The Synectic Model of Teaching

Have you tried reasoning by analogy?

In 1961, William J.J. Gordon and his colleagues designed  a model of creative thinking called ‘Synectics’.

Synectics is a Greek word which means the joining together of different ideas.

The model was originally designed to increase creative expression, empathy and insight and help ‘creativity groups’ in industrial and other organisations to develop quality products and solve problems. They have been used as the impetus behind Pringles crisps to impregnated wound dressings.

I’ve always known this model as ‘reasoning by analogy’ because it uses similes to draw powerful and imaginative comparisons between two seemingly unrelated objects, concepts, processes or events.

It is a creative connection making process and can be used in any subject across the curriculum.

Although there are different types of analogies (direct, personal and symbolic) I have always found the direct analogy approach the most effective for group discussions.

Seligmann (2007) provides the example of the cardiovascular system being compared to a motorway. Students may suggest that the two are alike because blood cells are like lorries travelling through the vascular system delivering oxygen to the body’s organs and a blood clot is like a traffic jam stopping the blood cells from making their vital deliveries.

I saw a similar example in the excellent book Start Thinking by Marcelo Staricoff and Alan Rees:

Blood is like tomato ketchup because….

  1. both contain sugar and salt
  2. both contain water
  3. both are viscoelastic 

There are lots of opportunities to develop synectic thinking in lessons. You can share the following examples with your class and see what ideas children can generate together. Ask children to think of three ideas per example:

  • Your personality is like a snowflake because…
  • Teaching is like space exploration because…
  • A shark is like a torpedo because…
  • A whale is like a submarine because…
  • A teacher is like a wolf because…
  • A classroom is like an anthill because….
  • A civil war is like a volcanic eruption because…
  • Maths is like peanut butter because
  • A decimal point is like a concrete post because…
  • Reading is like diving for pearls because…
  • Learning is like a roller coaster because…

The act of comparing two things like this often leads to children posing a number of interesting questions that draw out not just the similarities but the differences too.

Synectics is an exciting formative assessment strategy because children are actively involved in a process of comparing, enquiring, questioning and connecting and all the time providing you with valuable insights into their thinking.

What’s not to like?!

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