Thinking Styles

One of my favorite academic coaching tools to help students in the classroom is called Thinking Styles. The concept is incredibly simple, and really the key to decoding what teachers want and how to ensure true learning has taken place.

We each have a bent toward a particular thinking style or perspective through which we filter knowledge. Some approach learning from a “what” perspective, others from a “why” point of view and still others filter information through a “how” lens. While one thinking style may be a more natural fit for you or the students in your life than the others, it is important to learn to utilize each of the three styles to fully learn a topic and be prepared for class.

What Thinkers:

Just the facts, please. What thinkers love details and definitions. They tend to believe that once they know the facts then all the whys and hows are obvious. 

That’s me! For the sake of illustration, think about the subject you are studying as if it were a forest. While you are excellent at noticing individual trees and their unique characteristics, there is a bigger picture you need to understand if you are going to learn about this particular eco-system. To learn about the whole of it, you will need to step back and ask those why and how questions. Once you do, you will fully know your topic and be able to move confidently toward the class scores you desire.

That’s my teacher or professor! Now you know what to study. Details, definitions, and facts. Notice what your teacher or professor notices in class. It just may show up on your next test.

Why Thinkers:

But why? Why thinkers love to understand reasons and the motivation behind actions. They tend to be big picture thinkers who assume that if they can figure out the cause, they will know all the necessary facts to move into action.

That’s me! To continue on with our forest illustration, you are very good at seeing the forest as a whole. Taking time to focus on the what and how of the eco-system will enrich your learning and ensure you aren’t caught off guard when more precise detail questions or methodology questions are asked.

That’s my teacher or professor! Be ready for essay types of questions where you are asked to dig into the motivation behind the actions and the causes of a situation. Analysis is huge in the mind of your teacher. Once you can articulate the whys, you won’t have anything to worry about in this class.

How Thinkers:

Methods are meaningful! How thinkers love knowing how to do something or how something happened. They tend to believe the whats are not that important and the whys are obvious.

That’s Me! In our forest illustration, you are very good at finding the paths and trails through the trees. For you, taking time to learn some of the facts and definitions will be key. Your assumptions about the whys should be explored. You may be right, or you may be surprised at what you learn.

That’s my teacher or professor! Be ready to share methodologies, models and know your formulas. They are sure to show up on your tests. This class may be light on synopsis and analysis. Ask lots of questions to fill in any gaps and you will do great!

It is important to NOTE:

If you arrive at a test and are thinking, we never covered this in class, then you just learned something valuable to take into your next test. Make sure to always ask yourself, what perspective or thinking style does my teacher or professor teach from? What perspective or thinking style does he/she test from? They don’t always match!

Beyond the Classroom

While Thinking Styles is an academic coaching tool, the differing perspectives have a profound impact in many areas of life, including relationships. Without an awareness of the styles, there is a tendency to discount the importance of perspectives that are different from our own. Reasons don’t really matter to how or what thinkers. Details aren’t all that important to why and how thinkers. Methods without details and reasons don’t connect well with what and why thinkers. I often wonder how many conflicts could be avoided if thinking styles became an every day concept taught in schools and the workplace!

So, what about you? Do you tend the notice the trees, the forest, or the pathways through? I’d love to hear.


Thanks for checking out my blog! Thinking Styles is an Academic Life Coaching concept. I am an ICF certified Academic Life Coach and train youth advocates in the Academic Life Coaching 1.0 coach training program. I’m also an adoptive mom, youth advocate and a licensed therapeutic foster parent. For more information about this program for the student in your life or on how to train as a coach, please contact me here.