patterns within those details. Finally, he synthesizes, forming a statement about Watson. Holmes moves from concrete to abstract or from details towards a big idea.
In the Deductive version of this, Watson would tell Holmes that he’s a writer from the north whose dad is a doctor. Then he’d ask Holmes to prove it. Holmes would have to look for the evidence. With deductive thinking, we go from abstract to concrete or from big idea to details. You can read more about deductive thinking here.
Neither is better, but they provide two totally different workouts for the brain.
- Deductive lessons are tidier and more predictable. The teacher is in more control.
- Inductive lessons allow more room for students to think. But, they need to be scaffolded to avoid frustration.
Nearly every lesson in school defaults to deductive thinking. So let’s learn to go the opposite way. How do we write lessons that encourage inductive thinking?
My Go-To, Inductive Learning Models
The two inductive models of instruction that I always go to are called Concept Attainment and Concept Formation. Although they both build on the idea of going from details towards big ideas, they are quite different. I love them both dearly!
- Concept Attainment, from Jerome Bruner, is the simpler of the two methods. I think it’s easier for folks who are used to having control over a lesson. Concept Attainment a good starting point for bringing inductive thinking into your classroom. I’ve wrote about concept attainment here.
- Concept Formation, from Hilda Taba, begins with many ungrouped examples and moves students towards generating a big idea. It is SO different from a “typical” lesson, and absolutely unleashes interesting thinking from students. Lots more about concept formation here.
Inductive Learning Requires Thinking!
Inductive learning asks for a totally different way of thinking than students are used to in school.
I find that kids are initially hesitant. This requires risk-taking! They’ll long for the simple, teacher-guided lessons they’re used to. But we’re creating thinkers here.
On the other hand, you’ll suddenly find some kids coming to life! They were born to think inductively. Use them as your exemplars. Show the rest of the class that you’re open to unexpected, creative thinking.
Oh, another thing I love about this model is that kids are clearly doing the thinking while I am “merely” facilitating. They can use me as a resource, but I’m not controlling the flow as I’d do in a more typical lesson. It frees me up to be a meddler in the middle.
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