I’ve been writing about Thinking vs Remembering, with the realization that kids spend a lot of time stuck in a “Remember” mode at school without being forced to really “Think.”
One way to emphasizing Thinking over mere Remembering is to consider the level of abstraction we’re asking students to use. You might think of abstraction as a spectrum from highly specific, concrete details to really big (but vague) ideas.
- “Power” is a highly abstract idea
- “The Printing Press” is a very specific example of something with power
- Perhaps “Powerful Inventions” lies somewhere in-between
Depth and Complexity and Abstraction
If you’re familiar with Depth and Complexity, you already have a remarkable framework for dealing with various levels of abstraction. Obviously Big Idea is the most abstract while Details is the most specific and the prompts of Patterns, Rules, and Change might lie
Thinking Happens When We Move
I believe “Thinking” is more likely to happen when we ask students to move between levels of abstraction. Rather than memorizing lots and lots of essential details, we can ask students to find the patterns within those details. This demands Thinking. Then, when we ask them to form a Big Idea from those Patterns, we force them to think again.
Likewise, if we start with a Big Idea, and then consider what Examples fit under that Big Idea – kids are more likely to stretch their brains. Or, try asking for Examples that DON’T fit under the Big Idea.
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Memorizing the order of the presidents is impressive, but is still merely a “remember” task. Instead, we might ask students to look for patterns. How could we form groups of presidents? How many different ways could we group the presidents? These questions move students towards abstraction and demand thinking.
Based on your groupings of the presidents, what big idea do you notice? How could you sum all of this information up?
Sure, you could just ask kids to remember quadrilateral details. But if you want them to think, give them a bunch of un-labeled quadrilaterals and ask them for Patterns. What Rules could they generate? Can them sum up information in a Big Idea?
Or give them a Big Idea: “Some Quadrilaterals have right angles and some do not.” Then let them generate examples of this Big Idea. Then have them look for Patterns in those examples. Then, can they make a new Big Idea after working with their patterns?
It’s the movement between specific and abstract that forces thinking to happen. Asking students to look for patterns within ungrouped examples, and then to sum that information up in a statement is one shortcut to this kind of movement.
Nothing here is new. These were ideas Hilda Taba and Jerome Bruner and others were kicking around the 1960s. I’d encouarge you to look up their work in Concept Formation and Concept Attainment.