Ways of Teaching Thinking: An Introduction to Four Thinking-Centered Approaches Information and Resources: Pictures of Practice, Articles, Information resources Curriculum Design Tools: design tools, classroom resources, instructional materials Communication and Community: on-line feedback, news notes, forums Reflect and Connect: Reflection Journal, Activities, Next Steps
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The Thinking Classroom
The Thinking Classroom Main Menu
Introducing the Thinking Classroom
  1. What is the Thinking Classroom?
  2. What does the Thinking Classroom look like?
  3. Why teach thinking?
  4. Getting Started

What is the Thinking Classroom?

Welcome! This region of the Active Learning Practice for Schools site, The Thinking Classroom, is all about the teaching of thinking. It is a place where critical and creative thinking count! The Thinking Classroom holds that the quality of students' learning depends on how well students think about their work. For instance, students who consistently tend to connect ideas to things they know about, seek hidden explanations, or think about the strengths and weaknesses in their thinking will develop deeper understandings of subjects across the curriculum than those students who don't. Thus, the Thinking Classroom is committed to the following beliefs:
  • Learning is a consequence of good thinking.
  • Good thinking is learnable by all students.
  • Learning should include deep understanding, which involves the flexible active use of knowledge.
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The Thinking Classroom aims to do four things:

  1. Introduce teachers to a number of approaches to teaching thinking.

  2. Justify the teaching of thinking by showing how it can improve student learning and understanding.

  3. Illustrate various ways to infuse thinking into the regular curriculum to enrich learning and activate knowledge.

  4. Provide teachers with an interactive forum to show and share ideas on teaching thinking with the broader teaching community.
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What's does the Thinking Classroom look like?

The Function
The Thinking Classroom is designed to help you put the theory behind teaching thinking into practice. Not only will you become familiar with several approaches to teaching thinking, but you'll also learn how to put your learning into action in your own classroom in straightforward and practical ways.

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The Design
The Thinking Classroom is divided into five sections. Here is an outline of the five sections of the Thinking Classroom region and how they fit together:

  1. Ways of Teaching Thinking: Use this section to orient yourself with a number of approaches to improve student understanding and learning through the teaching of thinking.

  2. Information & Resources: Teachers and researchers come together in this section to provide Pictures of Practice to help illustrate how classroom teachers have infused thinking into instruction in practical and creative ways.

  3. Curriculum Design Tools: This section provides tools and resources to help you design thinking-centered curriculum. The design tools in this section have been used to help a wide range of educators, both nationally and internationally, construct thinking-centered lessons, activities and projects.

  4. Communication & Community: The Community & Communication section provides you with forums to generate and exchange ideas about the teaching of thinking.

  5. Reflect & Connect: This section provides you with the unique opportunity to refelct on your lessons and evolving conceptions of teaching thinking. This section invites you to stand back and review what's important to you about teaching thinking.
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The Features
What You Can Find Inside the Thinking Classroom

  • downloadable sample lessons, units, and activities for cultivating thinking skills and dispositions
  • forums for teachers to collaborate on the design of thinking-centered projects
  • downloadable articles and reference materials on the teaching of thinking
  • thinking-centered instructional tools and materials
  • introduction to several approaches for teaching thinking
  • instructional tools and resources for assessing thinking
  • an innovative region designed specifically to foster transfer and reflection
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What You Can Do Inside the Thinking Classroom

  • design thinking-centered curriculum on-line
  • see how other teachers are infusing thinking into their instruction
  • collaborate on-line with one or more teachers
  • provide and receive feedback on ideas and projects in-progress from other educators
  • learn how to detect and capitalize on the thinking opportunities already in place in your classroom
  • learn how to create thinking connections across subjects and disciplines for deeper understanding
  • attend on-line workshops and courses
  • compile an on-line portfolio of thinking-centered activities and lessons you've designed
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A Practical Profile
Few would argue the value of enriching the thinking culture within the classroom. There are practical matters to consider when designing thinking-centered projects and lessons. Here are a few, general operating principles to consider as you begin to think about creating a Thinking Classroom.

General Goals & Expectations

Creating a classroom with a strong thinking culture encourages students to develop good thinking dispositions, skills, and habits of mind. Instruction focuses on 1) providing accessible and diverse models of thinking, 2) explicitly explaining the kinds of thinking you want to foster, 3) gearing instruction to support pro-thinking interaction between students, and 4) providing feedback that directly informs students on the thinking standards you set.

Good Uses

  • Teaching thinking decreases impulsive, fuzzy, sprawling, and narrow thinking.
  • Teaching thinking can be used as a way to cultivate thinking dispositions.
  • Teaching thinking can be used to deepen understanding.
  • Teaching thinking can be used to foster self-regulated learning.

Age Range

Elementary ages and up. Special attention needs to be given to K-3. At levels K-3, thinking-centered instruction needs to be as concrete and tangible as possible.

Subject Matters

Applies to all subject matters.

Preparation Time

Varies. The amount of preparation time required depends on the scope and scale of your thinking-centered learning objectives. Preparing thinking-centered lessons and units should not take any more time than planning your regular lessons. The difference between preparing thinking-centered lessons and conventional lessons lies within the learning objectives, not the time required.

Homework Uses

Significant. Homework reinforces and expands classroom learning. Thus, assigning thinking-centered homework is a powerful way to support the thinking you are trying to foster in the classroom.

Materials Needed


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Big Messages in the Thinking Classroom

  • Thinking takes time. Build think time into lessons, discussions, and activities.

  • Intelligence is learnable. Communicate that we can all learn to think smarter.

  • Models matter. Provide students with lots of models of good thinking.

  • Language creates meaning. Enrich students' thinking vocabulary for greater precision and understanding (e.g. use words like speculate, reason, deduce, infer, guess, summarize, analyze, etc.)

