“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.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
– Attributed to Henry Ford
My previous two articles in this review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum have examined the presentations by Dominic Hearne and Simon Brooks. This article follows on with a review of the first presentation after the networking and reflection break, which was delivered by Dr Britta Jensen of Marist College presenting under the title Community of Inquiry – teaching methodology for the thinking classroom.
Dr Jensen opened her presentation by making a statement that I agree with wholeheartedly; “[t]hinking skills should be explicitly taught and practiced,” a statement which harks back to Simon Brooks’ comment that “learning is the product of thinking.” Dr Jensen produced a non-exhaustive list of thinking skills and some of their applications, which I have included here.
You can see how many of these relate to the Four C’s as previously introduced by Simon and also back to the examination of generalisations and of underlying assumptions that Dominic Hearne spoke about in his presentation. The introduction of thinking skills, particularly the explicit engagement with the meta-language of thought, may increase the quality of class discussions (and as an aside, when combined with other strategies, may reduce the incidence of the Hermione effect) and increase the awareness of the thinking strategies which students are engaging with in a variety of contexts, that is, of meta-cognition around thinking skills and strategies which they are employing.
Dr Jensen then produced the brief version of five steps for a community of inquiry:
Dr Jensen played for the audience the trailer for Sur le chemin de l’école and then we, as an audience, generated questions that arose from the brief clip (included below).
The underlying aim of the exercise was to demonstrate the ease with which a questioning and thinking exercise can be initiated in a classroom. Dr Jensen followed this up by showing us a stimulus that had been used with a Stage One class:
This stimulus generated a significant level of conversation with Stage One students, and the responses were quite articulate and demonstrate a high level of awareness when it comes to questioning and thinking.
There are a range of potential benefits to explicitly teaching and practicing thinking skills, some of which Dr Jensen elucidated on, including the ability to contribute, constructively, to discussions, the ability to refine ideas and arguments upon the reception of new information (a skill which will carry across to the scientific domain), and very importantly, it teaches students to respectfully disagree. This last skills in particular is a critical skill for all students, indeed, all adults, to possess as it will be required, essentially, throughout their lives as a skill to avoid creating arguments and disharmony in various contexts.
Dr Jensen closed with discussion of two schools in Australia, Buranda State School in Queensland and Bondi Public School in NSW, both of whom have introduced explicit teaching of philosophy and thinking, which has had a flow-on effect on NAPLAN results. Dr Jensen was quick acknowledge that NAPLAN is merely one way to measure, and that there is knowledge of any other programs that may have been put in place by those schools that may have assisted with the results.
Dr Jensen provided some links to other resources for anyone interested in further development and using philosophy and thinking their teaching, as well as some links to academic resources:
I would like to hear from anyone who has implemented explicit teaching and practice of thinking skills in their classroom, and the problems that were encountered and strategies for solving them, as well as the success stories with using explicit teaching and practice of thinking skills.
As always, thank you for reading, and tomorrow will see the last article in this series on the Teaching for Thinking Forum, a review of Dean Lomaca’s presentation under the title Towards a Thinking Curriculum.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”
-Attributed to Thomas A. Edison
The teaching profession, I have often heard, and am discovering for myself, is often about the networking you have done and the connections you have forged through a professional learning network (PLN), both online and offline.Or, to put it in the vernacular, it is all about who you know. The only reason I heard about the Teaching for Thinking Forum, that was hosted last night by St Leo’s Catholic College in Wahroonga, was that my sister-in-law is a teacher there and shared the flyer on her Facebook wall, which is yet another indicator for the need for teachers to have a professional presence online, but I digress.
This particular conference was aimed at showing how a culture of thinking can be and has been applied, and the beneficence of stretching our students to think in genuine ways, and the beneficence of us, as teachers, allowing time and appreciating our the output of our student’s thinking. To this end, the four speakers targeted different aspects of thinking and how they have been implemented in their schools.
