Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thoughtful Learning

Last weekend at the SGIS Conference I attended a number of presentations by Art Costa and Graham Watts on how to make learning as full of thought as possible.  The first presentation I attended had 5 themes:
  • Learning to think:  encouraging students to be better and more flexible thinkers.
  • Thinking to learn:  there is no learning without thinking so we must invest our minds in what we are learning.
  • Thinking about thinking:  using metacognition, encouraging students to think about their learning.
  • Thinking together:  the need to collaborate to solve complex problems.
  • Thinking big and long range:  some of our students will still be alive in the 22nd century!
Art and Graham explained why we need a mind shift in thinking:  we need to shift from knowing the right answers, which were the skills and knowledge that were useful to build an economy, to knowing how to go beyond knowing and what to do when the answers are not immediately apparent.  They said "Students must not just be prepared for a life of tests, but also for the tests of life."

Learning to Think
Effective thinking requires us to consider the content of what we are teaching and the concepts.  You cannot separate thinking from conceptual knowledge.  We also need to think bout the type of thinking skills and habits of mind we want students to develop.  When considering the content and concepts they asked us to consider standards, essential questions, prior knowledge, understanding we want students to gain (and how we can know that they understand - for example can they apply, connect explain, demonstrate, interpret, empathize, ask more complex questions?)   Students need to learn to think through the content: powerful critical thinking and original creative thinking are the most challenging types of thinking.  Students often need direct instruction in thinking skills - we can't just assume they know how to analyze or evaluate or draw conclusions.  

Art and Graham said that in order for students to know how to use a particular thinking skill they first have to be able to recognize that skill and be able to use it when they describe the steps they are taking when making decisions and solving problems.  For example we can model the language we want them to use.  Instead of asking "what do you would would happen if ..." we can ask them "what do you speculate might happen ...".  Instead of asking "what did you think of this story", we can ask students "what conclusion might you draw ...."  Instead of asking "how can you explain ..." we can say "how does your hypothesis explain ..."

We need to give students rich cognitive tasks that demand skillful thinking.  We also need to give them a framework so that they can independently break down these complex tasks when solving the problems.

Lauren B. Resnick said "one's intelligence is the sum of one's habits of mind."  Habits of mind involve thinking flexibly and coming up with different options and solutions to problems by applying previous knowledge.  Art and Graham talked about 16 habits of mind that we can use when confronted with problems - for example persisting, listening, risk taking, gathering a lot of data before making a decision, communicating with clarity and precision.  These are transdisciplinary and are the skills that adults need as well s students as they focus on long-range, enduring learning.  Students should encounter these habits of mind repeatedly as they move from class to class so that they learn to apply these skills spontaneously when solving problems.

Thinking to Learn
Art and Graham quoted from Martin Heidegger:  "Learning is an engagement of the mind that transforms the mind."  They said we don't "get" ideas, we "make" ideas.  Students become more intelligent if we treat them as if they are already skillful problem solvers and ask them questions that challenge their thinking.  

Thinking about Thinking
Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of our own thought processes.  To encourage students to think about their thinking we can model this as teachers by thinking aloud to solve problems - verbalizing what is going on inside their heads is a great strategy for metacognition.  They said: "if you don't understand the process that produced the answer, you cannot reproduce the answer."  Therefore students should spend more time describing the strategies they have used to solve problems.

Thinking Together
Even though at schools we often value independent thinking, students know they benefit from working together.  Giving them opportunities to do this enlarges their conception from me to we.

Thinking Big and Long-Range
Art and Graham said "students will need to solve problems that haven't yet been created, using technologies that haven't yet been invented."  There are many eternal questions that need to be asked: what is fair and ethical, why is something good, what is truth, how might we unite and not divide.  Students will need to consider how to solve world problems in peaceful ways rather than resorting to violence.  They will need to be flexible thinkers and look for different alternatives when the people they are working with will be likely to have a range of beliefs, world views and cultures.  They need to be conscious of how what we do affects others - both those we can see and those on the other side of the world.  They will need to think interdependently with a wide global community and how to use and distribute the world's resources.

Finally Art and Graham ended with a quote from Alan Kay:  "The best way to predict the future is to invent it".  They talked about the fact that if we want a future that is more collaborative then we must invent it, be cause the future is in our classrooms today.

Photo Credit:  Thinker by Eileen Delhi AttributionNoncommercial 

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