Activity Ideas From Teaching Thinking

I have a pretty loose rule in my house about books: when one comes in, one must go out. The book leaving may be one that’s out of date (I have owned a lot of Web-tech books over the years), one that I’ve read and didn’t need to keep as reference; or one that I’ve never read and realize I have no intention of reading.

The incoming books I’m quite excited about, but before I get to them, I needed to pick the outgoing books. Edward DeBono’s Teaching Thinking (buy it used on Amazon) has been on my shelf for a few years. I picked up my copy at a library book sale. It was (obviously) used. Parts of the text had been underlined in pen. Before tossing it in “to go” bin, I flipped through the book with the intention scanning every page to see if there were useful bits I could extract before moving on. I’m delighted I took the time to flip.

The book as a narrative from start to finish didn’t do much for me, but I scribbled a few pages worth of diagrams and notes. The section that caught my interest stated: All teaching is simply a matter of attention-directing. When conducted as activities in the class, all attention-directors are artificial. (I had a hard time processing that second part, but I came to realize this was artificial in the sense of “if I hadn’t artificially drawn the learner’s attention to this point, they wouldn’t have known to be aware of it”.

DeBono highlighted six methods for directing attention:

  • North-South method. An external reference system to direct attention towards certain things. e.g. consequences, people.
  • Bird watching method. Spotting patterns and phenomenons. Used to identify different ways of being right, and wrong.
  • Apple boxing method. Sorting things into categories where the oblique intention of sorting will lead to close examination of the things themselves. Used to examine values and guesses.
  • Isolation method. Isolate certain obvious + automatic areas so they will get more attention. As at the “start” of thinking.
  • Framework method. Set up and use a checklist of attention areas which are set up ahead of the situation; each attention area/box is filled in turn from the situation.
  • Process model method. Directs attention to some basic process as distinct from areas. Setting up models of the process and applying them (analyze vs compare).

After describing the methods, there was a reminder stating: Understanding alone does not lead to use. Use only comes from habit, and habit comes from practice.

It made me think of a recent training I’d conducted. The client had requested a lot of topics be covered. I knew there was no way the learners could gain any kind of mastery over the topics in such a short period of time. I knew I wanted to have more activities to cement at least a few of the core concepts. As I continue to refine my set curriculum I’ll now have a new lens to look at the content: I have a set of defined attention-directors that I can slide in as activities. None of them are particularly revolutionary, but I loved seeing the list of abstracted methods.