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A Thought about Thinking

As any teacher can tell you, they spend a lot of time on thinking. They spend a lot of time planning, assessing and evaluating thinking. And as an educator for nearly 30 years, I too have done my share of thinking about thinking. But, you don’t need to be a teacher to enjoy thinking about thinking.

In fact, this activity, or reflection, is the most effective way adults learn. Which makes me think about “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. In it, Pink states the future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind. And although his assertions are that his book will take “readers to daring new places and offers a provocative and urgent new way of thinking about a future that has already arrived” may be a bit extreme, his book will at least suggest there is another avenue in which to tap the potential of all our students, as well as adults.

The anatomy of the brain is made of several major sections, but generally, there is the left and right hemisphere, or left and right side. Each side performing different tasks. Typically, when we think and are able to verbalize our thoughts, we are thinking with the left side of our brain. Most thoughts that are analytical (reading, writing and mathematical computation) are considered to take part in the left side. Reading something and restating it, writing a summary or calculating data are all analytical functions of the left side of the brain. These cognitive functions are what is most typically measured in schools as an academic indicator.

In his book, Pink asserts; “Gone is the age of the “left-brain” dominance.” This is a strong statement. As Superintendent of the Southwest Technical Education District of Yuma (STEDY), a career and technical education public high school district, promoting technical skill development (those typically associated with the left side) I could interpret the statement to be absurd. How could we help students learn highly analytical concepts that require them to become proficient in technical skills if they cannot read, write or perform complex computations? After all, it is critical to become capable of performing these tasks if one is to become adept in a career that requires technical expertise.

Then I thought, if “gone is the left-brain dominance” something significant must be happening in the right side. What happens in there? Researchers have determined that intuition, creative interpretation and expression, empathy and what may call a “hunch” are operative functions that take place there. Like the typical academic indicators of success, as an educator, I know these “right-brain” capabilities are essential for learning as well. Furthermore, I have come to believe we were not engaging the right side of our student’s brains. Thus, Pink’s position provoked me to take pause and allow for there to be another way to “think” about education and take advantage of this untapped “brain-power.” I believe it is vital to enable our students by nurturing the right side of their brains, as well as the left, and enable the designers, inventors, teachers and even storytellers. And as it turns out, I am not the only one. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, the legislation that replaced what was considered “No Child Left Behind” requires that each state include at least one nonacademic indicator in its school evaluation measures. Although there may some critics in using this type of data to be considered when determining student success, there have been equally compelling research to suggest these measures can be reliable and valid. Even more so, it is my belief the strengths students’ display which are function of the right-side of the brain can be utilized to help with those left-brain functions enabling students to do better in math, reading and writing. All we need to do is keep an open mind.