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Thinkback – Book Review


Thinkback: A User’s Guide to Minding the Mind
by Jack Lochhead

Published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
ISBN: 0-8058-3342-0

Often in dialogues people will preface something they are about to say with the words, "Let me think aloud." Thinking aloud can be helpful to both the speaker, in clarifying his thoughts as he goes along, and the listener, who has been given a message that what she is about to hear is still being developed in the mind of the speaker.

The Thinkback process described in Jack Lochhead’s book is in effect a structured and highly effective form of thinking aloud, where the listener’s role becomes a form of coaching. It is a strategy for helping people view and better understand the mental processes used in thinking. Thinkback is named after the instant video playback process used in sports. Just as with instant replay players get immediate feedback on how they performed by watching their own actions from a perspective they could never achieve without electronic aids, so with Thinkback learners are provided with feedback through being in the presence of an active listener.

Lochhead points out that mostly our thought processes are undetectable. We just get to where we want to be silently and apparently effortlessly. The problem with this is that we could have got to our destination by chance via the wrong route or even missed our true destination entirely. Thinkback is about making thinking that is "noisy, slow and easy to detect". It thereby allows for learning by imitation.

The book begins with a relatively brief, but very thorough, introduction to Thinkback, and then gives detailed illustrations of how the process can be used in various contexts and situations, including mental activities, as a tool for learning from graphic organisers, in relation to memory in mathematics and understanding, and in informal educational settings.

As Lochhead says, there is a great deal in Thinkback that runs counter to common practice, and it is this very fact that makes the illustrative dialogues so fascinating and revealing of the inner processes which we naturally internalise. The metaphor of Thinkback as a scaffolding is presented and discussed. Once the structure has been completed the scaffolding has served its purpose and can be discarded. Similarly there comes a point where Thinkback as a conscious technique can be discarded.

As might be expected, or at least hoped for, from someone who emphasises the importance of clear thinking, the author demonstrates his own mastery by producing a book that is a model of clarity. He is also generous in his acknowledgement of the work of others. Thinkback - both as a book and as a process - is a valuable tool for learner empowerment.

Graham Guest

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