So – what’s the link between teaching and learning, Brighton Rock, and critical and creative thinking . . . ?
Like most young boys growing up in South London in the 1980s, I loved school holiday time . . . the opportunity to escape the big smoke for a week and head off to far-flung and exotic locations . . . like Hastings, Eastbourne and Bognor Regis (you’ll need a working knowledge of English culture and geography to be on top of the irony there).
Often, the annual family pilgrimage would take us to Brighton, a lively seaside resort on the south coast of England. It was a nice enough place, with a pebbly beach and endless video arcades boasting Space Invaders, Defender and PacMan . . . but that wasn’t what excited me most about Brighton. The reason I always badgered my parents to take me back was a little thing called Brighton Rock.
Now . . . for those not familiar with this quirky, English confectionary stalwart, this is what it looks like . . .
Essentially, Brighton Rock is a hard, stick-shaped boiled sugar sweet, normally 1 or 2 centimetres in diameter and sold in a variety of flavours. It’s not great for your teeth, but it tastes fantastic.
However, as a child, the thing that fascinated me most about rock was this. When you took a big bite, you’d find the words ‘Brighton Rock’ embedded throughout the length of the stick. Not only could the words be read on both ends, but they remained legible even after pieces were bitten off.
But what does all of this have to do with education?
Well, great teachers understand that their role is not just about supporting children in ‘doing’ critical and creative thinking, but in ‘becoming’ critical and creative thinkers. Children ‘do’ thinking all of the time. For instance, in English they might be asked to evaluate the effectiveness of a poem in communicating the pain of unrequited love. Or in Science, they might be asked to hypothesise what might happen when a piece of sulphur is melted.
But that’s not enough.
In a culture of thinking, we want children to ‘become’ thinkers. Children who don’t just ‘do’ analysis when directed to do so, but children who ‘are’ analytical. Children who don’t just look for connections when directed to do so, but have ‘become’ connection makers. At their core, they have become people who slow down, look closely, theorise, reason, consider multiple viewpoints, capture the essence of ideas, wonder and explore complexity (Ritchhart, Church and Morrison, 2011).
These children have developed the disposition to be critical and creative thinkers. Beyond simply having the ability to think critically and creatively, they have the inclination to do so, and are sensitive to occasions when such thinking might be called for (Perkins, Jay and Tishman, 1993). ‘A person with the inclination to open-minded thinking will feel a leaning towards open-minded thinking when he or she discerns the need . . . Sensitivity, in contrast, refers to the person’s alertness to X occasions. For example, a person sensitive to the need for open-minded thinking will notice occasions where narrow thinking and prejudice and bias are likely and open-mindedness called for’ (Perkins, Jay and Tishma, 1993, p.4).
When children become critical and creative thinkers, they are motivated to employ their skills (Inclination), alert to occasions when it is called for (Sensitivity), and appropriately equipped for the job (Ability).
And when this happens . . . well, they have ‘become’ thinkers. Sometimes it happens without them even planning for it. It has become part of their identity, a paradigm through which they view the world, a mindset.
They have become ‘sticks of rock’.
And just as a stick of rock has the words ‘Brighton Rock’ embedded throughout its length, these children are critical and creative thinkers to the core. It’s not something they sometimes do, and sometimes don’t do . . . something that they switch on, and switch off.
It’s who they are.
Let’s work together to help children become the best sticks of rock they can possibly be.