Ways of Thinking

Ten Ways of Thinking

The human brain is a wet, fragile mass that weighs a little over three pounds. It is about the size of a small grapefruit, is shaped like a walnut, and can fit in the palm of your hand. Cradled in the skull and surrounded by protective membranes, it is poised at the top of the spinal column. The brain works ceaselessly, even when we are asleep.
—David Sousa, p. 15

“Think as I think,” said a man, “or you are abominably wicked; you are a toad.”

And after I had thought of it, I said. “I will, then, be a toad.”
— Stephen Crane

Human beings think in many different ways but we rarely reflect on how we think.

The more we understand some of the possible ways of thinking, the better we can consider a problem and make decisions about the most appropriate and helpful ways to work toward a solution.

Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment. It will focus on some real or imaginary pain, or recent grudges or long term frustrations.
— Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, The Flow, p. 119

Different Ways of Thinking

David Sousa in his book, How the Brain Learns, p. 246, considers the idea of different kinds of thinking.

Thinking is easier to describe than to define. It’s characteristics include the daily routine of reasoning
where one is at the moment,
where one’s destination is,
and how to get there.
It includes developing concepts, using words, solving problems, abstracting, intuiting, and anticipating the future. Other aspects of thinking include learning, memory, creativity, communication, logic, and generalization.

Sousa is not specifically speaking of ways of thinking. I would suggest that using words, generalization, learning, memory, and communication  are subjects for which we use thinking. Only  Creativity, Logic, Solving Problems, and Intuiting actually are ways of thinking.

If you’d be interested in another less formal approach to thinking, you might consider a book by Robert Eidelberg, Good Thinking: A Self-Improvement Approach to Getting Your Mind to Go from “Huh?” to “Hmm” to “Aha.”

Sousa points to Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (1956) as one way to describe ways of thinking.

Bloom organizes thought processes into six levels, often arranged in a pyramid. Knowledge, is at the lowest level. Higher levels include Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

Note the difference between increasing difficulty (learning capital of 50 states instead of in one state) and increasing complexity (moving from memorizing information to explaining it, and then actually using it.)  Many schools simply increase difficulty and rarely expose students to the upper levels of complexity.

Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) make three small changes. They use verbs instead of nouns,  they reversed the order of the top two categories, and they also use the word “create” instead of  synthesis. While I would not consider synthesis and creating to be the same, I agree that Bloom meant something like creating or creative thinking. They provide these examples of each term:

  • Evaluation includes appraisal, assessment, judgment. It is deciding how good or bad something is.
  • Synthesis includes imagining, composing, designing, inferring, and considering the big picture
  • Analysis includes looking for main ideas, compare & contrast, and distinguishing main ideas.
  • Application includes  practicing, calculation, taking action.
  • Comprehension includes  summarizing, discussing, explaining, and understanding..
  • Knowledge includes defining, labeling, and recalling information.

Again, Bloom does not describe his list as ways of thinking. He seems to listing what students learn at different levels. I would not consider knowledge, comprehension or applications to be ways of thinking. They are results of thinking. I would, however, include analysis, synthesis and evaluation as ways of thinking.

I suspect that Bloom would have been interested to learn that our brains register a difference in our thinking are the complexity increases.According to Sousa, “Brain scans show that different parts of the brain are involved as the problem-solving task becomes more complicated., p. 246   Sousa also points out the important of Emotions. They “play an important role in the thinking process. … If we like what we are learning, we are more likely to maintain interest and move to higher-level thinking. … When we dislike the learning, we usually spend the least amount of time with it and stay at minimal levels of processing.  p.247

The Ten Ways of Thinking

As I explored different ways of thinking, I came up with ten. I don’t claim that ten is the correct number. In fact, I’m looking forward to receiving comments about other  ways of thinking .

Unlike Bloom, Sousa, or Anderson and Krathwohl, I cannot see that any way of thinking is at a higher level than the others. I can only claim that we use different ways of thinking when considering different kinds of information or when we have different purposes.

However we choose to organize our thinking about thinking, it is clear we need to find ways of improving our thinking. I agree with Sousa, that the best to improve the way we think is to use our mind with increasingly complex material. Like getting to Carnegie Hall,  getting to better thinking takes “Practice, Practice, Practice.” And this brings me to a very favorite quotation. Jean Houston said, referring to the brain:

We are given as our birthright a Stradivarius and we come to play it like a plastic fiddle.