“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
– Attributed to Bruce Lee
Today’s article is the final in the review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum held last week at St Leo’s Catholic College, and focuses on Constantin Lomaca’s concluding presentation titled Towards a Thinking Curriculum. If you have not read the articles covering the previous three speakers, I would recommend you do so, by clicking here for the first presentation. Constantin is the head of Teaching and Learning at St. Leo’s, and opened by thanking everyone for their attendance, and promising that he would push through quickly to preserve the question time that was planned for the end of the evening.
Constantin entry point into the discussion on thinking and philosophy in education was reminiscent of components of the previous speakers’ messages; the current curriculum is crowded, the pressure on teachers stress to “…get through all the content…” and the ensuing stress as we seek to achieve this leads to our students having little time to think and to process the discussions and learning in which they engage; and this on the back of us, as teachers, having only a small amount of time to plan and prepare inside school hours, being forced to take work home far too often.
“By the ‘time our students reach senior school, they have not acquired the tools or dispositions for “thinking through” problems, concepts and ideas independently, which impacts their HSC performance, particularly at the higher bands.”
As a primary teacher, I do not necessarily see the end results that Constantin is referring to. What I do see, however, is the effects he is implying when it comes to NAPLAN. Students that do not ‘get’ the answer, or think of the answer within the allotted time (often only a few seconds) and are thus used to being supplied with the answers to ‘problems’ are being asked to think for themselves and this is causing anxiety and stress.
Simon commented in his presentation that “…learning is the product of thinking…” and Constantin extended this statement. To learn something is to understand it, intrinsically; to be able to transfer the knowledge across domains, and therefore “…[u]nderstanding is NOT… a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating [or] creating, but a RESULT of them. Thus UNDERSTANDING is the outcome of Thinking” and accordingly, it is only when students have demonstrated with evidence their understanding and reasoning behind a specific concept that our job is done. Constantin’s statement regarding the lack of dispositions for thinking also hearkens back to a comment by Simon, in his presentation, that without the disposition to think, it is irrelevant how much explicit teaching of thinking [tools] we provide.
Constantin echoed Dr. Jensen’s call that thinking skills need to be explicitly taught, and time for authentic practice given, however it is not enough, I believe, to provide time for practice of thinking skills and strategies. The discussions that were engaged in during the evening indicated that there was a general awareness and understanding of this point, and the pedagogical strategies that have been put in place to support the implementation of the explicit teaching of thinking skills and strategies.
Constantin continued his presentation with a brief overview of how St Leo’s were utilising a process to program and plan called Understanding by Design, or UbD, to facilitate the inclusion of thinking skills. I had not previously heard of this programming method, but based upon Constantin’s explanation, it does sound somewhat similar to a process that was introduced to me during my undergraduate degree as backward mapping, which is also known as Backward Planning or Backward Design.
Constantin expanded upon how this process was being used to implement teaching for thinking and to make thinking visible within the context of his school, and concluded his presentation by inviting three students to make a presentation based upon their learning during the year thus far. The students demonstrated an awareness of the basic principles of critical thinking skills, and the historical providence from the Age of Enlightenment and other thinkers throughout history, which despite some obvious nervousness from the students, flowed well and was tightly structured.
The Forum at this point, after some closing remarks from Constantin, and an invitation to join himself and others for a meal at a local venue, broke up, with a number of small groups forming to digest, discuss and reflect with each other upon the evening. Given that my mode of travel is motorbike, and that at this point it was around 7.30pm, cold and a little windy, I made the decision to opt out of the dinner in order to make the approximately forty-five minute trip home.
The Forum was, in my mind, absolutely worth attending, and each of the presenters linked in with each other on various points. There was a lot to get excited about, a lot to take back into the classroom and put into action, much to ruminate upon and plans to consider for future action.
I was excited by the results of the two philosophy courses being implemented at Waverley College, and am eager to visit and see some of those classes in action, in order to extrapolate some of the pedagogical strategies backwards to put into place with my Stage Three students. I am also beginning to make explicit thinking time part of my pedagogical practice when asking students to engage with concepts. So far, in the week since the Forum, this has met with mixed responses from students, but I am confident that as it becomes more and more common and that as we continue the conversation about why thinking is critical that more students will get on board with the practice. Finally, I very much want to spend some time considering how, when I do have a full-time class, I can embed the teaching for thinking principles within my class, my pedagogy and my students, to achieve the goal of creating life long learners and thinkers.
I will leave you with a final comment, a reminder that “…learning is the product of thinking…” (Dominic Hearne), that “…good thinking is a disposition as well as a skill set…” (Simon Brooks), that “…we need to explicitly teach and embed thinking skills, including the metalanguage of thinking and metacognition…” (Dr. Jensen) and finally, that “…our job is done only when we see evidence of students’ understanding and reasoning…” (Constantin Lomaca).
