Sunday, July 12, 2015

Is my classroom a thinking classroom?

In my previous post, I shared what I had learned about developing a "thinking classroom." At the end of the post I shared the three steps for creating this desired environment:
  1. Create a structured learning environment,
  2. Teach the thinking processes and allow practice, remembering to differentiate to meet all your students needs, and
  3. Provide effective feedback.
Before thinking about where I am going, I realize I must first reflect on where I am. 
So where am I on my journey of creating a thinking classroom?

Building a positive classroom community is something I work hard to establish every year. I take the time to get to know my students and for them to get to know each other. We develop our classroom rules together based upon each persons goal for the year. We discuss how we can work together to ensure all students are successful and can meet their goals by the end of the year. Through these discussions, we establish a learning environment where students feel safe and willing to take risks. I teach accountable talk strategies for effective communication, especially focusing on developing listening skills and being an active listener. Students are encouraged to share their ideas and beliefs and I work hard to teach and model respect for all. 

I feel that my classroom is student-centered with my role being more a facilitator rather than knowledge giver. Students are encouraged to explore, investigate, and discuss. I provide many opportunities for collaboration, but also provide time for students to think independently. Scaffolding is an instructional practice I implement, providing students with support so they may be successful in their learning.

When considering the level of my learner's critical thinking in the classroom, I feel that I could improve on encouraging students to use more advanced vocabulary to express their thinking processes. I do not hear students referring to the thinking process they are participating in and do not feel that they would even understand the thinking process. I will need to explicitly teach them these process, including the language, and then provide them with multiple and ongoing practice. I also feel that I need to do a better job of modeling the language through my conversations in the classroom.

While I feel that I provide clear and specific feedback, I do need to work on providing it in a quicker manner.  If my feedback is not immediate then it will loose its effectiveness. I do make a conscious effort to take on a positive tone, praising my students for a job well done and encouraging them when needed. One area of feedback that I would like to grow in, is adjusting my feedback based upon a students response. 

A teacher's ability to motivate a student is the key to that student's success. When students know that the teacher cares about them, as an individual, they are more likely to put forth effort to succeed. Of course, as teachers, we also want our students to develop intrinsic motivation where they want to please themselves as well. By creating a positive learning environment, students will feel more inclined to take a risk in their thinking and learning. In our classroom, we talk a lot about the growth mindset and how true learning comes from failure. When students understand that it is okay to make mistakes or even fail, they will be more motivated to think critically or be creative.  Helping students set short and long term SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals will also help them stay motivated. As students experience success they will be motivated to set new goals to keep them moving forward.

I would like to think that in the past I have incorporated critical thinking skills within my lessons, but I must confess that it would not have been done intentionally. According to King, Goodson, and Rohani (2009), "careful lesson planning is essential" considering factors such as "organization of activities, clarity of explanations, modeling of thinking skills in action, examples of applied thinking, feedback on student thinking processes, instructional alignment of objectives and activities, and adaptations for diverse student needs." While I do believe lesson planning is a strength especially in the area of organization and alignment, there are definite areas I need to improve. The biggest area of planning I must focus on is to be more aware of how my plans are incorporating critical thinking skills rather than just focusing on the content of the lesson.

Designing questions that promote critical thinking is, as you will see below, one of my major goals for the upcoming year. I have participated in numerous professional development opportunities focusing on using questioning that promote higher level thinking. I believe that in the back of my mind I do refer to what I have learned when asking questions, but I do not record my questions in any manner. I need to make this more of a priority, planning my questions ahead of time rather than just "winging it." I want to ensure that I am asking a variety of questions, but especially hitting those requiring more critical thinking. I hope to incorporate more of Bloom's Taxonomy questions this year, recording the specific type of question within my lessons.

As I look ahead to this coming year in my classroom of accelerated learners, I hope to accomplish a three goals on my journey to creating a thinking classroom. 
  1. Goal #1 Ask thinking questions. I am guilty of "winging it" with many of my questions and this year I want to plan some questions ahead of time. By considering the questions ahead of time, I can ensure that I am asking a variety of questions requiring lower to higher level thinking skills. By thinking about questions more often, I will also become better skilled with questioning techniques making the times when I must "wing it" more conducive for thinking and learning. 
    • I will be able to self-assess as I will be using a blooms taxonomy checklist to track the variety of questions I will be incorporating in my lesson.  I will also label the questions within my lesson plan to make it easy to see the levels I have included for myself and others who may be reviewing my lessons.
  2. Goal #2 Teach Specific Thinking Processes. After reflecting on the idea of a thinking classroom, I came to realization that I may be so focused on the content that I am overlooking the need to teach my students how to think. Next year, I want to explicitly teach the thinking processes and provide my students with practice for each. It would be amazing if, by the end of the year, the students would define their learning based upon the thinking processes they utilized to accomplish tasks. 
    • I will self-assess this goal through observation, listening to student conversations to see if they are using the language. By creating a "thinking" wall, I'm hoping to include anchor charts for each process so this should also be a wall of progress to show the processes that have been taught throughout the year.
  3. Goal #3 Create Student Teams-Achievement Divisions (STADs). In King, Goodson, and Rohani's (2009) guide, they share that STADs are groups of students who work in teams and subteams as study groups. These study groups are then subdivided into pairs or trios to study and master basic skills and topics. Next year, I will have a class of 4th and 5th grade student for reading and math and the use of STADs will allow me to better differentiate within the classroom.
    • I will self-assess my progress through reflection and using student feedback. 
How will I know how I'm progressing on my goals?
The great thing about a blog is that it, as well as your readers, can hold you accountable!
I hope to share my journey of creating a thinking classroom here on the blog so stay tuned...


