Sunday, 10 June 2012

Non cognito, ergo sum -the power of unthinking

Sometimes thinking is a bad idea, especially for teachers. I am sure we have all been there, a colleague, possibly HOD or even Ofsted inform you of an impending and of course necessary lesson observation. Consequently over the course of the next few days, despite your 'years of experience' or the fact that you are used to being observed (often as an outstanding teacher, of course!) you spend countless hours planning and re-planning, trying to create the perfect lesson. But of course, there is no such thing when one works with children of any age, even in one of the best schools in the country where behaviour management is of no concern at all.

Of course my point is that sometimes thinking or 'over-thinking' can be bad and counter-productive - thus there is case for unthinking

Unthinking is "the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation" (I.Lesile, Intelligent Life, June 2012). A fundamental paradox of human psychology is that thinking too much (over-analysing) can be a bad thing - one loses their spontaneity & natural flair. Lesile's analogy to illustrate his point is the following:

If a rat is faced with a puzzle in which food is placed on the left 60% of the time and on the right 40% of the time, it will quickly deduce that the left side is more rewarding. Young children adopt the same strategy. When Yale undergraduates play the game, they try to figure out some underlying pattern (over-thinking) and end up doing worse than the rat of the child.

Thus as teachers, I am sure, like me, some of your best lessons have been the ones in which you had a rough idea but no real definitive plan or set outcome. Currently i am experimenting in the classroom with what i call 'collaborative'  or 'pupil-led teaching': an image is shown on the board and the pupils decide upon the investigative questions they want to explore - i think this is a great exercise to 'show off' the very essence of what Geography is all about - a subject of enquiry.

Coming back to the original purpose of my article the question which still needs to be addressed is: "How do you learn to unthink?"

In my opinion for what it's worth I think that in an age of microblogging, instant communication and access to vasts amounts of information within a few clicks, we can tend to over-analyse and think too much e.g. books on what makes us happy and how to teach the best lessons can, sometimes at least, heighten the problem - in short we need to put thinking in its place and remember that as teaching practitioners some of the best lessons are those that occur when we simply do and don't think!

Original article posting is here: