Professor's New Book Maps Pathways to Thinking

"Don't you ever think?" This age-old parent's scolding implies reasoned thinking should be as natural as breathing.

However, educators have found children may memorize and repeat information without ever developing the ability to think for themselves. Elinor Parry Ross' latest book promotes teaching techniques so kindergarten through eighth-grade students "learn how to think."

"I asked children, 'Why is it important to learn how to think?'" said Ross, "and their responses hit on many important reasons: to make your own decisions, to do a right thing instead of a wrong thing, to know what to do in the future and to get anywhere in life."

Ross, a professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Tennessee Technological University, wrote "Pathways to Thinking: Strategies for Developing Independent Learners K-8" to give teachers dozens of practical suggestions and ideas to stimulate students' thinking. Emphasizing the book's timeliness, Tennessee's new elementary standardized test requires thinking and problem solving.

Before each chapter, Ross includes children's answers to "thinking questions" shown in their own handwriting. Teachers and students from local schools such as Northeast, Capshaw, Prescott, Sycamore and Cane Creek provided examples in the book.

The book, published by Christopher-Gordon Publishers, incorporates many teachers' traditional resources Ñ reading and writing lessons, question and answer sessions, children's literature, graphics, technology and more. She emphasizes creative thinking all across the curriculum, making it just as much a part of science and math as it is a writing assignment.

"As emerging scientists, engineers, architects, or city planners, children need to know how to recognize problems and find solutions. Teachers are finding discussion and writing often help students clarify how math and science skills lead to needed solutions in real life situations," Ross explained.

For example, a teacher took advantage of an impending Grand Prix in her town to ask sixth-grade students to create word problems about the race. The children's brainstorm produced problems including drivers' salaries, lap times, brake time and car costs. Ross' book is packed full of such examples showing teachers how thinking-related theories can be put to work in classrooms every day.

Ross concludes it is essential for children to learn how to think because the world outside school values problem solving, creativity, processing huge amounts of information and finding ways to deliver products quickly, efficiently, and economically. If students simply memorize and repeat facts, they are ill-prepared for the world they face.

Luckily, there is one natural phenomenon opening doors to all the ways teachers help children to be independent thinkers, according to Ross.

"Most thinking situations arise from the curiosity and wonder of the children themselves."

Ross has authored or co-authored fifteen textbooks, including "Pathways." She and frequent collaborator Betty Roe co-authored a widely used textbook, "Teaching Reading in Today's Elementary Schools," now in its sixth edition.