Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baby Steps in Teaching Thinking

"I don't know" also know as "dunno" and "IDK." There is also "I can't remember," "I don't get it" and "I'm bored." Don't forget the texting, the staring blankly into space, or the talking to friends and passing notes. All of these instead of trying. There are also those students who won't try to answer the question in their books, instead they wait for you to give them the right answer. Don't forget those who do start but put little to no thought into the work. We have all encountered these problems. And sometimes I, and maybe you too, just want to yell THINK!!! But here is the thing, telling a student to think harder doesn't necessarily help, and neither does telling them to think. Sometimes, if not all the time, we need to explicitly teach our students how to think.

Over the school holidays I had the opportunity to attend Spectrum Education's Habits of Mind Bootcamp in Hamilton. One of the things about a great conference is that you come back with a bucket load of ideas, inspiration and a network to support you in doing so. This conference did just that. Inspiration to teach thinking skills by the bucket load!

Now if you aren't familiar with the Habits of Mind, they have been around for a long time now. But they are incredibly timeless and useful in teaching my students to think. They are a set of sixteen dispositions that allow you to scaffold thinking skills into your teaching, or rather thinking dispositions.

Here are some of my teaching strategies that I have been testing in my classroom this term:

I teach year eight maths for lower ability groups. As you can imagine, persistence can often be a problem for students who struggle with maths. For revision sessions I no longer give them lots of questions to practice and then mark the answers afterwards. I give the students a handful of questions with the answer. They have to then keep trying until they get the right answer too, labelling their working with first attempt, second attempt, third attempt. I get really excited for the students when they say "It's hard!" I tell them that means they are really learning and that I am so proud that they keep trying. There are many students who are now happy to share with the class when it took them seven times to get an answer right but they got there in the end.

Taking responsible risks
Even though it is exhausting marking test papers, especially in subjects like science where there is lots of writing, I still insist that my students attempt every question. For some students, writing something down that might be wrong is often a big deal. I now ask students to write RR for responsible risk next to any question where they made a best guess, in tests and in their books. Since more often than not students actually guess partially or completely right, students are definitely learning the value of having a go. By guessing, they are also forcing themselves to consider and even process the information, rather than simply being allowed to give up at the first sign of struggle.

Applying past knowledge to new situations
Write the date and heading, underline it, close the windows, chairs on the desks, pick up the litter, etc. Class room routines can provide opportunities for thinking too. I ask my students to use their prior knowledge of past lessons to get set up for today's. I give them a 5min head start while I do the roll. After 5min I get everyone to stand while I ask questions like, if you have not yet written the date, sit down. I go through my list of expectations like this. Those who are still standing at the end then get a reward (usually a monster point for good learning behaviours on class dojo). Students are thus given the opportunity to manage and think for themselves, rather than classroom routines simply becoming a listening task.