Inferential thinking: what it is and how to develop it

Inferential thinking: what it is and how to develop it

When we read a text, as well as when we look around us, our mind performs a series of activities or tasks that allow us to understand the content of these beyond the explicit information we receive from them.

This process of perception and elaboration of information that has as a product the production of a series of conclusions is known as inferential thinking . In this article we will talk about the characteristics of this procedure, as well as the different types that exist and how to enhance its development.

What is inferential thinking?

By inferential thinking we mean the ability or skill to interpret, combine ideas and draw a series of conclusions from certain data or perceived information. Thanks to this ability, we can determine or identify certain information that is not explicitly found in the source .

In order to do so, the person uses his or her own cognitive schemes and previous experiences, as well as a series of scripts and models provided by the culture itself.

This term comes from the field of psycholinguistics , which attributed it to the second level that a person reaches in a reading comprehension process. It allows the reader to draw conclusions beyond the information obtained directly from the text.

This skill consists of a very complex process in which the reader carries out a cognitive elaboration of the information obtained in the text, which is combined with the own mental schemes to give as a result the representation of the meaning of a writing.

However, this meaning given to the information does not start directly from the written words but from the reader’s own cognition. This means that inferential thinking goes beyond the limit of the comprehension of the information embodied in the text in an explicit way , since it forces the reader to use his own scripts or cognitive schemes in order to reach such comprehension.

The components of this psychological process

In order to be able to carry out the whole process of inferential thinking, the person needs the correct functioning of three essential elements:

1. Sensory system

It allows us to perceive and process the information we receive through sight and hearing

2. Working memory

Processing and integration of information is performed while information is being received

3. Long-term memory

Its main function is to store the mental schemes thanks to which we can carry out inferential thinking

As a conclusion, the achievement of the correct functioning of inferential thinking not only helps us to understand the information, but also helps us to understand the world around us . All this without having to resort to direct or explicit information that it provides us with.

What types are there?

As we commented, inferential thinking allows us to elaborate representations or cognitive images starting from sensory information and using our own mental schemes . The product of this process is known as inference, and there are different types of these according to their degree of complexity.

1. Global Inferences

Also called “coherent inferences”, they are the product of a process of inferential thinking in which information is organized into large thematic units that allow us to associate textual information with the information in our memory.

This means that the reader draws up a series of general conclusions or resolutions from the whole of the text he has just read.

An example of global inferences can be found in understanding the moral of a story or in thinking about the intention of the writer of the work.

2. Local Inferences

Also known as cohesive inferences, these inferences help us to understand and draw conclusions from a text while we are reading it . They are used to make interpretations based on specific information from a particular paragraph or sentence,

Thanks to them we can give meaning to the information read, during the very moment of the reading.

3. Inferences after reading

These types of inferences are made once a person has finished reading the text and their main function is to understand why certain events or facts are told in the text.

For example, refers to the interpretation of some causal consequences that may appear in the narrative. That is, the person can understand the reason for the concrete facts that occur in the text.

How can we develop it?

Because inferential thinking is a skill, it develops throughout a person’s life and as such, it is susceptible to training and development through a number of techniques or strategies.

This ability can already be observed in children as young as three years old . Therefore, from this age onwards we can promote the development of inferential thinking and thus favour both the reading comprehension of the child and the understanding of what is going on around him.

To do this, we can use some tools or strategies specially developed to develop this skill. However, as it is a gradual progress, we must take into account the child’s developmental level and adapt these techniques to his or her capacities.

Some of the tools that encourage inferential thinking are:

1. Choosing appropriate texts

Choosing texts whose level of difficulty is appropriate to the child’s abilities is essential as a first step in developing inferential thinking.

The texts should pose a small challenge to the reader. That is, they can give rise to a certain level of inference but without being too complicated, otherwise it can generate feelings of frustration or boredom.

2. Ask questions about the text

Asking questions about the text that require a certain degree of inference, that is, not asking about things that are explicitly stated , as well as asking the student to make his or her own observations and draw conclusions about the narration.

3. Making predictions

Another option is to ask the child to try to predict what will happen next while he or she does the reading. Ask him to develop his own theories and hypotheses and to explain on what he bases these conclusions.

4. Learning by modeling

Finally, in younger children or those with less ability, the educator himself can serve as a model when it comes to differential thinking. In order to do so, he or she should describe the mental process that he or she is carrying out, thus providing the child with an example of a pattern that he or she can imitate.

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