I went back to some college reading the other day with David Hyerle on my mind. You see, visualizing one's thinking isn't anything new. Back in the 90's Hyerle wrote Thinking Maps: Tools for Learning. But, it's been more than a few years now (ok, many years!) that focusing on student thinking, building internal motivation, and creating students who are transformed by their learning has been banging around in my head. Since every group of students in unique, my approach to my class this year needed to adapt to their needs. Sometimes the problem is so big, so complex, that I thought that if I went back to some basics and moved forward from there, I might be able to craft another moment of clarity for myself, and therefore my students.
Auguste Rodin The Thinker
"No one can learn effectively, particularly in a way that involves serious thinking, if her primary purpose is to avoid mistakes and get the right answer." Alfie Kohn
Some things that I have been considering:
Making Objectives Transparent: How focusing on the "right answer" can leave students who still have no idea about what they supposedly learned
One of my student's mom pulled me aside the other day and shared with me something her child said. He said that he liked how often I asked questions and didn't give answers. There were questions that had answers and that we looked at those, too. But he liked how there were often questions posed to them...and I listened to their answers. I knew that a lot of this had to do with the fact that I began as a Theology teacher--an area for which, in my books, there were no answers. But I know, too, that this was more than that. It has to do with my desire to deepen thinking. Open-ended questions with multiple answers foster discussion, critical thinking and engagement. In math, in science, in spelling my students are encouraged to demonstrate their thinking as a means to coming to an answer.
Years ago, Alfie Kohn wrote Getting Teaching and Learning Wrong. In it he advances the idea that creating narrow standards by which children's success in school is defined is an error. Children are ready for, and master skills, at different times. Did we each learn to walk or talk at the same time? This reconsidering of a skills-based standard, as Kohn asserts, is not an abandonment of teaching "basic" skills; it is a recognition that thinking must take preeminence--and I would add that teaching thinking (critical thinking and reflection) is the point. And so I have been trying...
Shared Thinking as Part of the Culture: How we can develop students who think
So often we teach to find answers and correct mistakes. For instance, every day, I return math journals so that students can correct errors and find the right answer. And I understand the value in this. But I also see the pitfalls: students rush to find an answer (often making mistakes), students copy when they don't understand (and teaching becomes a game of cat and mouse, so to speak), and sometimes students won't try because they are afraid of "getting it wrong" (and this is a shame). And so I am trying to strike a balance.
Going back to Hyerle, making thinking visible is now a key element in what I do. I have always considered thinking to be an interior, and often private, act. Sure, an individual may choose to share his or her thoughts, but journaling is private, essays between student and teacher are private...even worksheets and grades are private. I mentioned before Chris Opitz's video featured on Edudemic (see my Mid-year Reflections) and it really caused me to explore what other approaches to making thinking visible might be out there. And there are a lot.
I began the year with a "Question of the Day", and though I am still trying to figure out how best to manage how and when to respond, how to keep the activity fresh and purposeful, what to ask and when, I am liking how my students are now focusing on showing their thought process (and celebrating their different approaches!) and not just writing down an answer.
We also draw on the tables, on windows, and on paper, too. We take out manipulatives (voluntarily!), illustrate, annotate, water paint, and record on our iPads.
Fourth grade students illustrating the commutative and distributive properties of multiplication.
When What I Teach Today Lays Only a Foundation: How I should teach it differently
One thing I always try to keep in mind is the scope of what I teach with regard to its future iteration. An articulated curriculum is one thing, but when each child brings with them a unique situation, knowing how to meet each child where they are at and take them to the furthest point that they can go, all the while making sure that this aligns with the next grade (and beyond)--this is the challenge. And when what I might be teaching is only foundational to a future skill, this to me points to the need to define, deepen, and clarify thinking.
And so thinking, therefore, must incorporate different modes (if we learn differently, we must think differently), different ways to think. There must be a social-emotional way of thinking in which we teach students to negotiate, create teams, influence, and describe in detail; a thinking that explores the rightness of things through evaluation, judgment and causation; a thinking that concentrates on beauty (or maybe creativity) that centers on harmony, synthesis, and accepted meaning; a mindset that looks to understand through modeling, prediction, experimentation, and reflection. And to balance this all is the goal.
I'm trying to strike this balance, for instance, in my Word Study program. Since the program is completely differentiated, I am really opening up the ways to analyze words. I have arranged my class into five groups and within those teams students are paired for cooperative learning to work together as they analyze. Students are completing open-ended sorts using one of Hyerle's templates, drawing their words, building and playing with them, sharing sentences with each other via padlet so that they can respond to each others' thinking, and creating stories on their iPads with Picture Book.
Teaching for the Big Picture: What education can leave long after finishing school
When a child begins to learn--from the moment of birth--learning is anchored in living. We learn to talk in order to communicate, to walk in order to move. We explore and modify our world in an effort to understand. Learning has purpose. The more, therefore, that we can anchor classroom learning in the greater purpose of living, the deeper the transformation.
Thinking is our goal and what we learn through this is our product--that's the "no brainer"!