What is Convergent and Divergent Thinking?
Convergent and divergent thinking are valuable tools in the classroom, but the concept didn’t start in the classroom. It started in the discipline of psychology. The terms convergent and divergent thinking came from American psychologist JP Guilford in the 1950s. Guilford's theory of the structure of human intellect identified three factors of intelligence that help define a person’s overall intellectual ability. The three factors (or dimensions) of intelligence are operations, content, and products.
The terms convergent and divergent thinking are derived from the original five kinds of operations (or intellectual processes) within the operations dimension of intelligence developed by Guilford: Convergent production (now called convergent thinking) means taking pieces of information to arrive at a single solution. Norman Webb developed a hierarchy of cognitive complexity when it comes to performing assessments. According to Webb, information falls within four distinct depths of knowledge (DoK) or levels of cognitive complexity that students should know: Since convergent thinking primarily deals with arriving at a single possible response to a solution, you can expect assessments (in PA the PSAA or in HI the EOC) asking questions requiring convergent thinking to focus on the first (or second) DoK level. Determining the correct answer to a multiple-choice question is a primary example of convergent thinking because it requires students to focus on recalling information or a specific skill/concept. Multiple-choice questions require students to examine the accuracy of all response choices before selecting the one which best provides a plausible solution to the problem. These types of questions require limited skills and virtually no creativity to arrive at a plausible response. Study tools used to foster convergent thinking are memorization techniques (i.e., mnemonic devices), flash cards, and practice drill questions. Convergent thinking involves taking pieces to create the whole, which means students take concepts and materials from a variety of sources to formulate a single response. There is no room for exploring other possibilities because the pieces that lead to the single response will guide the students only one plausible solution. Therefore, learning occurs in a direct path because students are being guided to arrive at a definite, single answer. In contrast, divergent thinking gives students a prompt that allows students to use critical thinking skills to generate possible responses. It promotes risk-taking in the classroom, which allows for more flexibility in the classroom because it allows students to use their imagination. For example, a classroom environment that teaches divergent thinking will be one that encourages imaginary play and a variety of projects that promote creativity. The types of questions that are created when promoting divergent thinking will be focused on prompts that act as guiding questions to generate open-ended responses. These responses will focus on students operating within the third (or fourth) DoK. For example, instead of giving students a multiple-choice test on the US Civil War, students can be given an essay question that allows them to explore a variety of factors that lead to the US Civil War. Now, students can explore information that may not have been in their textbook to help formulate plausible responses to the problem. Therefore, using an essay test on the US Civil War in lieu of a multiple-choice test allows students to ponder answers they may not have considered if given a test requiring only one correct response or mere recall of textbook information. This is because the essay topic encourages students to analyse all information they have gathered on the US Civil War—from the textbook and other experiences—to formulate their own possible responses.
It’s not as easy as it sounds to come up with questions that are undoubtedly promoting convergent or divergent thinking. However, there are two important points to keep in mind when formulating your questions concerning convergent and divergent thinking. For starters, convergent questions will be those that require a single response or answer. Divergent questions are open-ended questions by nature since they promote the discovery of multiple plausible responses or answers to a problem. They also promote increased student engagement in classroom learning.
Keeping in mind the above examples of convergent and divergent questions, you can employ these tips to help you formulate your own: *For example, you may discover how three or four convergent questions could be combined to ask a divergent question. *For example, “suppose” questions take into consideration the “who” and “what” concerning a given topic. Now, let’s look at the context in which to present convergent and divergent questions.
The appropriate classroom situations for promoting convergent and divergent thinking are during the introduction of a learning unit, during practice or study situations and at the end of a learning unit. Here are four opportunities to promote convergent thinking: Here are four opportunities to promote divergent thinking: *For example, a topic may have three sub-topics that can each be divided into two more points. Students engage in extended strategic thinking when they take these visual cues and turn them into separate paragraphs within their essay. There will be three main paragraphs (the body of the essay), and each of these paragraphs would cover two key details.
To put it simply, divergent thinking unfolds and broadens; convergent thinking narrows down and focuses, filtering the set of creative options to identify and clarify the next step. Although we have discussed convergent and divergent thinking in this guide as separate terms, they aren’t mutually exclusive. As stated earlier, convergent thinking can lead to divergent thinking, but the opposite is also true in some instances. For example, when recalling what item a certain character bought from the old library that led him on a scary adventure, you could get students to perform divergent thinking by having them ponder how things might have been different if the character had chosen to buy an item that did not have the same type of magical ties as the original object chosen. Your question could begin like, “How might Jonathan’s adventure been different if the item he bought from the old library did not have ties to an old house with a haunted history?” You could also get students to explain reasons why Jonathan may not have had an adventure at all had he chosen certain types of objects to buy from the old library. Now, you can transform their brainstorming into convergent thinking by having them select the scenario that would have most likely happened if Jonathan had not chosen the object connected to a haunted house. Thus, the complementary nature of convergent and divergent thinking allows students to shift from mere information recall to effective essay (and other creative) writing.
Promoting opportunities to engage in convergent and divergent thinking allows students to address problems both in and out of the classroom. Student-centered learning thrives in environments that make use of opportunities to use convergent and divergent thinking. Group activities and student participation opportunities are more successful when the learning environment has an interplay with convergent and divergent thinking. Hopefully, the information in this guide has given you an insightful starting point for being more aware of how you can introduce and promote convergent and divergent thinking.