An Interview with Mike Kallett: Think Smarter

Jul 9, 2020 by

Cover art

Michael F. Shaughnessy

  1. Mike, first of all , can you tell us a bit about yourself- your education and experience?

Education:  BS Physics, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).   Followed my hobby after college and went into the computer software business.  Moved onto the internet in the 90’s and telecommunications.   I started Headscratchers is 2004 to help people think critically.  I have held many senior executive positions.

  1. Now, your book ” Think Smarter”- what brought it about? 

It was about ten years into teaching critical thinking.  Wiley and Sons (my publisher) called me and asked if I had thought of writing a book.  I said I have, and it’s been on my to-do list for 10 years.  They convinced me to write it and it came out in 2014.   I had all the material, so it wasn’t really that hard to write.

  1. In your mind, what is the difference between critical thinking, and higher order thinking, and problem solving?  

Critical Thinking is a toolset, a foundation, that can be used for problem solving, decision making, innovation, leadership, conversations, and many other activities.   So Problem Solving is creating solutions to problems that eliminate and/or address the problem.  Critical thinking can be used as a tool, an aid, that results in more successful solutions.  I don’t know what you mean by higher order thinking.  

  1. A very global question, perhaps requiring a generalization- but how much teaching of thinking skills goes on in the average public school today?  

Not much from what I can tell and from the education of my kids.  Schools are too focused on memorization and repeating what’s read/taught, but not thinking.  The number one complaint I hear from hiring managers about graduates (high school and college) is that they don’t know how to think. 

Schools mostly teach multiple choice … pick the right answer and go onto the next problem.   They don’t teach you to pick the best answer, because in the real world, there isn’t always a “right” but a “best”

  1. Inclusion and mainstreaming- has it caused teachers to re-think the way they teach and what they teach?  

Maybe to consider that there are “different” ideas, but I don’t think it will contribute to teaching critical thinking.

  1. The typical high school- how much thinking is going on in your typical science or math class? 

When a student is graded on how much they can recall (i.e. memorize) when the world is an open book, vs. how much can they apply then there is thinking.  Unfortunately, most tests are designed to test memory, not application, so teachers teach for recall not understanding.  Not always the case, but in many cases, even in science.

  1. Tell us about your upcoming workshop.  

Up until recently all of our workshops were in-person, on site, with a few open enrollment workshops (in Denver).  Covid 19 made this impossible.  We re-engineered the workshops to be taught online.  It’s live, i.e. an instructor teaches the class, generates conversation and discussion, Q&A, activities.   So the class is very much like the in-person workshop, but sitting by a computer instead of in a class room. 

  1. What have I neglected to ask?  

You didn’t ask, why is critical thinking important?   Of course the answer is simple, just take a look at the mess the world is in and how little “thinking” is going on.  Critical thinking reduces the error rate, and facilitates opportunity recognition.   It doesn’t take a rocket scientist either … if everyone just did a little critical thinking, the world would be a much better place.

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