As always, thank you for reading, and my thanks go to St. Leo’s Catholic College for organising and hosting this event, to the speakers for their time, energy, expertise and ideas, and to my fellow teachers, who gave of their Thursday night to open themselves up to concepts and ideas that can be challenging in the face of needing to “…get through the content…”
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
– Attributed to Albert Einstein
I like to open each of my blog posts, where appropriate, when I type it at the desktop computer (as opposed to the iPad) with a quote that is somehow relevant to the topic of that particular article. Today’s quote is, I believe, particularly fitting as the topic of this article is the presentation titled Why and How might schools build cultures of thinking? by Simon Brooks from Masada College as delivered at Thursday’s Teaching for Thinking Forum (#T4TConf) hosted by St. Leo’s Catholic College. If you have not read the introductory review article from that conference, I would recommend you do so by clicking here.
Simon opened his presentation with the statement, and I am paraphrasing here;
“…learning is the product of thinking, and that for those teachers who hold that they are unable to take on new educational fads, such as allowing their students time to genuinely think and reflect about their learning because “…we have to get through all the content…” then it has to be asked, what does getting through the content look like?
This was a very interesting statement, as it is one that I have heard numerous times throughout my undergraduate degree from lecturers and tutors at university and from many teachers with whom I interacted whilst on various professional placements. I have found that this statement is elicited by teachers being advised that they need to undertake a particular professional development activity, or in relation to the use of technology in the classroom .
Simon then led us into the first of his four focuses, a poem. Specifically, The Schoolboy, by the poet William Blake.
I love to rise in a summer morn,
,Simon prefaced his reading of this poem by very briefly introducing us to the thinking routine known as the four C’s with the side-note that we would be returning to it reading through Blake’s words. The four C’s is a thinking routine that can be deployed in any context and which encourages the user to think critically.
Specifically, the four C’s consists of the following thinking prompts:
My initial connection was with the third-to-last stanza, and it took me to the very structure of education and its relationship with the origins of education in the industrial revolution, a topic that was covered extensively during my initial teacher education, and the dichotomous relationship that is shared between early-childhood and primary education structures, and indeed, between primary and secondary education structures and then following on, between secondary and tertiary education structures. Focusing on the first, the structure of early-childhood education (or my understanding thereof at least, I am sure that my readers involved in that sector will disabuse me of any misconceptions) is that learning is largely play-based and more free-form than it is structured. Upon arrival at ‘big school,’ we expect students to stand in two straight lines, adhere to rigid structures administered by bells, eat when they are allowed to, go to the bathroom during specific breaks, sit at their desks in chairs and utilise pencils, all in ways that would be as alien to them as the concepts of neurological surgery would be to me.
The obvious challenge from this connection, then, is why is education structured in such a way? Why, two hundred years after the industrial revolution, have there been so few changes to the way in which we structure our children’s education? Why is the assumption that all students should be grouped by age still prevalent, other than convenience? The key idea from this is that education, or rather, schooling, is something to be abhored and avoided in favour of the summer morn’ and that changes need to be made, effectively, to change this mindset.
“Cultures of thinking are places in which a group’s collective as well as individual, thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all the group’s members.”
This exercise started the audience along the pathway of thinking, and of questioning what they were reading, and Simon lead on from this by posing that there are a total of eight cultural forces, that are entirely unavoidable, that impact upon our thinking and that a culture of thinking is apparent when all eight forces are aligned and directed towards encouraging and appreciating thinking. These eight forces have been identified by Ron Ritchart in his 2002 publication Intellectual Character and can be directed towards thinking as indicated below:
Returning to the notion of there being no time for thinking because “…we need to get through all the content…” SImon made the point that it is in the time of thinking and reflecting that the richness of understanding develops, and further posited that our classrooms walls be used not just to show off students’ completed works, but their in-progress works, to demonstrate, and to empower our students to think of thinking as being an on-going process, a tool for them to deploy, rather than being the goal for them to achieve.
Simon continued by introducing us to six contiguous key principles for a culture of thinking, which are expanded in an article by Ron Ritchhart and David Perkins.
A comment that Simon made on a number of occasions throughout the night, and I think one that is fitting with which to close out this article is that a culture of thinking is not something you do. Simon related that he often hears teachers say to him that they are “….doing this culture of thinking thing” and Simon responds that you do not do a culture of thinking, you are and you have a culture of thinking.
Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read, and I would very much like to hear from my readers in regards to where the four C’s took them after reading The Schoolboy by William Blake, and strategies that have been used in your school or classroom to create a culture of thinking.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
Ritchhart, R. (2002), Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Get It, San Francisco, California, United States, Jon Wiley & Sons.
Ritchhart, R., & Perkins, D. (2008). Making Thinkin Visible.Educational Leadership, 65(5), 57-61