Analytical Thinking – Starting Them Young

You Serious?

Primary School Children Learning To Think Analytically! The question might sound strange. We associate primary school with a lot of different things and analytical thinking isn’t usually one of them. That’s for later in life, some would say. We beg to differ.

So, What Is Analytical Thinking?

The Webster’s dictionary defines analysis as “a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other”. Viewed from this lens, our primary-schoolers have many opportunities to think analytically, if only we encourage them to.

How Can It Be Part Of The Primary School Curriculum?

Carefully chosen activities can encourage children to think analytically, even in Primary school. Let’s take some examples that make this clear.

Young children often work with jigsaw puzzles. They look carefully at a given picture and try to place each piece in its correct position. It’s a great way to build analytical skills. Innovative teachers are quick to adapt such activities to the subjects that they may be teaching. In language class, assembling jumbled up sentences to create a meaningful conversation is a great example.

While learning about different modes of transport in the environment science class, a well-designed activity could engage children in planning a long multi-part journey and choosing different modes of transport for each part of the journey. Not only do the children have more fun, but also, (you guessed it) they learn to think analytically too.

Okay, I Get It. But, Is It Really Necessary?

One of the most important reasons for getting young children started on analytical thinking is because it teaches them how to deal with unfamiliar questions or situations. For instance, we regularly come across young children, who remember the formula for the circumference of a circle, are even able to calculate circumference given radius but are unable to solve the following problem.

“A horse is tied to a pole with a rope of length 5 metres. The horse walks fully around the pole one time. What is the distance walked by the horse?”

While the circumference analogy, implicit in the question, is apparent to most of us, to a young learner solving this represents a series of interlinked steps, To start with, the child needs to:
a. Interpret the problem and understand what is being asked
b. Identify the concept that can be applied in this situation, i.e. that the distance the horse has walked is the circumference of the circle
c. Recollect the formula to calculate the circumference
d. Correctly apply the formula and come up with the answer

As we move from primary to middle school to high school and beyond, increasingly what matters is the ability to apply our learning even in unfamiliar situations. Starting early, can be a huge advantage.

Get More Out of Your Assessments!

Assessments, tests, quizzes – whatever be the name they go by in a school – are generally not positive experiences for anyone. Not for the teachers, not for the parents and certainly not for the students.

To start with, they are a lot of work. Teachers prepare the assessments, conduct them, evaluate them, tabulate the marks, make reports etc. Parents go hyperactive whenever an assessment is mentioned, helping their kids prepare – waking them up in the morning, helping them with lessons, restricting TV time – and generally fussing about, in their anxiety to make sure everything goes right. The students themselves become anxious, if not outright afraid, at the thought of assessments.

Very often, assessments are boring. They provide little scope for students to be creative or to demonstrate their different abilities. Students are expected to sit quietly and fill blank after blank or write page after page. Teachers read and mark and read and mark. More often than not, assessment time is quiet and quite dreadfully quiet.

For all the hard work they entail, assessments are generally not very useful. They generate precious little information. The student and the parent get one number for each test – the marks scored. The teacher may generate some more numbers – the class average and the range of marks for her class. If the class scores badly, the solution is fairly standard – ‘Let’s revise this lesson’. Similarly, the advice to a student who did not do well, has not changed much in the last century – ‘you need to study harder’.

End of the day, everyone puts in a lot of effort in to assessments but gets very little useful information out of them.

Do things really need to be this way? Over the last few years a lot has changed about the way progressive schools use assessments. From being looked at merely as tests of proficiency, assessments are now increasingly being used to generate valuable information that can be used to improve the teaching learning process.  So, how can we get more out of the assessment process?

Assessments can be focused and at the same time, be fun. While assessments should include paper and pen tests, these can be made interesting and engaging through real life situations, relatable examples and pictures.

Assessments can also go beyond traditional tests by including a variety of activities like poster making, presentation, group discussion. These activity based assessments can focus on subject specific learning outcomes as well as life skills and multiple intelligences.

Well-designed assessments can focus on specific learning goals and give much more specific and actionable information to teachers, parents and students. Rather than revising entire lessons, teachers could focus on the specific areas where most students need help. Similarly students can be told what each of them needs to focus on, rather than being told to “study harder”.

The availability of modern technology like tablets and data analysis platforms make it possible for us to realize the potential that well-designed assessments offer, while drastically reducing the paperwork associated with assessment.

Most progressive schools are rethinking how they use assessments. You should too.