3 Ways to Teach Students “How to Think”

Photo by 胡 卓亨 on Unsplash

Your thinking is directly related to your education.

Education can come in many forms. We learn at school and our foundational knowledge is set by our family. Experience teaches us lessons as well — especially failure. As an undergrad, I read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the first time.

There I was exposed to the idea of education as an act of liberation. Freire argued against the “banking model” of education where the teacher is seen as an expert who deposits her knowledge into her students’ minds. Instead, Freire championed a model where students thought for themselves and the teacher acted as their guide based on student interest.

When it comes to the educational setting, this is the most powerful way to teach because students demonstrate ownership of the experience.

The Power of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning (PBL) has the opportunity to change the way we do school and how students think.

The gist is simple: solve interesting problems students care about. What happens when you take this approach? The students are excited to learn. By tapping into their interests and addressing challenges they face in their communities, education has the ability to make learning authentic for students. I am not a PBL expert by any stretch. My guide for PBL is Kyle Wagner who leads Transform Educational Consulting. In addition to the excitement, ownership, and learning how to think that PBL provides, students learn the impact they can have in their community.

Teaching students how to think via PBL is great; showing them their power is even better.

The Value of Mental Models

Another great tool educators can use to teach students how to think is via mental models.

I’m newer to the world of mental models. I have Shane Parrish of Farnam Street to thank for that. He writes in The Great Mental Models Volume 1:

Education doesn’t prepare you for the real world. At least, it didn’t prepare me. I was two weeks into my job at an intelligence agency on September 11, 2001 when the world suddenly changed. The job I had been hired to do was no longer the one that was needed … I had no idea how to make decisions. I only knew I had an obligation to make the best decisions I could.

Shane turned to mentors who modeled how to use mental models.

These [models] are chunks of knowledge from different disciplines that can be simplified and applied to better understand the world.

If you want to learn more about mental models:

Critical Thinking Skills and Exposure to Multiple Narratives

Students need to learn how to evaluate information in order to properly learn how to think.

It took the HBO series, The Watchmen, for much of white-America to learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre. As recent as 2015, students in Texas were taught that “workers” were brought to the southern US plantations. History, we are told, is taught by the winners, and a lack of critical reflection and exposure to multiple narratives breeds an ignorant society — one that struggles to wrestle with progress.

Students need to learn the skill of questioning everything they learn in and outside of school. Multiple primary and secondary resources help facilitate that process. After the murder of George Floyd, we saw a number of statues torn down because of their representation of societal wrongs. It’s difficult honoring Christopher Colombus when you can read his own diary and see that he explored with the purpose of raping and enslaving people while stealing their natural resources. Because many schools limit the exposure of multiple narratives and conform to the local political pressure our students don’t learn how to form their own opinions based on a rigorous evaluation of information.

The result is the January 6 attack on the Capitol fueled by conspiracy theories that wouldn’t take a critically-thinking middle school student more than thirty-minutes to disprove.

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