[SXSWEdu 2016] Thinking Types, Problem Solving, and the Role of Skills-Based Learning

Monday, March 21, 2016 -- Brianna Pyka

This year at SXSWedu we were fortunate to hear from Temple Grandin, a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and a world renowned speaker on both autism and cattle handling. Those sound like opposite and unlikely areas of expertise, right? But in reality, those dual interests are clearly tied to Grandin’s style of thinking. Grandin focused on this connection in her outstanding keynote address, where she delved into the important and direct relationship between how people inherently think and how the development of skills takes place.

Throughout Grandin’s own learning journey, focusing on her strength as a visual thinker helped her develop the skills that led to an exciting and dynamic career in the cattle industry. However, early on, she faced many obstacles to learning due to a diagnosis of autism. Many people did not understand that she simply thought and learned in a different manner than many of her peers. In her keynote, Grandin stressed the ongoing need to understand that there are indeed different thinking styles (and different mixes of those styles), which in turn respond to different modes of learning.

Here’s a breakdown of the three predominant thinking types according to Temple Grandin:

Visual Thinkers

These children often love art and building blocks, such as Legos. They get easily immersed in projects. Math concepts such as adding and subtracting need to be taught starting with concrete objects the child can touch. Drawing and other artistic skills should be encouraged. If a child only draws one thing, such as airplanes, encourage him or her to draw other related objects, such as the airport runways, or the hangers, or cars going to the airport. Broadening emerging skills in this way helps the child be more flexible in their thinking patterns. Keep in mind that verbal responses can take longer to form, as the child has to translate each request from words to pictures before processing, and then translate their response from pictures into words before speaking.

Pattern Thinkers

Patterns instead of pictures dominate the thinking processes of these children. Both music and math are worlds of patterns, and children who think this way can have strong associative abilities in those areas. They like finding relationships between numbers or musical notes; some children may have savant-type calculation skills or be able to play a piece of music after hearing it just once. Musical talent often emerges without formal instruction. Many of these children can teach themselves if keyboards and other instruments are available.

Auditory Thinkers

These children love lists and numbers. Often they will memorize bus timetables and events in history. Interest areas often include history, geography, weather and sports statistics. Parents and teachers can use these interests and talents as motivation when it comes time for lessons in less-enticing areas of academics. Some verbal logic thinkers are whizzes at learning many different foreign languages.

So how do these different thinking styles relate to skills-based learning? For all learners, thinking style informs the types of activities they will both enjoy and excel at. A skills-based learning model can help learners and their instructors take full advantage of these inherent strengths. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is one effective example of such a model. CTE courses focus on hands-on learning within clearly defined pathways to develop skills that can lead to specific careers. The sixteen pathways, or Career Clusters® as outlined by Advance CTE are shown below:

16 Career Clusters

By exposing learners to a variety of pathways within the CTE model, they can determine which subjects and skillsets best resonate with their style of thinking. The end result is that learners develop valuable workforce skills which they find personally meaningful and interesting—laying the foundation for fulfilling careers such as Temple Grandin has achieved.

At Edmentum, we believe that CTE has the power to do an incredible amount of good for students and our economy as a whole. Interested in learning more about how your school’s or district’s CTE program can partner with Edmentum for high-quality courses that span all 16 Career Clusters®? Check out our NEW Career & Technical Education Library!