“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” De Bono

If you’ve ever heard the saying ‘put your thinking cap on’, you’ve heard the inspiration for De Bono’s pivotal theory, the Six Thinking Hats. A consultant and educator, De Bono’s theory has been instructive in how businesses and education centres look at generating ideas and structuring thinking into something organised and methodic. This month we’re turning our attention away from educational theories for students, and instead moving to a theory which can help us as Buddies and educators.

Born in Malta in the 1930s, Edward De Bono first studied at the University of Malta in medicine before pursuing a master’s in Psychology and Physiology and Oxford. His work centred on thinking patterns and processes, exploring how people can innovate their ideas and stop from slipping into patterns or ruminating. First introduced via De Bonos’ book of the same name, The Six Thinking Hats is an activity where ideas are broken down into different sections, or hats, which are looked at individually.

This method has been used by businesses and schools around the world to help develop analytic thought and can be done both literally and figuratively, meaning you can just think about each colour or – if you really want to get into it – wear an actual hat of each colour. Many organisations, for example, use hats or an alternative stimulus like coloured teddies or cards. For some people, having something physically there can ground the activity and make it easier to focus on the task.

De Bono’s theory behind the hats is that humans, due to the survival instinct, get stuck in thought patterns which are safe and have previously proven successful. Subconsciously we think: ‘if it works, why change it?’ The Six Hats theory pushes this, asking us to think in new, innovative ways by focusing on each area at a time to try and break out the comfortable cycles to create something dynamic. A change we could make whilst still assessing risks and potential problems.

So how can this help us as Buddies?

We’ll use an example of a lower level regular Bready and preparing for future classes:

First of all, we can put on the blue hat, or the managerial hat. What is the goal? What would you like to set out to do? This can be aligned with the SMART targets you set for that particular Bready. What would you like your Bready to achieve and how can you improve your classes to help them reach that target? Let’s say for this Bready you are working towards the end of FEW and you would like them to continue to develop their full sentences. Let’s use the hats to figure out how we can get them to the next level.

Now for the white hat – the hard facts. So far this Bready has memorised most of the vocabulary and has come to the end of the book. They can so far say the sentences ‘this is a ____’ ‘I like ____’ and add adjectives such as ‘the cat is big and strong’. You can look at scores attained in assessments and past reviews to build this picture.

These can be combined with the yellow hat – or optimism and positivity. What went well? What progress has already been seen? What is the likelihood that your Bready can reach the next level looking at how far they’ve already come? What can you be proud of with your own targets and achievements with this student so far?

Alongside this, the red hat – what is your gut instinct? How much do you feel your Bready is capable of achieving in the next session/block of sessions? It is important to note that the red hat should be used for the shortest amount of time to stop a gut instinct turning into a judgement. The gut instinct is that first, initial feeling that comes before any reasoning.

The black hat – What could be detrimental? What is your Bready’s limit? Is there an area they aren’t confident in yet which could hinder future progress?

Finally, the green hat – Get creative! What new ideas can you bring to the classroom to help develop their sentence structure? Are there new props you could use? Can you find a song or picture that is explanatory? Is there a game you could play?

Once practised, the Six Learning Hats can be applied to almost any area of education – or life itself. It is important as educators that we continue to learn and develop just like our students do. By using the hats we can motivate ourselves to think differently, generate new ideas, and most importantly come to lessons feeling fresh and inspiring our students!