The Thinking Skills of Observing, Listening, and Comprehending

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

When we use the term "thinking skills," we usually refer to an array of mental processes involving remembering information and ideas, processing that information, and then using it to solve problems. We sometimes forget that thinking is part of the process of gaining information through observing, listening, and reading. We use these abilities in the gathering of information. The skills of gathering information are of particular concern to us as teachers. In fact, the recent evidence that many children and adults learn more easily through one sense than through others has caused us to revise and extend our approaches to include more multisensory learning materials. Research and experience also inform us that learning to listen and to observe purposefully are trainable skills that can be acquired and improved through directed, structured practice over time.

We need to look at two different ways of learning. The first, we usually call rote learning. Rote learning means that information is memorized with little or no understanding of its meaning. For example, you may have learned a nonsense poem or song at some point in your life or learned to spell and pronounce words and had no idea of their meaning. Rote learning does not provide us with useful information, because if we have no idea of the meaning of what we have learned, we cannot conceive how to put it to use.

The second and more important way of learning begins with our understanding what we learn. The more "sense" we can make of something, the more it fits into patterns and stories in our minds, the more likely we are to remember it. Constructivism is the theory which explains that people come to understand new ideas and information by relating it to previous experiences. From a constructivist point of view, the way that new information is presented may be as important or even more important as the information itself, because it will determine how we make sense of the information or give it meaning. The quest to develop children as problem solvers in the social studies can be traced at least to the beginning of the twentieth century when a few innovative schools began to look at a life-centered problems approach as central to the curriculum. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, the notion of learning to learn became crucial to every social studies program as an approach called the inquiry method was widely advocated. The inquiry classroom differed from traditional classrooms. The student was supposed to learn to ask questions, not just answer them. The teacher's role became less that of information provider and more that of coach and guide.

The term "thinking skills" refers to all of the mental processes that individuals use to obtain, make sense of, and retain information, as well as how they process and use that information as a basis for solving problems. The process of taking in the information likewise involves thinking skills, especially those related to observing, listening, and reading. Obtaining information and ideas is a sensory process and all of the senses are used in information gathering. Because there is substantial evidence that for many children and adults learning is easier through one sense than the others, teachers need to utilize multisensory learning materials wherever possible. Even so, learning to listen and observe purposefully are trainable skills acquired through directed, disciplined practice. Therefore, teachers need to help children acquire these important skills in a systematic and developmental way.

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