Studies have shown that only 30 % of high school senior’s demonstrate the ability to think abstractly or entertain three plus ideas at one time. Abstract thinkers can understand the U.S. Constitution, basic algebra and beyond. Reasons given by researchers for the low student percentage might be due to a preoccupation with grades or simply memorizing information rather than truly understanding its content?

One strategy that could stimulate greater thinking skills and suggested by cognitive researchers is called the PMI method (de Bono, 1982). The PMI method is an attention directing tool and stands for plus, minus and interesting and has shown to improve students’ thinking skills as well abstract thinking. In conducting a PMI you deliberately direct the students’ attention first toward the plus points, then toward the minus points and finally toward the interesting points. This is done in a very deliberate and disciplined manner over a period of about 2-3 minutes in all.

For example, researchers asked a class of thirty 10 to 11 year olds if they should be paid $5.00 for going to school. Some of the students’ plus points included the following: “you can buy more candy or you could save up for a bike.” The minus points ranged from “big kids could beat you up to get the money” or “parents would not give presents or pocket money.” The interesting points were less black and white and according to researchers seemed to produce higher order thinking with the students. Other answers included “you could see what kind of candy kids like,” or “you can donate the money to homeless animals.”

In addition, at the end of the exercise the class was asked again if students should be paid $5.00 for going to school. Whereas thirty out of thirty 10 to 11 year-olds had previously liked the idea, it now appeared that twenty-nine out of thirty had completely reversed their view and now disliked the idea. Moreover, teachers’ noticed that the class felt the PMI approach helped the students to step back and look at questions differently. Some students commented that their “interesting points were not just black and white but more like gray, especially when you think of all the interesting ways to answer the question.” Other students said, “they felt smarter” after they used the PMI thinking method, or that “it works better when nobody can make up their mind!” In short, introducing “interesting” as a third point to stimulate thinking helped the students to think outside the box and elicited more abstract thinking responses.

Researchers often refer to the PMI method as the “spectacle method,” like giving a nearsighted person the appropriate glasses so the person would be able see things more clearly or have a different view of the situation. In other words, the actual thinking tools become the glasses allowing students to see more clearly. We then react to what we see.

Parents need to look for strategies or methods to help students to learn and express their true intelligence. Improving a student’s’ thinking skills is another path toward school and life’s successes. What needs to be asked is not what students think about the PMI method, but what do their parents think? E-mail me with your own thinking strategies. . Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, and students. To contact Dr. Sortino, e-mail davidsortino@comcast or on his blog: Dr. David Sortino.  

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