References

King, F.J., Goodson, L. & Rohani, F. (2009). Higher order thinking skills: Definition,
     teaching strategies, and assessment. Retrieved from

Elder, L. & Paul, R. (2010)The elements of reasoning and intellectual standards. Retrieved

National Association of Gifted and Talented Children (2013) NAGC – CEC Teacher
     Preparation Standards in Gifted and Talented Education. Washington, DC: Author.

Creating a Thinking Classroom

Photo Credit
Most teachers desire thinking students. Those who persevere, think critically, problem solve, self-reflect, and are flexible learners. Today's classrooms are preparing students for jobs that have not yet been created, therefore we have to teach our students these skills so they will be prepared for their futures. 

In order to produce these "thinking" students, teachers must promote a culture of thinking and engage students in the practice by being diligent in the structuring of the learning environment and experiences. The learning environment and experiences that occur within the classroom must encourage learners to act like a 'community of thinkers', sharing their strategies and ideas. In order to promote thinking, classrooms must be student-centered. According to King, Goodson, & Rohani (2009), the student-centered environment "supports the open expression of ideas, provides active modeling of thinking processes, develops thinking skills, and motivates students to learn." For this environment to develop the teacher must be aware of the affect that student motivation has on student achievement.  Of course, "great expectations lead to greater achievement" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009) so it is vital that teachers maintain high expectation while also expressing positive interactions. To ensure that high expectations are being developed, SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) instructional goals should be set for both short and long term.  Always remember that "there is not busywork in this student-centered, thinking classroom, and student progress is monitored using several methods - not just tests" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). 

Just as we take time to teach specific content, we, as teachers, must take the time to teach specific thinking processes. Thinking processes include: context, metacognition, procedural knowledge, comprehension, creativity, insight, intelligence, problem solving, and critical thinking (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Each of these processes or strategies must be demonstrated and modeled with ample time allotted for students to practice them. Below are examples of how strategies may be taught within the classroom:
  • Metacognition is thinking about one's thinking. This strategy of thinking includes being aware of your thinking processes, self-monitoring, and application of the steps for thinking. "One's success with metacognition depends, in part, on a belief in one's ability to get smarter as well as the beliefs of others, such as teachers, in one's ability" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Lesson plans should teach self-reflection and self-evaluation and students may practice these skills by tracking their thinking and learning independently. Students should also be encouraged to reflect upon new information, responding in writing or through discussion
  • Creativity "involves divergent and convergent thinking to produce new ideas" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Creativity requires thinking beyond the box to produce new solutions to problems. Not only is it about finding the solutions though, but often it is about discovering the problems as well.  In order for creativity to prosper, students must feel safe in their environment so they may take risks in their thinking and learning. Teachers should share examples of creative thinking. They may offer students choices within their learning so that students may choose how to demonstrate their thinking or learning. These choices may also include a variety of tasks that incorporate multiple intelligences. Providing students with hands on situation also allows them to play while investigating new information. It is also beneficial to assign tasks that are open-ended and may involve several "correct" solutions. 
  • Critical Thinking is "goal directed, reflective, and reasonable thinking" in which "analysis, inference, interpretation, explanation, and self-regulation" occur (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Collaboration and communication play an important role in critical thinking as students provide evidence of their reasoning to support conclusions, while listening to others share theirs, which may result in a change in one's views. Students must be taught how to communicate, and more importantly listen when participating in collaborative groups. To foster critical thinking, teachers should provide opportunities for students to collaborate often. Once again, it is also important that teachers have created a safe learning environment where students are free to express their ideas and beliefs and open to listening to others express theirs.

Our classrooms contain diverse populations so when providing instruction and practice, teachers must remain cognizant of the ways students differ in their prior knowledge, or schema. Be aware of the cultural background of each individual when providing support in developing thinking skills. Scaffolding is a way to differentiate instruction as it provide support throughout the lesson. At the beginning, the teacher may take on a dominant role to get the learning rolling, but then gradually removes themselves allowing students to take the lead on their learning. It is often helpful to provide visual representations and break problems into steps to foster success. To meet all students needs, be sure to check often for understanding and provide additional examples or explanations when necessary (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). 

Feedback is critical in the thinking classroom as it helps to promote self-awareness, self-assess, and self-regulate student thinking. Teachers must constantly be assessing student learning using a variety of formative assessments. When providing feedback, it must be "immediate, specific, and corrective information, using a positive emotional tone" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Take the time to adjust the feedback based on the response. For quick and correct responses the feedback can be short and general, for correct, but hesitant feedback make be more encouraging, and incorrect answers may require additional explanation or questioning.  Prompting students who are unable to respond provides better feedback to the child, rather than calling on a peer to answer the question. Be careful not to provide excessive praise as, according to King, Goodson, and Rohani (2009), "praise is effective only when students believe they have earned it." 

So when creating a thinking classroom, be sure to follow the three steps:
  1. Create a structured learning environment,
  2. Teach the thinking processes and allow practice, remembering to differentiate to meet all your students needs, and
  3. Provide effective feedback.
Do you already have a thinking classroom? Or in the process of creating one?
I'm reflecting on where I am in developing a thinking classroom and setting some goals to help me strive to make it better in my post, "Is my classroom a thinking classroom"?

References

King, F.J., Goodson, L. & Rohani, F. (2009). Higher order thinking skills: Definition,
     teaching strategies, and assessment. Retrieved from

Elder, L. & Paul, R. (2010). The elements of reasoning and intellectual standards. Retrieved

National Association of Gifted and Talented Children (2013).  NAGC – CEC Teacher
     Preparation Standards in Gifted and Talented Education. Washington, DC: Author.