Can you teach thinking?

Derek Muller: "Can you teach a general thinking skill?"

John Sweller: "I don’t believe you can. It can be learned, it is learned, and it is biologically primary…If you are talking about a teachable thinking skill, one you have to specify it, you have to provide evidence that it has been taught and learned and that you get a different response from people who have learnt that skill and been taught that skill and people who haven’t been."


So here’s my challenge. Can anyone find evidence of a "general thinking skill" that has been taught and then learnt by students?



  • Teaching troubleshooting, as a skill (e.g. having a generic “process” for solving random problems) is probably pretty close, right?

  • David Wees wrote:

    I think that you can teach that, but the counter-argument most people use is that if you know a lot about a content area, you can probably trouble-shoot in that content area. So, how would you argue against that counter-arguement? I haven’t found a satisfactory counter-arguement myself…hence why I am opening up this question to the world.

  • I hadn’t really thought about that.

    Really, though, that boils “thinking” down to “applying knowledge.”

    What about teaching someone to sort through loose memories to see if their brain has any “hints” stored up on how to begin solving a problem — even one that person knows “nothing” about?

  • Hello! I am a pre-service teacher from the University of Regina(math major, chem minor)! I have just subscribed to your blog and look forward to developing through following your blog!

  • David Wees wrote:

    Thanks for the vote of confidence. Good luck in your teaching program. 🙂

  • How about feature benefit analysis? This is something that can widely be taught as a method of sales or persuasion. It is a way to think of the attributes of something as an object and how it benefits a person as a user. The test is whether it helps you sell, but that is often a function of other things as well.

    You have written a math textbook, so you may have heard that at some point in the development cycle.

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