What is the role of a teacher in implementing
a thinking orientated curriculum?
Kelli Simmons - Assignment 2
Semester 2 – Designing a Thinking Curriculum 482 -833
Currently there is a major shift in schools with important implications that is shaping the development of students’ effective thinking. Many educational researchers are increasingly discovering that: the creation of conducive conditions: the building an understanding and planning for thinking has significantly enhanced students outcomes as well as engaged students further in their learning and schooling. The shift has been secured and been hastened through the introduction of the ‘Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS)’ in 2006. In particular, the new domains for schools to plan effective curriculum practises are Thinking and Personal Learning. Importantly whilst these domains can acquire a prominent position in all curriculum areas, the responsibility of the development of the program lies in the efforts of the whole school community.
It is apparent that teachers will be more successful in developing students thinking if the school leaders embrace a thinking culture. Golding (2005, p. 32) declares local leadership has a crucial role in fostering a move from a conventional view of education to a thinking schools view. Areas that will help reshape this move are through modelling, shared vision, allocation of time, support to teachers to build confidence, resources, training and whole school community awareness.
This paper intends on looking at the role teacher’s play in the teaching for, of, about and with thinking. It is based on Robyn Fogarty and James Bellanca (1997) Four Corner Framework. “These four elements are held to be essential to the thoughtful classroom, to the classroom that requires rigor and vigor in thinking, to the classroom that values cognitive and co-operative structures for increasing students achievement and fostering high self esteem, and to the standards-based classroom that honors the learning / teaching process.“ Many teachers in the primary school are experimenting with new approaches to build a thoughtful classroom. Currently the motivation for teachers to embrace this practise lays in the incremental achievements for the students, furthermore the satisfaction and recognition that their teaching processes are engaging students and empowering students with lifelong learning skills.
The VELS Thinking and the Personal Learning domains has set challenges for many teachers as they develop an understanding of what the essentials for learning for students are; how to plan for, what feedback to provide, how to probe further to encourage deeper thinking and how to assess students thinking. However, it is worth noting prior to the provision of the curriculum many conditions are required to support the thoughtful classroom.
One of the cornerstone elements for a thinking orientated school is setting a climate for thinking where students natural tendency for thinking can be prompted and evolve. Educational settings using the conventional view to education do not allow for inquiry; questioning, exploring and investigating are not high up in the process for learning. Albert Einstein stated, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” A miracle is not necessary if a school plans to capture this natural inquisitive behaviour. If a school is true to the inquiry model of learning all students will be tuned into an area of learning and their prior knowledge and experiences are valued. Students will be provided with an opportunity to ask questions followed by extending, challenging and refining their thoughts throughout a fine tuned process dependent on teacher guidance or independently.
There will be times that the questions may not have answers, hence posing a wondering. This is a powerful step and Murdoch (2006,pg 32) states that the questions young people ask remind us that the search for meaning is fundamental to what it is to be human. Given the opportunity to explore and try to make sense of the world we are engaging our students, hence increasing their learning growth. The teacher facilitating the discussion needs to be comfortable with the notion that they are not the transmitters of information or affirmations and there maybe many unanswered queries, and the journey of the discussion has nurtured ways of thinking. Wilks (1995, pg 7) supports this idea “… different problems require different responses, some can be resolved, temporarily resolved and others have no resolution.”
‘Setting the climate for thinking requires a learning environment that is both rich and stimulating for learners to explore, investigate and inquire.’ Fogarty (1997, p45) An inquiry structure called problem-based learning challenges and engages student’s minds with an authentic purpose. An example of this type of inquiry is: “The school sports are next term, we want all students to be at their best. What can we do to achieve this?” The students construct new knowledge through experiences and extend their knowledge and skills or challenge their current understandings (Chambers, 2007) therefore adding rigour through a relevant and rich context.
Inherently, a key to the climate in the classroom is the need for a student to feel safe and unthreatened. Caine and Caine (1993) state that.. ‘ Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat’. A framework to support the development of security within the class is Socratic Circles or Circle Time. Circle Time is a structure that allows for ordered collaborative problem solving with three basic principles of respect, safety and inclusion (Sue Roffey, 2006). Research has shown that Circle Time has proven to develop reflective, critical and creative thinkers and develop an understanding of self and others. For such a process to be fully effective a teacher cannot be over-controlling through the process of Circle Time for to do so - the benefits will not be evident. In fact, a teacher must limit her/his own control of the Circle Time and thus maximise the learning outcomes. Modelling of attentive listening, valuing opinions, distributing the leadership, representing inclusiveness and sense of fun can increase students’ sense of belonging.
