Teaching Complex Thinking


Complex thinking can take many qualitatively different forms. While the elements of critical and creative thinking have traditionally been recognised as forms of high order thinking, I believe it is equally important that one also includes the third component – that of caring thinking.

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While the three identified forms of complex thinking may be considered independently, they do not, by definition, need to be seen as mutually exclusive. As Figure 1 suggests, the merging of the three concepts may best be depicted on a Venn Diagram. Here it can be seen that there is an intersection between all three elements of complex thinking. One can think creatively about caring issues and hence an overlap of these circles. One could think critically about caring issues and hence an overlap of these circles. Accepting and rejecting ideas and deciding between alternatives (i.e. critical thinking) is a necessary step towards creative production and hence an overlap of these circles.

Figure 1 reveals what I believe is at the heart of all forms of complex thinking. The ability to deconstruct an idea, a concept or an object according to its attributes, elements or constituent parts can be seen as an essential component inherent within all three forms of complex thinking. This process of looking at discrete pieces in greater detail in order to achieve a better understanding of the whole is most often referred to as analytical thinking.

To my mind, this form of thinking is a crucial, integral part of all other forms of complex thinking- whether we are considering thinking of a critical, creative or caring nature. It is at the very heart of all good thinking.

The sections that follow provide examples of approaches to the teaching of the four components of complex thinking.

When infused with the teaching of relevant and appropriate content, the application of these strategies can be seen as an empowering process. They equip students with a range of tools that can be readily transferred to other learning situations with the potential to become tools for lifelong learning.

The emphasis within each section is the description of simple techniques that can easily be applied by students. Some strategies involve the use of acronyms that will assist with easy recall and long-termretention.

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