Friday, March 6, 2009

Integrative Thinking, Part 6: Conclusion

Integrative thinking, as explained by Roger Martin in The Opposable Mind, can certainly be productive and beneficial. But how can such a process be taught in schools? Three suggestions come to mind.

First, recognize that integrative thinking is a creative thought process. My own research on creative thinking suggests that a pause—a temporary stopping of motion or movement toward application—is often needed for creative thinking. During this “pause,” the mind explores its understanding of some concept and re-forms that understanding into a fresh expression.

For example, Martin (2007) cites the founding of the Four Seasons line of hotels as an example of integrative thinking. If Isadore Sharp had decided to get into the lodging business and immediately proceeded to build a hotel, the better ideas that led development of the Four Seasons line would likely have never come to his mind. He made the decision and then allowed himself thinking time, time to consider the opposing ideas of large hotels with many amenities and smaller hotels with a friendly feel. By pausing, his creative thinking generated the superior ideas that guided his development of the Four Seasons.

This may be the most challenging aspect of engaging students in integrative (or any other creative) thinking. Time pressures drive us to often sacrifice depth for coverage. (By the way, check out this recent research on the depth vs. breadth argument!) However, research demonstrates again and again that increased thinking about a topic deepens learning. Engaging students in thinking aids learning! But the time factor—the “pause”—must be included in our considerations of instructional time usage.

Second, modeling integrative thinking provides a powerful learning experience for students. We can model integrative thinking by thinking-aloud in front of students. By voicing our thinking, we provide students with a reference point for their own thinking.

Finally, engaging students in integrative thinking can deepen learning and instill beneficial thinking skills. Take any instructional material that suggests opposing ideas and guide students through recognizing salience, identifying causality, structuring action, and achieving resolution. (Interesting how some critical thinking skills influence this creative thinking process!)

If students do not learn to think successfully they will be ill-equipped to live successfully. We need to be sure our instruction equips and engages students in various forms of thinking, such as integrative thinking. By helping them learn to think we can equip them to learn for the rest of their lives!

Up next, gestures! Several recent studies suggest engaging (or at least encouraging) students in gesturing can increase achievement. (See a previous posting on this topic here.) What do our hands know that our brains are not conscious of? Watch for the next posting soon!

Sources: Martin, R. (2007). The opposable mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

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