A key element of Circle Time is the use of collective and personal reflection. Circle Time allows for varied organisations for reflection: whole group, small group, partner work or individual reflection time; central to a thoughtful classroom. If Circle Time is used regularly then skill training and practise is achieved. It is through the practise in various situations that students will refine their thinking skills (Swartz & Perkins, 1990; De Bono, 1992). The continuous rehearsal will lead to application of the skills beyond the context supporting the development of thinking habit. It’s not just the teaching of the steps; it is the habituating of attitudes, dispositions, or habits of mind that characterise effective, skilful thinkers. (Costa 1991)
The promotion of student’s interaction through collaborative problem solving rather than solo problem solving can allow for students to articulate their thoughts, thereby making their thinking visible. This process helps with assessment of thoughts and exposes students to varied ideas. In a recent session with students where one student stayed with the groups result from a problem solving task, a student commented that the more she articulated the groups outcome the more proficient she became at discussing the problem solving strategies undertaken.
Thinking taxonomies provide a framework for teaching thinking skills together with guiding the sequence of thinking. Examples of these include Three-storey Intellect – Fogarty (1997, p75) Krathwohl’s Taxonomy or Anderson revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Pohl 2000, p8). By using any of these taxonomies higher order thinking processes are explored, and can lead to a natural link to other curriculum areas. The link across curriculum areas will allow for the transference and continual practise of the thinking skills. This can also provide the immediate application of skills if they are incorporated across many subject areas and cognitive language is consistent across the school.
Interestingly, the use of wait time can support the development of a thinking classroom. This strategy supports the thinker and presents a powerful message that thoughtful thinking takes time. One to three seconds is hardly enough time for slower retrievers, many whom may have a response, but need to locate it from in long-term storage and retrieve it into working memory. Research has shown that teachers who have longer wait times are observed as using high-order questioning, greater flexibility in evaluating responses and improved expectations for slow learners (Rowe, 1974 p.129).
Teaching for thinking involves utilising the learning space. Wilson and Murdoch (2008) verify that teachers who nurture an inquiring classroom provide opportunities for materials and resources to be shared and an environment where permission is not necessary for everything (movement around the room is according to the demands of the activity and there is no fixed seat). Golding (2005, p36) also suggests that seating arrangements should be flexible to allow students to sit in a circle or semi-circle. The idea of moving the centre point away from the teacher promotes a community of inquiry approach. The practise of having a ‘Yellow Pages ‘ of students skills and dispositions allows for broadened options for class members to access an expert, including thinking strengths that will contribute to valuing thoughtfulness.
An additional role for teachers is to model behaviour of an effective thinker. The process of making their own thinking visible by sharing their reflective and metacognitive thoughts to their students. This could be made evident when a teacher is modelling the formation of a writing genre to students. Teachers can model effective questioning skills too. There are two reasons for this, one is to take students beyond their current thinking and engage students in higher order thinking and the other reason is to empower the learners with skilled questioning techniques. Godinho and Wilson (2004) position is that ‘…questioning assists students to participate actively in their world and in the wider context of a democratic society.’ Skilled questioning is the selection of questions to achieve particular purposes, in addition to being appropriate for the learner’s cognitive abilities. They can challenge thoughts, focus a discussion, or encourage reflection.
If time is combined with the thought provoking questions, higher order thinking can be developed. (Godhino and Wilson, 2004) When a teacher selects a question it must have a purpose and be considerate of the students cognitive ability. The question of “ What message is the writer trying to convey?” may have a purpose of sparking further questions, whereas a question “What evidence do we have?” may encourage students to be critical thinkers. If teachers skilfully use questions they can guide the process of decision-making, and support students to critique and challenge information. These skills are vital for the 21st Century learner who will be increasingly overloaded with information.
‘We ourselves have to first become that which we want others to become.’—Pace Marshal, 2003. The teacher needs to be skilled in identifying and then articulating thinking processes. An effective teacher of thinking will benefit from following the thinking journey prior to expecting the students to undertake the journey. Golding (2005) suggests that a teacher needs to know what it is like to develop their own thinking if they want to assist their student.
