This month, amongst other reads, I picked up where I’d left off a few months ago with Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman is on all accounts bringing me back to my undergraduate days: days filled with reading on psychological theory and research (my first degree is in psych) and taking extensive notes as I read. Moreover, I am returned to that state of wonder that I so enjoyed as an undergraduate learner, as I read about the research, the experiments, as I learn about the complex ways in which we think, make decisions, use memory, and on and on.
Thinking Fast and Slow is a book that I know will take me a while to finish. I want to enjoy the stories that Kahneman tells, so eloquently, in order to illuminate the concepts for the reader. I want to ponder the concepts themselves and the implications of the research findings for my own personal life and, as always, as a teacher. Thus, while I’m not even close to finishing this book, I wanted to share some of the reading and thinking I’ve done so far.
The foundational idea of this book is that there are “two modes of thinking” (p. 20) - fast and slow.
The fast mode is described by Kahneman as:
“System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” (Thinking Fast and Slow; Kahneman, D.; Doubleday Canada; 2011; p. 20)
The slow mode:
“System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.” (Thinking Fast and Slow; Kahneman, D.; Doubleday Canada; 2011; p. 21)
Kahneman affirms that both systems are necessary modes of thinking, the fast for tasks like driving on a secluded roadway, and the slow for tasks like solving complex problems, or for driving while in the thick of traffic during a snowstorm. The book describes many instances, however where system 1 thinking kicks in where system 2 thinking would be preferable.
There are many caveats, information pertinent to our work as teachers and to our lives in general, even in the almost 200 pages that I’ve read so far. Here, I will try to share but a few of the ideas that I found most intriguing.
|photo credit: Kai Schreiber|
EFFECTS OF COGNITIVE LOAD
|photo credit: Jose Kevo|
Ask students to complete a really challenging task. Make it something they’re really going to have to focus on. Also, make it something they’re not particularly excited to do. Have them work steadily on it until completion. Great. It’s done. Now what’s next? Another challenging task? Not if you want students to complete it. Kahneman suggests that if you ask someone to complete a challenging task after he/she has just completed a task that requires self-control and effort - a serious system 2 task, he/she is likely to give up on the second challenge much more quickly than usual. Kahneman calls this ego-depletion. The implications for classroom scheduling are obvious. Alternating between high-intensity tasks and those that are less challenging makes sense, even if teachers are only providing short breaks from the focused thinking that is characteristic of system 2 thinking.
I could continue, and hopefully, as I continue to read, take notes, and reflect on the implications of Kahneman’s findings to our world of teaching and learning, I will be able to share more in the near future. I am truly fascinated by the thought processes Kahneman describes. Their relevance to our work as teachers is obvious, but it’s Kahneman’s style, his use of story and humour that make ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ a very readable and enjoyable study.