Thoughts on Thinking

This is a guest post written by Ellen Shubich.

Ellen Shubich

I have been thinking about thinking.

It began when the Buckingham tutor asked my trainee, who had just given a “content class,” what she thought was most important for students to learn. During the exchange, the idea of thinking took the forefront.

We use the words critical thinking a great deal in education and agree that teachers should promote this, but many of us do not delve beyond open-ended questions or “Why did you say that?” We blame the lack of time or the fear of losing pace or the rest of the class’s interest. Yet, perhaps, another explanation exists: We may not know where to go after that initial attempt.

Our failure to dedicate more time to working on thinking intrigued me. And then Huffington Post sent me surfing into David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech. Wallace hooked me with his language, his humor, his ideas, his way of thinking. What did I take from his talk? The idea that we have to pay attention, see and think things from different perspectives, maybe not take things for granted.

I had already decided that the students who learn best are the ones who pay attention. And I know that teachers have to create and set up an environment that promotes learning, the details of which I will omit. I also think that many of us are not very observant. I humbly take the first-place prize. I once had a Doshinkan sensei whose intention was for us learn by observation. He rarely explained anything, even made us sit still for long periods of time, which I assumed was allotted so that we could think about what we observed. I didn’t.

Yet, we teachers spend little time on developing students’ observation skills.

Not just “What do you see in this image?” stuff, things like “What just happened and why?” or “What may have caused this?” or “Why didn’t that work?” or

“What does that mean?” or “How will that affect things?”

And then I discovered the free online book Good Thinking by Erik Palmer, and I realized that I know very little about logic and syllogisms and building arguments and the art of persuasion. I had been talking about critical thinking for a long time without the basic knowledge of what it truly is and how to develop it in my students.

Finally, I watched a Steve Jobs interview on Netflix. Once again, what caught my attention was his thinking, the process, the content, the clear verbalization of the thoughts. He was able to look back, analyze causes of what happened in his life, and work and look forward to where he thought the future of computers would go.

This has been my train of thought as my mind traveled, stopping along the way to consider each new idea. I am convinced that now, more than ever, faced with so much easily available information, propaganda, publicity, and the possible dangers that artificial intelligence presents, students must develop their thinking skills. To reach this objective, teachers must learn how to accomplish this and dedicate more time to the task.

Ellen Schubich was born and raised in the Bronx and moved to Mexico 48 years ago when she married. She has a B.S.N. degree from Cornell University-New York Hospital and a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from the Universidad La Salle. Ellen has held many different positions: nurse, gerontologist, teacher of nursing, English teacher, coordinator, principal (Elementary and Middle School), and English principal. She is married, has a son and daughter and three grandchildren. 

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

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