Friday, December 15, 2006

Six Hats

Some Background

My sophomore English class recently finished reading and discussing (in literature circles) The Poisonwood Bible, and we spent a lot of time in discussion talking over the issues of complicity and responsibility that arise in the novel. Kingsolver says in an interview on her website that “This novel is asking, basically, “What did we do to Africa, and how do we feel about it?” We might, of course, ask the same question about Vietnam, or Iraq, or the Phillippines, or Native Americans, or, closer to home for these kids, Hawaii itself.

The Poisonwood Bible is narrated in a sort of spiral sequence by Orleanna Price and each of her four daughters, and each of them at one time or another raises the question of what responsibility we should be prepared to shoulder as individuals, and as American citizens for what is being done in our name. In the final chapter, Ruth May Price sums it up in the last chapter by saying, “Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history…Everyone is complicit” (538).

For the past few years, I’ve been following up TPB by asking the students to read first, Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” and second, an essay entitled “Kipling, The White Man’s Burden, and U.S. Imperialism” which appeared in The Monthly Review, a socialist journal, which attack’s Kipling’s thesis and links it to imperialist and racist tendencies associated, the authors assert, with capitalism. (I do not initially tell the students anything about TMR, although the source of the article is given on the handout. But the question of the point of view from which the essay arises, and the assumptions that govern that point of view, are very much part of the point of the exploration.)

The Lesson

So the kids’ assignment was to have read the article in preparation for today’s class. As it happens, yesterday a colleague came into my office looking for a handout I had on file explaining a exercise designed by Edward DeBono called The Six Hats of Critical Thinking. It was sitting one my desk this morning when I was getting ready for class, and, in one of the hundreds of little zigzag maneuvers that take place during the course of a week at school, I thought to myself, “Hey, why don’t we try using this approach to the Kipling article?”

So when we went to class I spent a little little time putting this particular exercise that we were about to do in the context of a number of other metacognitive strategies we had been playing with during the semester (this English class is designed to fulfill a critical thinking requirement in the overall school curriculum.) I reviewed the roles as explained in the handout, and then assigned each student a role and asked them to take seven minutes and review the article from the point of view of their assigned role and make notes on what someone wearing that hat would be likely to say in response to the article. Then I divided the class into groups of six, with each group having one person wearing each of the six hats.

The group conversations wound up being a lot more focused and intense than they sometimes are. And when we opened up into a large group toward the end of class to share ideas, the students were able to get to number of central points very quickly.

Of course, there are a lot of ways to use the Six Hats exercise. The more usual way is to ask the students individually to make notes on all six points of view, as a means of moving toward breadth and depth in their thinking. One of the themes for the course over the whole semester has been the central importance of being able to shift your point of view when you are thinking through a problem. I often begin the semester by asking students to write a short essay in which they address a question that has come up in class, but I tell them that somewhere in the middle of the paper I want to see a move that begins with a phrase like “But there’s another way of looking at it,” as an introduction to part two of the essay, which will be an exploration of that other point of view. But I liked the way the Six Hats exercise worked as a way of framing that skill in the context of a class discussion.


Dave Stratton said...

Your six hats of critical thinking sound like I would like to know more.
Could you send them to me?
My blog is My view 2

I am a newbie, so there must be another way to tell you all this, but bear with me. Thanks.

Bruce Schauble said...

Dave, There's a link to the six hats in the post. I actually have a nice one-page handout that is kid-friendly for it, but the url where I originally found that is dead. Here's the relevant passage from the link on the page:


Each 'Thinking Hat' is a different style of thinking. These are explained below:

* White Hat:
With this thinking hat you focus on the data available. Look at the information you have, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and either try to fill them or take account of them.

This is where you analyze past trends, and try to extrapolate from historical data.

* Red Hat:
'Wearing' the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also try to think how other people will react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.

* Black Hat:
Using black hat thinking, look at all the bad points of the decision. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.

Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans 'tougher' and more resilient. It can also help you to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action. Black Hat thinking is one of the real benefits of this technique, as many successful people get so used to thinking positively that often they cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for difficulties.


Yellow Hat:
The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.

* Green Hat:
The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. A whole range of creativity tools can help you here.

* Blue Hat:
The Blue Hat stands for process control. This is the hat worn by people chairing meetings. When running into difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking, etc.


The language here is oriented toward businessmen, so you might have to adapt it to the level you teach, but the idea is useful one.