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Teach your child the art of thinking

Teachers and parents should learn to ask kids the right questions that stimulates their thought processes, says Jitendra Nagpal

education Updated: Apr 21, 2010 09:54 IST
Jitendra Nagpal

The ability to think and transform the thought process into meaningful action is fast evolving as a desirable skill in this age of information. In today’s information age, thinking skills are viewed as crucial for educated people to cope with a rapidly changing world.

Critical thinking skills figure prominently amongst the goals for education, whether one asks developers of curricula, educational researchers, parents or employers. Although there are some quite diverse definitions of critical thinking, nearly all emphasise the ability and tendency to gather, evaluate, and use information effectively. What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is the process of determining the authenticity, accuracy, or value of something, characterised by the ability to seek reasons and alternatives, perceiving the total situation and changing one’s views based on evidence. It is also called “logical” or “analytical thinking.

One of the easiest ways to develop children’s thinking skills is by wording questions in the right way. When teachers and parents learn to ask questions that stimulate children’s thought processes, learning can be made fun.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, different types of questions require us to use different kinds or levels of thinking.

In a simpler way, the thinking skills can be seen as few key categories under six broad categories: Knowledge, comprehension, and application are more concrete thinking skills. Analysis, synthesis, and evaluation require more abstraction and are known as critical thinking skills.

Knowledge: Knowledge involves remembering or recalling appropriate, previously learned information to draw out factual (usually right or wrong) answers. For instance: ‘how many’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘list’, ‘define’, ‘tell’, ‘describe’, ‘identify’ helps to draw out factual answers and test your child’s recall and recognition skills.

Comprehension: Comprehension is about grasping or understanding the meaning of informational materials. For instance: ‘Describe’, ‘explain’, ‘estimate’, ‘predict’, ‘identify’, and ‘differentiate’ encourage your child to translate, interpret, and extrapolate.

Application: Application involves applying previously learned information (or knowledge) to new and unfamiliar situations.

For instance: ‘Demonstrate’, ‘apply’, ‘illustrate’, ‘solve’, ‘examine’, ‘experiment’ help encourage children to apply knowledge to newer situations, for example during the transition into adolescence.

Analysis: Analysis involves breaking down information into parts, or examining (and trying to understand the organizational structure of) information. For

Instance: ‘What are the differences’, ‘analyse’, ‘explain’, ‘compare’, ‘separate’, ‘classify’, ‘arrange’.

Synthesis: Synthesis is about applying prior knowledge and skills to combine elements into a pattern not clearly there before. For instance: ‘Combine’, ‘rearrange’, ‘substitute’, ‘create’, ‘invent’, ‘what if’, etc encourage children to combine elements into a pattern that’s new.

Evaluation: Evaluation involves judging or deciding according to some set of criteria, without real right or wrong answers. For instance: ‘Assess’, ‘measure’, ‘select’, ‘explain’, ‘conclude’, ‘compare’, ‘summarise’ are likely to motivate children to make social judgments according to a yardstick or a set of criteria.

The use of critical thinking is one of the most valuable skills we can pass on to our children. Gifted children, especially, tend to take mental leaps and you might notice that they use synthesis and evaluation without teaching or prompting. Supporting and nurturing these skills is crucial to the development of strong academic and lifelong problem-solving skills.

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at hthorizons@hindustantimes.com, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’