Making Good Thinking the Basis of Good Learning

Why Do We Need Another Blog in Education? Well, I have a good answer for this question. You can see why in these photos.

What is happening in these 21st century classrooms that was not happening in those 20th century classrooms? And the answer is not that we have physically reorganized the seating plan in these classrooms. Obviously, these students are doing something academic, and something that involves thinking, and they are doing this in groups. But what? And: does what they are doing improve their learning? If so, how is this related to the fact that this is an example of learning in the 21st century? And finally, what is the role of the teacher in all of this?

This blog is dedicated to exploring in depth all the nuances about a specific way of answer-ing these questions that I have been working on since CTT started in the 1980s. It is a whole school approach to learning that involves infusing the teaching of thinking — actually the teaching of a range of important thinking skills and abilities — into content instruction progressively at every grade level so that students develop the habit — “the disposition”– to use good thinking as a basis for answering important questions about what they are learning — and anything else for that matter — when needed. This contrasts with teaching that is based on lecturing and the expectation that what the lecturer says is “learned” by students by memorizing what they are given and giving it back to their teachers on tests. What I call Thinking-Based Learning is an instructional methodology that puts students at the center of the classroom, makes active learning based on good careful thinking prompt-ed by teacher questioning the main objective, and speaks to the needs we all have, includ-ing our students, living and functioning in this century with the internet giving everyone vir-tually unlimited direct access to information — information that sometimes conflicts with other information on the internet, and social media connecting us instantly with a virtually unlimited group of others who may have different ideas from the ones we develop and with no teacher present to tell them where they might look to try to resolve these differences.

As Director of The Center for Teaching Thinking, and since its inception in the1980s, I have been the lead developer of this approach to learning — its content and methodology — as well as of the teacher-development programs that we — again The Center for Teaching Thinking — offer to help other teachers become TBL teachers. But I have not done this alone. I have done this continually working with teachers who have a base of experience bringing TBL to their students to enhance their learning. And into my thinking I have also added my unfolding understanding of how our brain manages our lives and how the practice of good thinking in the world around us has been the basis of human progress. But I have also been sensitive to the other good work that educators have done on more limited aspects of what they also sometimes call teaching thinking. My challenge has been to translate all of this into a classroom methodology that starts with pre-primary teaching and takes us to the highest levels of high school, and that can be managed by all teachers, but also, that can bring about not just deep curriculum learning results but also make natural their continued use and application, often creative, by our students as they move through their lives in this world. So I have tackled how to put critical thinking, creative thinking, and the various other kinds of thinking structures that can guide us, to good use in achieving the content objectives of a school curriculum, and, by analogy, in the way we do lasting service to our students by helping them learn how to make well-thought-out decisions and do careful problem solving.

Well, that is a lot. But for me this is a continual process of refinement and development even though we continue to see great success in schools that have become TBL schools — like the girls school we worked with in Saudi Arabia winning a national award for this kind of change resulting from making TBL the center of their instructional program. But we cannot stop here. We live in a world of change and how we think about things to make our way through it needs to be sensitive to the demands these changes make on us not just as individuals but as members of communities and social networks. And we must be sensitive to these changes in the way we practice TBL in our lives.

For me what has happened over the past few months represent just such a challenge. How can we adapt TBL to a world now dominated by a pandemic that has broken down the traditional social structures and mores that we have so deeply relied on to live good produc-tive lives. So we have tackled how to transform the way we bring TBL to teachers (and to students) without loss in these new circumstances. And to me some of these changes look like they may, in one way or another, be here to stay. To meet this challenge, we have been working since April 2020 on the creation of an effective interactive and learning-based version of the face to face TBL teacher development programs that have been so successful in collaborative social networks. And we have tried to do this without relying on the phys-ical grouping between student and student and teacher and student that has always been present in on-site TBL workshops, always sustained to keep good thinking a social, rather than an individual, process. We now have something special that we will be trying through special online adaptations of our regular on-site interactive programs without losing their social nature. And we will be bringing this to everyone before the end of this year – 2020.

But as I have worked on this, I am realizing that I am not getting any younger, and I am beginning to see the need for a serious retirement. “Can I actually do that?” I wonder. And I am not sure. But — what I will be doing in this blog is focusing on what lies behind TBL in my own experience that has led to the development and success of TBL as a prime 21st Century instructional methodology. In a sense this blog is my own thinking-based and edu-cational practice-oriented biography! My vision of what we should all be striving for with our students — and where it came from — is included in the pages of the writings and videos that you will be able to access through this blog. And I use my own experiences in the classroom and in life as a way of telling this story. But there are also books that I have made sure are available many of which have been the products of the great work of the teachers who have made TBL their methodology of choice in their own teaching. I am in-cluding a list of these books in the first issue of this blog. I hope this blog leads you to explore TBL yourself and to also become an excellent TBL teacher.

Now, let a student in a TBL classroom show you good thinking in action:

Student explaining Problem Solving graphic organizer.
A fifth-grader explains to all the class why her group concluded that telling the truth, even a good thing, would not solve the problem faced by the main character in the story they had read. This classroom is trying to reach a consensus on what this character should do.

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