Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Last (and the First) Thinking Skill

Wouldn't it be great if you could always know exactly what you are dealing with, what you are up against? That is the province of the thinking skill we have not yet looked at: Thing-making.

What a weird name. That was my reaction some 30 years ago when I first heard it, and, to be honest, it was a long time before I finally found myself comfortable with that name.

On the other hand, what could be simpler? You look at that round, colorful plastic object bouncing between kids on the playground, and you name it: a ball. That's it. Your mind has named the thing. In psychological parlance, you have cognized or re-cognized (recognized) the object. You have mentally made a thing: Thing-making.

Sometimes it's harder. Think about optical games like the classic picture that is either an old lady with her chin down or a young woman looking away from you. Which is it? And can you see it both ways?

Sometimes the "thing" is more abstract, like capitalism, or loyalty. Abstract "things" involve much more than sensory input, but they still require a concept to be created in your mind. That feeling you get when an abstraction is hazy is a pretty good indication that your mind is trying to thing-make, but not quite "getting the handle."

Sometimes the words or labels used to describe a concept are just vague enough that we are left with sufficient leeway to allow them to mean what we want, whether my meaning is consistent with yours or not:
- a world safe for democracy
- no child left behind
- no new taxes
- yes, we can

With this thinking skill, we have now looked at each of the six cognitive skills in the model based on the work of Dr. Albert Upton:
The definition skills: Thing-making, and Qualification
The analytical skills: Classification, Structure, and Operation Analysis.
The transfer skill: Seeing Analogies.

This model is deceptively simple; so much so, that we may easily relegate it to a "basic skills" approach. I think it is more than that. These mental processes underlie most of our verbal abilities, for instance. Understanding how we use these skills can greatly enhance our ability to function in an increasingly complex world.

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