The Thinking Classroom

I have been seeing a lot about the “Thinking Classroom” recently on Twitter and then again from an article my mom sent me a few days ago. As things like this start to pop up more and more I consider it a sign that I need to read about it and reflect on its impact.

As I dug into the research, I found that the idea of the Thinking Classroom stemmed from a classroom observation Peter Liljedahl did in which the issue of students not thinking and not problem solving occurred…a struggle I think a lot of teachers face. Ultimately, there was a teacher assumption that students could not or would not think. Too often I hear (and I have been guilty of saying it, too) that students just can’t and won’t problem solve together, that doing ____wont work with my kids, or they just don’t try. But we can’t just assume, or hope, students are going to “spontaneously engage in problem solving” without creating a classroom culture of such. And therefore, the “Thinking Classroom” was born. Liljedahl explains that he wanted to create classrooms that were “not only conducive to thinking but also occasions thinking, a space inhabited by thinking individuals as well as individuals thinking collectively, learning together, and constructing knowledge and understanding through activity and discussion.” (I LOVE THIS!!!) So, he and over 400 K-12 teachers developed 14 pedagogies that should be in place to make this happen.

  1. Lessons should begin with problem solving, engaging tasks. 
  2. Tasks should be given verbally (long instructions/diagrams can be posted), but it needs to delivered verbally.
  3. Visible random groups need to be established every day not strategically set beforehand by the teacher.
  4. Students need to work on vertical non permanent work spaces (VNPS) (vertical white boards, windows, etc).
  5. De-front the classroom and address the class from multiple places in the room.
  6. We need to reflect on and improve the way in which students ask questions. Typically “students ask only three types of questions: proximity questions, asked when the teacher is close; “stop thinking” questions—like “Is this right?” or “Will this be on the test?”; and “keep thinking” questions—ones that students ask in order to be able to get back to work.”
  7. Hints and extensions should be given as a way to engage and challenge students.
  8. For student autonomy, students need to talk more with each other when they struggle before the teacher.
  9. The teacher should pull the students together for debrief when all students are ready to participate.
  10. Students should write notes to their future self about their work/other’s work.
  11. 4-6 practice questions should be given for self-evaluation.
  12. Formative assessment should be frequent and inform students where they are and where they are going.
  13. Summative assessments should be on what you value and about the process of learning.
  14. Report out on data.

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With the image above, Liljedahl explains that these can be implemented in three different stages and interestingly, as I was reading them, I thought exactly the same thing (I love when I’m in line with researchers!!) I can more easily start with a few of the concrete pedagogies before rolling out the others. He suggested, and I agree, starting with #1,#3, and #4. #1 (engaging tasks) does require extra planning and thought, but it will definitely increase the engagement of the classroom. I am wondering when we can find the time to discuss and create these. Does this happen during PLC…ideally I think so to help teachers have the ownership and excitement for it. But how do we create the time? Or do we do some for teachers at the district Curriculum and Instruction level? Or do create some when we are working on our redesigned curriculum with UbD? I’m still thinking about this…so let me know if anyone reading this has ideas! I’m excited to try #3 (visible random groups) and #4 (VNPS) as they are concrete and immediate actions we can take. I fully believe in the power of group work for communication and understanding. I understand the challenges, but I think knowing how to structure and use groups is important to the effectiveness of them. According to the research, within 2-3 weeks the results of using visible random groups were incredible:

screen shot 2019-01-24 at 1.11.17 pm

How amazing would it be to break down social barriers, enable kids to work better with anyone, and build resiliency with this one change! Now onto #4 (VNPS). Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 2.51.18 PMI learned about these a bit ago and tried them in action as a participant of a training. Honestly I didn’t give them much thought until reflecting on it now and realizing such a simple change had some really powerful effects on the teacher and students: they allowed the teacher to observe the learning and conversations better as opposed to students writing just at their desks, they gave students the opportunity to look at other student work (this isn’t cheating…why not give them a chance to learn from each other?), they held students accountable to learning and participating, and also enabled the teacher to be a facilitator in the classroom. Overall, I think coupled together, #3 and #4 can be so helpful for teachers to monitor learning and ensure students remain engaged, active, collaborative and participatory.

I’m excited I found this and thankful to whatever education power of being that kept putting this concept of the Thinking Classroom out there for me to see multiple times and finally read up on. Let me know if you implement any of these ideas and what other suggestions you have for getting started in building such a classroom!


Click to access Building-Thinking-Classrooms-Feb-14-20151.pdf

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