Teachers learn to create a thinking classroom

Teachers were advised to move away from question and answer 'ping pong' lessons

Student learning outcomes improve as students develop sophisticated thinking skills and learn how to approach problems and new learning, Federation members participating in a Centre for Professional Learning (CPL) course for K-6 teachers heard.

Course presenters Jenny Williams and Sandra Rowan explored the requirements of the NSW syllabus documents K-6 and made connections to the critical and creative thinking general capability.

Teachers were told that using a thinking routine (a simple set of questions or steps that broaden how to think about a concept) on a regular basis will widen students’ awareness of thinking strategies and increase their curiosity.

Talking is the language of thinking

They were introduced to the idea of a “thinking, not just doing” classroom. Thinking routines such as those developed by the Project Zero team at Harvard University, in particular “See/Think/Wonder”, were explored. Other resources recommended to participants were Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart and David Perkins, and a YouTube video, “PZ Thinking Routines”, which focuses on teaching students a repertoire of thinking skills.

Thinking routines change the culture of a classroom, moving the focus from students doing work to learning.

If students are silent for the whole day the teacher is not maximising the thinking process. Talking stimulates the frontal lobe and aids in processing new information. Class conversations that promote collaboration and shared thinking, make connections between ideas, or reflect on learning and thinking were suggested.

Students need to identify and clarify information, communicate ideas and listen. They need to challenge other students’ thinking and the class should have the ability to do this is a proper, socially acceptable way.

Teachers were told to teach students the meta-language of key learning areas (outlined in syllabuses), so they can use those words in class discussions.

It was also recommended that teachers move away from question/answer “ping-pong”, where the teacher asks a question and then a student answers and then the process is repeated.

Assessment tool

The ideal conversation in a classroom should be like basketball — where the conversation goes around the room.

Course participants discovered that quality questions assist students with deeper learning and understanding of a concept. Teachers were challenged to think about effective, reflective and connecting questions and encouraged to develop such questions to ask during lessons.

The idea that teachers need to give students at least five seconds thinking time when asking for answers to questions, was discussed.

When thinking routines are made visible in the classroom through discussion, they are a tool for improving student outcomes and a way for teachers to know where student thinking is at and therefore where student learning is. A routine will enable teachers to see where to redirect their teaching and what needs to be revisited.

Improving Student Learning by Creating a Thinking Classroom K-6 will be offered again by the Centre for Professional Learning on October 17 at Surry Hills.

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