The night was arranged with two speakers on either side of a fifteen minute networking and refreshment break. At the conclusion of the forum, there was a further opportunity for networking and conversation with many attendees going for dinner together at a nearby eatery.
The first speaker, and for me personally, the most engaging and motivating speaker was Dominic Hearne, the Head of Learning Enrichment and the Head of Religious Education at Waverley College. under the heading A model of / for Gifted and Talented Education (as used at Waverley College). Dominic outlined a BOSTES approved series of courses that that they developed and targeted towards those students who sat in the 80% – 95% range across key learning areas as a way of extending those students and providing opportunities for them to be challenged.
Dominic’s first point was a discussion of the models of extension that are traditionally utilised which tend to fall into one of two buckets. The first bucket that Dominic identified was where those students are withdrawn from the regular classroom context and provided with either one-to-one or small-group learning situations where they are extended and stretched in their particular learning area. It was pointed out that this can create further difficulties in itself, as the student is then required to catch-up on the learning they were not present for as a result of their extension opportunities. This can have the flow-on effect of creating additional stress for the student, which is of course not a desirable outcome.
The alternative that is often implemented is team-teaching, whereby a second teacher enters the classroom and provides one-to-one instruction that is aimed at extending the student. This however has its own pitfalls. In the early stages of such a practice, it can often be a source of much distraction to other students, as the new sounds, the discussion of the teacher and the student being extended, in provide an undercurrent of noise to the primary teacher delivering instruction to the majority of the class.
Dominic indicated that Waverley College wanted to combine the beneficial aspects of both practices, and developed two courses which they have been approved by BOSTES. ‘Learning Enrichment’ is now compulsory for Years Seven and Eight, and ‘Human Society and Applied Philosophy’ is now an elective for Years Nine and Ten.
“Pure philosophy scares the [students]. Learning Enrichment dresses it up in respectability”
Taking a step backwards, Dominic indicated that when they, as a school, identified that they wished to provide stretch learning opportunities for those students who were between the average and the top end of the academic bell-curve, the first thing that was done was the removal of the term Gifted and Talented as there is an extraordinary amount of baggage and expectation attached to that label. The use of Learning Enrichment as an alternative is not simply a case of ‘the same thing dressed differently’ but is an opportunity to widen the catchment net and enable those students who may not ordinarily be considered for a Gifted and Talented program, to be considered for this ‘Learning Enrichment’ opportunity.
The entry course, Learning Enrichment, delivers explicit teaching in critical thinking skills, and forward-maps the current learning to the future, explicitly, so that students understand why they are undertaking the project. The statement is put to them that they are the future leaders, and that in ten years they will have graduated, not only from high school, but from university. This creates, immediately, high expectations, by saying to the students that you will graduate from university, rather than you might graduate from university. In addition to this, all members of the school executive are expected to engage with the delivery of this course as a matter of fact.
“If students are not engaging with the [higher order thinking skills from] Bloom’s Taxonomy, that indicates a problem with the pedagogy, not with the student.”
The first unit, Dominic related to us, was an examination of epistemology, delivered as if it were a one hundred level undergraduate course, and done so without apology. Other units included were Problem Solving Skills, which was largely based on the concepts of the Future Problem Solving Program, in which students were expected to identify and solve a problem that was present within the school. This has result in presentations to the school business manager of how solar power can be utilised to save money, a presentation that included costings, and which has since acted upon with one building’s roof now being covered with solar panels.
Dominic gave us an example of how the Applied Philosophy course is delivered to Year Nine and Ten students, by asking us as an audience a question he asks those students: what are the life lessons we can learn from Bugs Bunny? If it has been a while since you have watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon, here is a clip from YouTube from the fiftieth anniversary of Bugs Bunny featuring highlights of fifty years of Bugs Bunny in three and a half minutes:
The question was hat are the life lessons we can learn from Bugs Bunny? Some of the responses that were offered up included that Bugs is always right, that animals can talk, that having a speech impediment is normal (think about how many of the core Looney Tunes characters have one), that cross dressing is normal (think about how many times you have seen Bugs or any of the others cross-dressing), that all skunks are French and are lechers and that death is not real. The point of the exercise is that the life lessons we learn from watching Bugs is that we create, in our minds, a universe which we accept without question. I remember watching Michael Jordan in the movie Space Jam, and not even blinking when Michael Jordan fell from the sky into the Looney Tunes world without getting hurt, because that is the world which my mind has constructed and accepted based upon years of watching cartoons.