Structures to examine monitor and celebrate growth in thinking needs to be in place. There are many tools to support these processes. One particular graphic organiser that allows for tracking and celebrating growth in thinking is the ‘Bridge Graphic Organiser’ – (Murdoch and Wilson, 2006) Students communicate what they know about the topic or concept. After exploration they return to the thinking tool and articulate what they know now. The students follow up with communicating what supported their learning. A simpler process is using sentence starters such as.. “I used to think ……….. and now I think…..” (Project Zero)
Teaching skills of thinking involves the task of instructing students directly in the processes of thinking. Teaching the skills is a critical component of a thinking orientated curriculum. The direct instruction evident in most early years literacy sessions needs to be mirrored for direct instruction for thinking skills. Wilson (2000, p32) suggest the inclusion of the following thinking skills:
- Collecting, sorting and analysing information
- Drawing conclusions from information
- Brainstorming new ideas
- Problem solving
- Determining cause and effect
- Evaluating options
- Reflecting on one’s own progress
- Planning and setting goals
- Monitoring progress
- Decision making
These skills can be explored when the teacher makes their thinking visible and through collaborative discussions when the emphasis is on the thinking not the information. A teacher may state that “…I believe that many problems have more than one solution” after a brainstorming session to explore possible options for solving a mathematical problem.
The teacher’s ability to name cognitive processes is imperative to building a foundation of thinking skills. According to Golding (2005, p37) teachers need to model and name cognitive language so that students can internalise the language and use this for themselves. A teacher may ask ‘ How else could you use this.’ Another way to ask this to allow for the cognitive process to articulate is “ How could you apply this? Tishman et al (1995, p8) suggests that teachers should not dumb down the language they use to make the lesson easier for their students, as this actually prevents them from receiving the important linguistic cues they need to organise and guide their thinking. Costa (pg 355) adds that not only do the students need to know the cognitive language but also the “… procedural knowledge of how to carry out the skill.”
Teachers’ skills in feedback are of the essence of a thoughtful classroom. Godinho and Wilson (2004) explain that teacher’s feedback needs to be minimal during a discussion with students. This doesn’t mean the student’s responses aren’t affirmed but that the teacher doesn’t over praise as this may silence alternative. Possible replies to students maybe ‘thanks for your contribution’ rather than ‘excellent’. Golding supports this concern about teachers response of ‘great’ to all students responses, thus leaves minimal difference for a reaction to a students insightful response. Teachers need to balance the feedback, also use active listening skills to provide students the opportunity to sort out their initial responses and clarify their thoughts.
One aspect of the role of the teacher is to support the students in making meaning of their thoughts and actions. The process of ‘scaffolding’ can be utilized. The aim of scaffolding is to gradually lead the students to more responsible in their thinking awareness and creative and critical thoughts and to monitor their thinking. During the learning the use of discourse strategies; paraphrasing, recasting and appropriating language to develop effective practices, connecting new thoughts to previous thoughts plus the use of questions, can be used to increase the application of the critical and creative thinking. Adopting these discourse strategies helps create conceptual hooks for making generalized principles. (Tina Sharpe, 2001)
Finally, to capture the whole essence of balanced thinking classroom students the task of the teacher is to teach students the value of thinking. Students who are naturally curious will wonder and explore how the brain functions. Fortunately new research supports this area as more and more is discovered about ‘how the brain works’ and ‘how the memory can store information.’ The exploration of these questions can lead to supporting student’s awareness of their metacognition.
Costa (1991) states that metacognition supports good problem solvers. Teachers can strategically place questions in classroom discussions to help students explore their thoughts. The questions maybe “ why did you wait to respond?’ “What were you thinking when you selected this?” “Why did you change your mind?” “What thoughts helped you change your mind?’ Or “what impact did the noise have on your learning? How did you overcome this situation?” Metacognition asks for students to be aware of their thoughts, regulate and evaluate when complete.
Supporting students to be aware of their emotions and how they affect learning is the role of the teacher in creating a thoughtful classroom. The emotions maybe deep-seated response to emotional memory, a consequence of events at home, linked to challenges or frustrations or a student’s response to the teacher’s emotions (Brearley, 2001). The teacher’s role is enabling the student to take control of how they feel, validate the emotions and use those emotions to achieve success through supportive structures. If the teachers can help students to feel what they need to feel to achieve success and conversely challenge feelings that hinder their thinking. “Emotions are the gatekeepers to the intellect.” Fogarty (2005)
Teachers must have a belief that a student has the potential for cognitive growth and that each students needs, abilities and interests are reflective in the planning for the development of thinking. Wilson & Wing Jan (2008) believe a key role of the teacher in a thinking orientated classroom is to understand each students needs, and use this information to make timely choices about tasks and grouping arrangements. For example, the teacher may identify during circle time that the students lack the ability to justify their choice. This will lead to the teacher modelling and coaching students in this skill over the next week and then re assessing the skill acquisition. The outcome may lead to grouping students for more explicit teaching to develop the skill of justification and continue the coaching of the skill.