  • Explanations clarify expectations. Directly introduce, describe, and explain the types of thinking that you are looking for.

  • Detection creates opportunity. Encourage students to be alert to occasions to identify potential problems, to deliberate about a decision, to pursue a new line of inquiry, to consider an alternative cause, explanation, or reason.

  • Investment pays. Create an environment that fosters students' natural inclinations to invest and pursue the thinking opportunities they detect.

  • Feedback informs learning. Self-assessment, peer-evaluation, and teacher evaluation all provide students with valuable information and insight on how well they are thinking and learning.

  • Connections secure knowledge. Encourage students to connect new ideas and learning to things they know about inside or outside of school.

  • Reflection deepens understanding. Provide students with skills and opportunity to become better at observing and managing their thinking.

  • Attitude is everything. Create an educational environment that promotes productive patterns of intellectual conduct.

  • High-order knowledge goes beyond the facts. Focus on the knowledge and know-how of solving problems, using evidence, and discovering lines of inquiry within the disciplines.

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Why teach thinking?

  • New standards are listing critical and creative thinking as required educational criteria for learning across the curriculum.

  • Many standardized tests are being restructured to examine students' capacity to actively use and apply knowledge.

  • The teaching of thinking has been a persistent and noble educational goal for centuries and remains so today.

  • Students do not tend to acquire thinking skills and habits of mind simply by studying regular subject matter in traditional ways.

  • Good thinking leads to deeper understanding within and across the disciplines.

  • Intelligence is learnable, hence it is teachable. As teachers, we are obligated to teach thinking.
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Deeper Rationale
Despite the wide range of perspectives and frameworks in contemporary learning theory, two key messages about the nature of learning stand out. First, effective learning tends to be self-regulated. Effective learners actively take charge of their own learning processes by drawing on their own interests, prior knowledge, and experiences.

The second message is that effective learning involves "going beyond the information given." Students must use new knowledge actively to construct meaning (Bruner 1973). In other words, students must move beyond the role of passive receiver of information and into the role of active participant in their learning. In order to "go beyond what is given," students must think critically and creatively about the topics they are studying. Going beyond the information given might mean students generate an explanation, challenge an assumption, make a comparison, or apply ideas to new contexts. Thinking critically and creatively contributes to effective learning because it helps learners develop deeper and more cognitively integrated understandings of ideas and concepts.

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More about Self-Regulated Learning
Theoreticians are unanimous. The most effective learners self-regulate their thinking and learning. (Butler & Winne, 1995, p. 245.) Research overwhelmingly suggests that learning is most effective when learners have some control over what and how they learn (Zimmerman, 1994). Having some control does not mean students go off and choose any topic at random and do whatever they want with it. Over time, self-regulated learners develop certain critical and creative thinking skills and characteristics that enable them to identify and investigate all sorts of topics in meaningful and fulfilling ways.

A Few Key Points:

  • self-regulated learning can be cultivated

  • students can become proactive about regulating their own learning

  • self-regulated learning helps students develop better understanding of the content they are studying

Self-regulated learners tend to:

  • be purposeful and goal oriented (Linder & Harris, 1992)

  • monitor the effectiveness of their learning

  • respond to both internal and external feedback by adjusting learning behaviors (Butler & Winne, 1995)

  • know that their learning is at least partially driven by their own interests, ideas, or interests

  • be active participants in their own learning process (Zimmerman, 1989)
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More about active use of knowledge
Cognition is a constructive process. Students do not simply take in information and then act on it. More precisely, they perceive and learn through a process of active connection-making. Students build new understandings by weaving what they already know with new information. Overwhelmingly, educational researchers argue against a passive conception of learning. Research recommends a "constructivist conception of learning that recognizes the role of the learner as an active, inquiring, connection-making agent." (Bruner, 1993; Duffy & Jonassen, 1992; Gardner, 1991).

What the research says about cultivating an active conception of learning?

  • an active conception of learning fosters deeper understanding, even if the goal is straightforward retention of information

  • knowledge retained by "passive" learners tends to be inert, only recalled when asked for directly (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1985; Perfetto, Bransford, & Franks, 1983; Perkins & Martin, 1986.)

  • active learners tend to transfer and apply what they learn to new situations (Salomon & Perkins, 1989).
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What Does Good Thinking Look Like?
Here are few examples of the types of thinking skills and behaviors evident in a Thinking Classroom. Notice how each point involves some sort of deliberate "action" around an idea, concept, or topic. The key to teaching thinking is to get students to take cognitive action. Thinking Classroom students tend to:

  • Take think time

  • Generate lots of options when making a decision

  • Look beyond the obvious toward a richer conception of a topic

  • Challenge assumptions and question the validity of given information

  • Find problems and solve them

  • Wonder about deep issues or structure

  • Seek alternative solutions and perspectives

  • Pay attention to detail to achieve deeper understanding

  • Make connections to ideas and subjects students already know about in or out of school

  • Seek hidden causes and explanations

  • Give examples and evidence to make a point

  • Produce reasons and arguments from multiple perspectives

  • Find new and effective ways to apply knowledge

  • Anticipate potential consequences

  • Demand and provide proof

  • Make plans, set goals and standards

  • Anticipate obstacles

  • Use diagrams, graphs, and organizers to illustrate ideas and concepts

  • Detect patterns of thinking

  • Describe strengths and weaknesses in learning
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Getting Started
The Power of Kick-Off Activities
Kick-Off Activities are a great way to enter into new and unfamiliar learning territory. The Kick-Off Activity is designed to get you to roll up your sleeves and begin working with some of the ideas in the Thinking Classroom.

...play the Starting Block

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Next Steps:
The Thinking Classroom Quick Menu

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