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Independent Thinking OR Working Collaboratively?


The problem with the statement above is the ‘OR’. Getting our youngsters to begin thinking independently is really the only goal. Or is it? What if there was something higher than independence?

Stephen Covey reminds us that ‘independent thinking alone is not suited to interdependent reality’. Nevertheless, as we encourage learners’ independent thinking, we empower them to find reality in their own way.

Thinking independently is what enables us to work together, collaboratively. So, is it not the correct formula to lead young learners from dependence, through to a state of independence, at which point, our young people are able to practice fruitfully…interdependence. If we can get them from dependence to independence, we are certainly establishing a platform for success.

We must, as parents and practitioners, exercise the idea of independent thinking, so it feels safe. Many students don’t believe they have the freedom to have their own thoughts. In many cases, when the curriculum is geared towards the learning of a subject only (the facts), students are taught to rehearse ‘right’ answers. The issue is that this doesn’t encourage learners to be imaginative in their resolution of problems. Rather, it relays on what went before. As an example, if we followed (or rehersed) such practices in medicine indefinitely, I would not like to think of how your next dental treatment might be, based on the surgical practises of the 1800s…painful to say the least I expect! Of course nobody disputes that there must be instruction in the classroom or home. Guidelines and expectations are the basis. However, once you establish your daily procedures, the question must be posed:

‘What is the source of originality and innovation?

So here are three practical tips that we can all follow to help students become independent in their thoughts and learning, yet collaborative and forward thinking in their application.

Firstly, fail usefully.

This is a great way to get students to be aware of their mistakes, in order to learn. Deconstructing the problem and understand what went wrong. Allowing students to make mistakes and instilling in them a growth mindset (a term that is often thrown around and over used, however, when considering its meaning at a base level, it makes perfect sense). Creating an environment in which the mind, senses and intellect can grow! Revolutionary right?

Secondly, we need to ask big questions.

Driving questions enable students to have purpose and a set point to aim at. Realistically, nobody ever walked into a boardroom or a science laboratory without purpose, a hypothesis to disprove, or at some level, an aim to achieve! The truth is that responsibility gives focus, and focus finds answers.

Finally, we must engage the senses.

By this we mean, their mental stimulation, the joys of discovery. This is done at home, in the classroom, on the sports fields, or away at summer camp. It really doesn’t matter, but a child’s appetite is relentless, and the process of discovery is the most natural thing in the world. What we must become is the enabler!

Thanks for reading. Link is the most viewed TED talk ever by Ken Robinson, well worth another view!

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