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4 ways we help students think more effectively

4 ways we help students think more effectively

5 min read
  • The science of learning

Positive thinking is important, but effective thinking also plays a significant role in your students’ achievement. Experiencing negative thoughts from time to time is impossible to avoid – and it can influence your students’ attitudes to learning. That’s where effective thinking comes in, empowering students to navigate setbacks, embrace feedback, manage stress, and develop resilience.

So, which strategies can you employ to help your students reap these benefits? How can you enhance your students’ ability to think more effectively?

In this blog, we’ll cover what you need to know about effective thinking, as well as four of the ways we help students develop it in our student workshops:

  1. Dealing with Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)
  2. Asking themselves good questions
  3. Reacting to failure more helpfully
  4. Better fuelling their brains

What is effective thinking?

Effective thinking refers to the development of cognitive and intellectual skills that enable students to approach learning and decision making in a thoughtful manner. It encompasses skills such as:

  • Critical analysis
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Creativity
  • Metacognition
  • Adaptability

To help students to develop these skills, we need to help them to think in a more helpful way both inside and outside of the classroom. To do so, we often teach students about the following four strategies…

1. How to deal with Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS)

Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) can cloud students’ thinking and hinder academic progress. ANTs are recurring, negative and often irrational beliefs that students may hold about themselves, their capabilities, or their potential for success. They usually occur quickly, leaving little room for reflection and rational processing. ANTs can impact your students’ mindset, self-perception, judgement, concentration, confidence, and more.

We all experience ANTs, but there are ways for students to reframe their thinking when these happen. In our Stress Management student workshops, we teach students an easy, three-step strategy:

  1. Think “Stop” – While it may sound simple, this acts as a trigger that allows students to take back control of their thoughts.
  2. Think positive – Here, students think about a more positive thought instead, putting themselves out of a negative mind frame.
  3. Think helpful – Finally, students think about something that will be helpful in dealing with the task at hand.

2. How to ask useful questions

Metacognition refers to the way that students can monitor and purposely direct their thinking, such as their ability to select an appropriate learning strategy, monitor it in action and then adapt their approach if necessary.

Research suggests that student who learn metacognitive techniques achieve better outcomes and that these skills have been found to be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged students as well as transferable across various tasks and situations.

So, what sort of questions should students be asking themselves? You can check out another of our blogs for 9 questions to improve metacognition, but here are some of the most important ones to ask before, during and after a task:

  • “Is this similar to a previous task?” – Identifying similarities and differences between tasks helps students to learn from their experiences and apply strategies that have been successful in the past.
  • “Am I on the right track?” – Self-monitoring helps students to assess their progress and make decisions on what to do next.
  • “Can I apply this to other situations?” – Transferring learning to new contexts promotes deeper understanding and generalisation of skills – this is a critical aspect of Metacognition.
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3. How to fail better

When students view failure as something permanent rather than temporary, they can feel less confident, more anxious and perform worse in the future, when in fact, failure is an integral part of the learning process.

So, what are some ways to fail better? In our blog on 7 ways to fail better, we explore questions that students should ask themselves in order to fail better, including:

  • “Was it the right thing to try at the time?”
  • “Did I ask for feedback (and then use it)?”
  • “Did I reflect on the experience and figure out what I would do differently?”

It is important to note that failing better is different from aiming to fail. The former focuses on learning and development; the latter suggest low expectations and lack of effort. Reflecting on these questions allows student to explore what they can do better in the future, implying that they can improve and develop.

4. The importance of students better fuelling their brain

Strategies are one aspect of effective thinking. But for students to be successful with it and stay focused throughout the day, they need to fuel their brain.

There are many ways to do so (have a nutritious breakfast, stay hydrated, spend time exercising outdoors…) – but one of the most important aspects of this is to get enough good-quality sleep every night.

Despite research finding that students who sleep better get higher grades when compared to their sleepy peers, chances are that your students are not getting enough sleep. While experts tend to recommend 8-10 hours a night for teenagers, we often hear in our workshops about students getting less than 6 hours of sleep every night!

So, what can we do about it? Well, a good place to start is students’ routine and habits before they go to bed. We often refer students to the 9 most common sleep mistakes they tend to make, including:

  • Going to bed at a different time each night
  • Being on their phone in bed
  • Overthinking tomorrow
  • Waiting to fall asleep before going to bed

Replacing these bad habits with a more helpful, consistent routine will help your students think, focus and learn more effectively throughout the day.

Final thoughts

There are many things that students can do to think more effectively and helpfully and support their learning. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a great place to start to make a noticeable difference in your students’ learning and well-being. When students ask themselves good questions, deal with their ANTS, react better to failure and prepare well to learn, they really are ready to thrive.

We can help you take the next step – enquire about our student workshops today.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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