With an increased awareness of the need to develop a more flexible approach in delivering ‘value’ to learning experiences and providing teaching staff with opportunities for greater creativity in the teaching process, then Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats (1994) may be a tool to help increase academic achievement and behaviours.
His theory is now widely used internationally in education and business and is an excellent technique for helping to:
• engage learners in developing and sharing ideas collectively
• learners make better decisions about which ideas to progress with
• align critical thinking – adopting parallel thinking rather than confused or conflicted.
The technique is based on the (metaphor) idea that there are six imaginary hats. Each hat is a different colour and represents a different type of thinking. When you ‘put on’ a hat, you employ focus in-line with that mode of thinking. When you change from one hat to another, you change thinking modes. Most importantly, everyone thinks the same way at the same time – so avoiding fruitless positive versus negative conflict.
Challenging children to ‘think harder’ and ‘think again’ using that everyday teacher’s direction of ‘let’s put on our thinking hats’ was the result of an education system far removed from today’s energetic and conventional methods in driving forward a more dynamic and child-led classroom. Looking back on those years I had no idea of the power behind the objective teaching.
Ignacio Estrada once quoted, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” As teachers, we often question our methods and purpose – What’s our goal? The ultimate and most accurate answer expected would be ‘to teach children’. Many traditionalists would easily opt to continue a teaching practice in the ways they were taught. Things that are comfortable and familiar to them.
As 21st century teachers, this is no longer the case, and yes, I do whole-heartedly agree there is and does exist an element of yesteryear within my classroom. But we cannot ignore the growing trends in technology, science and the data supporting child-centred classrooms, collaboration, assessment and differentiation required, but more importantly, an increased awareness of methodologies that inform teachers of how the brain develops and acquires knowledge. It is our job to ensure that we are proactive in ensuring our teaching habits reflect this by adding to the learning experiences and making headway on our initial goal. Brain based learning directs pupils to use the different styles of learning and assists them to tackle problems from six different perspectives.
De Bono’s colourful approach and strategy can be adopted to tackle any problem-solving activity. Each thinking style has been assigned a specific colour and serves as a visual to encourage the thinking skill they are using. In our classroom, learners have the opportunity to wear their ‘Top Hats’ at the start of each activity. This has now become very effective due to the knowledge gained behind the colours and thinking involved but fluency and reasons for each one is reviewed at the start of every lesson.
Our Thinking Hats in Primary 7, Bannockburn Primary, Stirling are displayed in a key focal point and serve as a constant reminder to learners that they are an important learning tool that should be implemented daily. Details of what each hat represents are also visual and described below.
“Every problem contains within itself the seeds of its own solution.” – Stanley Arnold
Reflective question: Does Every Problem Serve a Purpose?
Life can unexpectedly throw you a curveball, things can get overwhelming and can become ridiculously frustrating very quickly for some. Growth and development can never be compromised by an individual’s ability to deal with the adversities experienced in life. However, irrespective of the problems you face, your issues do serve a purpose. That purpose might not be immediately evident, but it’s certainly there.
Every problem you experience has a purpose. That purpose can come in the form of an opportunity, for example, an opportunity for growth, to improve efficiency, learning from mistakes, for channelling your perspective, etc.
Problems are opportunities that can help improve how you think about your life, yourself, and personal circumstances. They can help to maximise the ways you chose to live and work in remarkable ways. However, you need to first embrace these problems proactively.
What is the problem?
Edward DeBono developed his technique having noticed that when critical or contentious decisions are required to be made, teams can find themselves in stalemate, unable to make decisions and move forward. And there can be times when teams get stuck in a rut, simply reprocessing the same ideas or repeating variations on the same theme. This latter is especially challenging when what’s needed is some creative thinking to drive meaningful and innovative changes to what the team does or how they do it.
Opening new ways of thinking that are acceptable to all and incorporate new ways of thinking was DeBono’s answer in devising a framework for focused, systematic thinking …. The Six Thinking Hats.
Implementing Thinking Hats and unlocking the Power of Questions
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reasons for existing.” – Albert Einstein
The questions we pose daily could very well be the most analytical factors that determine our ongoing success, happiness, and fulfilment in life. In fact, the questions that we frequently muse over, influence our thoughts, decisions, habits, and actions in impossible ways that go beyond our conscious levels of understanding.
Using Thinking Hats in Literacy….. through a book study:
• The Blue Hat controls which hat you select. (Thinking Hats on). The Blue Hat will inform learners when to switch hats and what type of thinking is required for a particular task.
• The White Hat explores key Information and facts about the book. (Learners will be able to source information from the text, such as: Title, Author, Illustrator, Awards, Other books in the series, Plot: what happened, story map, Structure, Characters: names, physical features, traits and Setting: where, location.
