Thinking about thinking…

In a recent Huffington Post essay, Eric Maisels presented an argument for ‘adding thinking to the school day’ . I totally agree with this sentiment:

If your intention is to have students manifest their potential, you need to do more than stuff their heads with facts on the one hand, or provide them with unstructured freedom on the other. You need to provide students with appropriate guidance that motivates them to think and motivates them to create — an environment that supports their intellectual and creative efforts.

He talks about encouraging students to ‘think big’, which I agree is essential. But I do not agree with his suggestion to set aside 45 minutes each day for students to ponder big questions, write down their thoughts, and present them if they wish.

I don’t believe that thinking is something you can do for one period a day. If students are to develop the habit of thinking deeply, they will need to be exposed to big ideas and given opportunities to ponder big questions throughout the day. Ron Ritchhart, in his workshops and in his book ‘Intellectual Character’, talks about creating a culture of thinking ‘in which thinking is valued,visible, and actively promoted as part of theregular, day-to-day experience of all group members’. I’ve suggested some ways to engender a culture of thinking in the classroom, in a previous post. If you haven’t explored the Project Zero Visible Thinking website, I highly recommend it.

I used the ‘Diamond Ranking’ thinking routine this week, to stimulate thinking  and get students to prioritise their ideas. DIAMOND RANKING

Start with your question, topic, or provocation. Each student gets nine sticky notes and writes one idea on each. In pairs or groups, they pool their ideas and negotiate them down to a total of nine. This requires the ability to provide supporting evidence for keeping your suggestions in. Finally, prioritise the ideas according to the ‘diamond ranking’ …the most important goes at the top, the least important at the bottom and so on.

The kids were totally engaged and their discussion was meaningful and relevant. They are used to thinking about big ideas and evaluating issues … they don’t only do it for 45 minutes a day.

It was only after the lesson that I thought we should have grabbed some laptops and done the activity in linoit, rather than on paper. This would have allowed inclusion of images, embedding in a wiki or blog, sharing and commenting.

I just wasn’t thinking…

8 thoughts on “Thinking about thinking…

  1. Thinking has to be developed & if we can train young children to look at things in a slightly different way, we will develop these thinking skills which are then used all the time. It can’t be ‘period five’ each day. I was involved in Instrumental Enrichment developed by Furestein. Have you heard of it (it was a long time ago!)


  2. Great post Edna and I also enjoyed looking over some of your previous posts on thinking.

    I would say the traditional classroom just doesn’t embed enough student-centred thinking.

    An example comes to mind for me that was a bit of an “aha” moment. Just recently I went to a maths PD. The presenter described how on the day prior to the PD he set some students a task of drawing a picture and then writing out the instructions of how to replicate the drawing including the angles. He pointed out that it was very clear that the students didn’t know how to measure angles, use a protractor or anything like this. Now, in a traditional classroom any teacher (including me) would just immediately get the students together and teach them how to use the protractor and measure the angles. Instead, this teacher gave them some thinking time first. They could collaborate with others and try to work out some ways to do it. Lots of them did!

    This also comes back to the point that when you figure something out for yourself you’re more likely to retain it.

    Obviously that is not “big picture” stuff but I think it illustrates the point that teachers traditionally rarely give children time to think for themselves before they are guided or instructed by the teacher.

    It is so natural to so many teachers to spoon feed strategies, ideas, opinions, techniques…this doesn’t do the kids any favours!

    I know I’m going to start using more of the strategies that you suggested in the classroom right away!


  3. I am always interested in “thinking.” I wish that my students could develop that critical thinking skillset, but being a teacher of at-risk students, it is tough to convince them that critical thinking is an essential skill needed for the 21st century workplace.


  4. A great quote but I whole heartedly agree with you. Thinking has to be an ongoing learning attitude. It has to be a posture that is entered into all day every day! Great video 🙂


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