Tools for thinking
A Tool-kit of Thinking skills
The following scheme of categories of tasks arose from simply listing as many as possible of the things that are done in the language classroom, and then sorting them into groups. These groups defined themselves largely by the sort of thinking process that was involved in each task or activity - on a range from thinking that could be considered as 'natural' (something that the human brain seems to do spontaneously, but may need cultivating) to thinking that is 'acquired' (a way of thinking that needs to be taught, and will need practising).
Accordingly, tasks should be seen as means, in that they enable the work of the class to develop, but should also be seen as ends, in that they embody ways of thinking which are useful and valuable.
The purpose of this scheme is to provide a tool-kit for teaching language. The teacher has to define and select what has to be taught - but it is surely good practice to then calculate how it is to be taught, and this surely involves deciding what the students will actually be asked to do. We would probably all accept (and the IB positively insists) that students should be involved actively in their learning.
Overall Categories of Tasks & Activities
- Tasks - individual steps or stages in the thinking process: activities that may involve basic, natural ways of thinking that the teacher can assume students have done all their lives - but possibly not consciously, or effectively [e.g. listening].
- Methods - including two sub-divisions: Functions, which are mental activities that students may use spontaneously, but which need to be taught in order to be used appropriately and skilfully [e.g. choosing ‘tone’]; and Processes, which are mental activities which are probably not used spontaneously, and will need to be taught and practised [e.g. de Bono ‘lateral thinking’]
- Procedures - which are activities which organise, and make more effective, the work of the class - and consequently the development of all of the other mental activities [e.g. group-work techniques].
The tool-kit consists of types of task which can be seen as generic and highly transferable - it is designed to offer a range of options from which the teacher can choose whichever tasks seem appropriate for handling and developing the raw material of a section of the teaching programme.
The scheme can also be seen as a check-list - if these various thought processes seem useful (some more, some less, given the needs of the class), then materials have to be found, and lessons devised, to teach them.
This scheme proposes that the educated, sophisticated user of a language can handle these processes when required, at least competently.
Using the kit
Each page on each task type begins with an Opening Gambit - what we might say, typically, to start the class working on that particular task.
The introductory page for each of the categories given below has the tool-kit laid out - there is a list of the tasks, simply defined, each with its Opening Gambit, and with links to relevant pages. For example :
"Look at this (list of words / field of facts / set of images,etc) ... What patterns can you find? "
[See Detecting patterns ... ]