This line of thinking then gets applied to our own world, and leads the way into questioning our assumptions and beliefs, and to becoming critical thinkers, and is an exercise I would like to undertake with some of my Stage Three students to get them thinking about critical thinking and questioning assumptions.
Other units throughout the program include a study of the Art of War and the Ethics of peace, an examination of St Augustine’s concept of a Just War leading into an examination of what happens when the war stops, and questioning why are some wars not really wars, why does the war on terror, need the ‘on terror’ designation and what that mean for the supposed war, and what happens when the Peacekeeping forces and humanitarian agencies enter after a war has concluded.
“Gifted and Talented is perjorative and we wanted to avoid that due to the loading and expectations already found. Learning Enrichment widens the net.”
The last aspect of the course was the literary study and, to be quite honest, sounds more difficult than what I was required to do in order to attain Honours Class I at university. Students are required to submit a three thousand word literary study, that is not about the story, but that is about the subtext of the story and the social, political and economic times in which the story was written, and in which the story is set. The student is then required to conduct a viva-voce, consisting of a fifteen minute presentation of their thesis and a fifteen minute defence thereof.
This creates a mindset and a skillset in the students where they are required to thoroughly know and understand and be able to apply their knowledge and the concepts within their thesis, in order to adequately defend it from the questioning of their peers. It forces students to be able to organise their writing and their notes, and finally it forces them to be able to think on their feet. All of these are skills they will need to succeed in academia, both at the senior High School level and at the tertiary level, and are skills that will be useful in later life. It also creates a mindset for the students upon entering university that a fifteen-hundred word essay is nothing to sweat over, which puts them ahead of their peers.
I took a lot from Dominic’s presentation, and much of what he talked about is very similar to what I hope to achieve with my primary students during the research project. Dominic kindly provided a copy of the Human Society and Applied Philosophy course outline to the audience, which I will be reading with great interest. I spoke briefly with Dominic afterwards, and will be contacting him to arrange a suitable time to visit the college and observe a lesson, and speak further to determine ways in which I can adapt the pedagogy and the concepts of the course to be suitable for my Stage Two and Stage Three students.
If you are teaching explicit philosophy or applied philosophy, I would very much like to hear from you in regards to the pedagogical strategies you are using to allow the students to understand the complex concepts contained therein, and then apply them critically.
My next article, on Tuesday (delayed due to the long weekend here in NSW), will focus on the second speaker, Simon Brooks, the Head of Teaching and Learning at Masada College and his presentation entitled Cultures of Thinking – An Introduction to the Why and How.
Until then, thank you for reading, and my thanks again, to St Leos Catholic College for organising and hosting such a wonderfully inspiring and challenging conference, and to the speakers for giving up their time.
See here for the list of articles in this series.
The annual EduTECH conference is on this week in Brisbane, and it promises to be an excellent event, with some great keynote speakers, and of course the large range of exhibitors. I would have liked to have gone, but am unable to do so. If you are interested in following the happenings, keep your eyes open for #EduTECH and if you are at EduTech, then make sure you get along to one of the #TMEduTech sessions. I would particularly like to hear about Monika Kern’s two minute session on The RAT model – an alternative to SAMR.
If you are unable to make it EduTech, consider sending an RSVP to the email on the bottom of the below invitation to attend the Teaching for Thinking Forum at to St Leo’s Catholic College this Thursday at 4.30.
The agenda looks interesting, and I will either live tweet (look for #TeachforThink) or write a review the following day.
Have a great week everyone, and as always, thank you for reading.