By DITA DE BONI education reporter

If a seven-year-old daughter, on hearing her parents argue, tells them they should manage their impulsivity, she is probably getting an "A" in class.

Thinking skills class, that is.

Lynda Reid, principal of St Cuthbert's College, refers to the true story with a giggle.

"I'm not sure if the parents really liked hearing that or not, but it shows she was really thinking about what she heard," she says.

Mrs Reid and her staff maintain the business of learning to think is a serious one and, if mastered early in the education cycle, will create an innovative, confident adult.

St Cuthbert's consistently rates in the top Bursary and School Certificate results and attributes part of its success to a study approach imported from the United States in the 1990s by associate principal Gill Hubble.

The college is one of a group of schools internationally that adhere to Habits of Mind, a set of principles that include "thinking about thinking" (metacognition), "remaining open to continuous learning" and "striving for accuracy".

The concept is not foreign to New Zealand educators, but St Cuthbert's believes it alone has a "thinking skills" department.

Students have thinking skills lessons. As well, their regular studies are taught though the lens of thinking skills precepts. Maths lessons - "2 + 2 = 4" - become "in what way do you come to the answer of four?" "Is there a better way to come to your answer?"

Music classes might ponder, in groups, how a piece of music would sound played slower or louder.

Art historians might consider an artists' motivation in painting in a certain style, compared to his or her contemporaries.

All of which is a fairly standard filter at university level, but not so common in primary school.

At St Cuthbert's, even new entrants find themselves thinking laterally. First-day activities include going around school on a "big adventure" and asking "fat" questions (not "skinny" questions requiring only "yes" or "no" answers) of every new person.

"Essentially, thinking skills teaches students to think about their thinking, about how they arrive at certain conclusions, and asks them to consider other ways of looking at a problem or issue," associate principal Ms Hubble says.

Adults mostly had certain ways of approaching problems, but at St Cuthbert's the girls learn up to six techniques, which can all be mapped out in charts.

The girls can then visualise the problem and their approaches to it.

In "Six Hats", students put on a different hat to think of how they would approach a problem.

"Some students recognise their regular thinking pattern as being, for example, a "black hat" - maybe they always think of difficulties or obstacles right away," says Mrs Reid. "We encourage them to put on 'different hats' to see the problem differently."

Pamela Hook, St Cuthbert's "thinking coordinator" since 1998, is often sent teachers' class plans for suggestions about which other approaches might be applied.

Mrs Reid is adamant that, despite her students' mostly high socio-economic background, thinking skills can be applied at practically no cost to any school.

"It doesn't require expensive equipment, just a different way of looking at things. And it's not as though people must think the way they've been brought up to think ...

"We can all practise ways of thinking - just like practising to play the piano."