Sunday, July 12, 2015

Creating a Thinking Classroom

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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.

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