• The Red Hat discusses reader’s feelings: likes and dislikes, Reader empathy: How did the book make you feel? Events in the book? Characters? Endings? Recommendations to others?
• The Yellow Hat (positives) allows readers to share benefits of the book, good points and advantages, What was the advantage of solving the problem that way? What are the advantages of…? What are all the good points about…the character, the setting, the ending etc?
• The Black Hat (negatives) allows readers to discuss disadvantages, dangers and problems, What are the dangers involved in visiting … (the setting of the book)? What are the disadvantages in trying to solve problems that way? What problems did the characters encounter?
• The Green Hat promotes new ideas, creating, adapting, innovating, re-creating an ending, write an acrostic about the main character, draw new illustrations for the story, think of a different way to solve the problem.
Thinking Hats in Mathematics Learners in the Primary 7 class used Thinking Hats to explore many key concepts. One of the most successful ones being, understanding fractions. Learners used their Thinking Hats and took turns to share thoughts and ideas about explain fractions. The learner wearing the red hat (hunches about best decision outcome, emotional hat, effects of past learning experiences and self-expression and future success) said she felt scared about sharing her answer. The learner who wore the black hat said he was apprehensive about the sign used in the fraction problem. The group analysed collaboratively and jointly gave solutions.
Thinking Hats in Expressive Arts
Studying music through a recent topic theme, ROUTE 66, learners were able to use Thinking Hats to study the history of the music in America. They were able to research instruments and popular songs associated with each state along the route. The used their white hat to identify information and the blue hat to draw conclusions about how the instruments arrived in each location. They then worked on co-operative groups to plan and create their own instruments wearing the green hat. Learners assessed their work using black and yellow hats to detail the success of each one.
Primary 7 used Thinking Hats to understand different perspectives of peer pressure. On reflection of HWB lessons, learners were able to use drama conventions such as ‘freezeframing’ to stage scenarios. Each hat was individually explored and whole class discussions occurred.
Using Thinking Hats as a Self-Assessment tool
Learners are asked to self-assess a piece of their work using the school’s WWW (What Went Well) and EBI (Even Better If) format:
Yellow Hat – What have I done here? (Justify with reference to marking criteria)
Black Hat – What have I not done/ not done so well? ((Justify with reference to marking criteria)
Green Hat – Could I have approached the task differently?
Blue Hat – What will I do in the future to enable greater success?
Impact of Thinking Hats from a learner’s perspective
Question asked to learners following completion of an activity:-
What is the impact of Thinking Hats on your ability to ask questions using different ways of thinking?
“Thinking Hats has allowed me to sort different types of thinking questions that I can ask when I am doing my work. Using the Thinking Hats made it easier to remember critical thinking questions because I could remember which colour of hat relates to it”Primary 7 Student
A summary of the effects in implementing DeBono’s Thinking Hats method are:
The method allows you to suggest ideas without risk and generate an understanding where there are multiple perspectives on an issue.
It is a convenient mechanism for “switching gears” and can help focus on thinking. Thinking Hats leads to more creative thinking, improved communication and decision making.
Thinking Hats questions are often modelled like that of an iceberg. The white hat questions are the tip of the iceberg, the very basic facts that we see. The red, black, yellow, green, and blue questions are the portion of the iceberg that is underwater. These questions are beyond what we can see and understand at their most trivial levels and are extremely important.
While using Thinking Hats within the classroom, analysis of its advantages, benefits, constraints and disadvantages may vary from day to day and can be stage-specific dependant on the complexity of the given task.
The clear advantages are:
• Well defined method
• Promotes and encourages parallel thinking
• Defines sequential thinking processes
• Encourages positivity in learning
• Enhances critical thinking
• Adds structure to thinking process
Within a group scenario:
• It allows for creative thinking
• Offers a plethora of solutions
• Systematic and clear-thinking process
• Full spectrum of analysis of a problem
• Solving complex problems/issues
• Focussed problem solving method
• Encourages performance / production
Team involvement Constraints were:
• Group limitations
• Conflicts within group
• Ego problems within group members
• Attachment to favourite notions
• Arriving at consensus
• Managing timeframe for decisions
• Shifting to different gears of thinking
Disadvantages of implementing Thinking Hats:
• Can be very time consuming
• Identifying a preference for a solution is difficult
• Hesitation to apply decision taken
• Tendency to pass blame for errors made in final decisions
Edward DeBono’s Thinking Hats has proved to be a very powerful tool that facilitates critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. It encourages learner’s viewpoints and as a result, learners think more thoughtfully in making informed choices. It has aided listening and talking skills and increased confidence in purposefully examining key approaches to problem-solving in a more multi-sensory, child-led learning environment.
“Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best” – B Talbert
Jackie McKay @JMcKay1972 is acting Principal Teacher, Bannockburn Primary School, Stirling.