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Thinking About Thinking

Module by: Fred Mednick. E-mail the author

Figure 1: Gathering to share ideas and strategies
Teachers Without Borders conference in Ahmedabad, India
Teachers Without Borders conference in Ahmedabad, India (teachconf.jpg)

Questioning for Learning

Research in recent years has shown that learning improves significantly if students are able to think about their thinking, or, in other words, learn about their learning. Teaching methods that inspire this kind activity and take the time to engage in exercises in which students do reflect upon the learning process results in consistently higher performance.

Examples:

Ask students orally or in writing what ideas they are bringing to the lesson or the problem they are asked to solve. In other words, get them to think about the lesson, rather than march through it.

Write the students' responses on the board so they can all see them.

Ask students to draw circles or maps that help them put ideas together. A circle with one idea that intersects with another circle - is one way - the Venn diagram. Mind mapping is another helpful tool.

Ask students to explore what they have discovered and to link it to other ideas or issues they have been studying.

Refer to the old ideas for comparison to determine value and weight.

Ask students to talk about their new ideas or to explain why an idea of theirs has changed.

When students complete a project or activity, ask them to reflect upon the process of doing it - either in writing or orally.

Practices to Learn About Learning

Here are a two ideas to help students develop their "muscle" for "thinking about thinking":

Idea One

After you do a Cooperative Learning activity with your students or some type of group work, you might ask the students to answer the following questions:

What did you notice about your role or participation during that lesson/activity?

What did you notice about other people's roles/participation?

How can you use this information to help your learning?

Idea Two

Observation/Consciousness Journals

What you notice goes in an "Observation Journal."

(An Observation Journal can be made by simply folding a full-size sheet of paper in half.)

What you notice about what you notice goes in a "Consciousness Journal."

(This, too, can be created by folding a different sheet of paper in half.)

Steps:

  1. Go out of the classroom with your students; ask them not to talk to one another and to stay at least ten-feet apart as you all walk into nature. They are there to simply, quietly observe. Let them know ahead of time that when they return to the classroom, they will write about one thing they noticed while oberving nature - a brief sentence or two about what plain observation they made. ("I saw a tree," is not enough. Invite them to say more: "I noticed a tree whose branches grew straight up towards the sun," or, "I noticed a black bird on a cliff landed ten feet from another bird, and after a few seconds, both birds took off together in the same direction." Simple observations in an expanded sentence.)
  2. After being outside for 10 minutes in silence, motion with your hand for students to come back with you in silence; re-enter the classroom and ask the students to write about the one thing they noticed. Have them write in silence.
  3. After 5 minutes, ask each student to simply read out loud exactly what s/he has written - no verbal additions, comments, or further discussion; simply go around the room and have each students read what they have written.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3, every day, for a week (or longer). Ask the students to write their simple observations in a "notebook". Call this their Observation Journal.
  5. After a period of 1-4 weeks of keeping an Obeservation Journal, ask your students to re-read each of their own observations to themselves, and to write in a different "notebook": "What do you notice about what you notice?" This book is called a Consciousness Journal.

Assignment 5: Students Learning about Learning

Assignment 5: Students Learning About Learning

HOW TO GET TO ASSIGNMENT 5:

One Way

To do this assignment, click on the link in color at the top of the page. When it appears, press "Save" and name the file so that you can work on this assignment "off-line." You can type right on the assignment template. Be sure to save your assignment on a disk or on your computer hard drive.

Another Way

You can also copy the text below, and save it to your disk or computer.

GOAL: To generate and put into practice several ways that you can engage students to think about their own learning process.

GIVE: Feedback to others on their assignments at the TWB Learning Cafe.

Assignment 5: Students Learning About Learning

  1. What 2 specific things can you do to help your students "think about their thinking" - learn about their learning? Write 3 - 4 sentences for each idea explaining how you will provide an opportunity for students to question and reflect upon their own learning in the coming week.
  2. Write about what happened when the students reflected upon their own learning. What did you notice? (2 - 3 paragraphs)

Appreciative Inquiry

This is a process by which students can reflect upon a situtation, their learning, or group dynamics in a way that takes stock of all of the assests and positives of a situation.

Here's an Example of How it Works:

  1. Pose a question such as: "What is an example of a great team experince you have had either in or outside of school?"
  2. Students tell their "peak" team experience stories.
  3. Ask the students what these stories have in common; what qualitites made each of these teams successful or effective?
  4. From these qualities and stories a rich metaphorical image might arise. You might even help students to "see" the metaphorical image such as, "I think the way we're describing our peak team experiences is like a grove of aspen trees. The trees look like distinct units, but really underground their roots are interconnected and the grove is really one living organism." From there you could talk about the strengths that each student brings to your learning environment that effects the whole. Take inventory of these strengths. List them on the board.
  5. Whenever students need to work out a challenge or reflect on how they best learn as a group, they can use the "aspen grove" metaphor (or whatever metaphor arose) and apply it to the new learning moment at hand.

A Different Kind of Focus

We often begin by asking "What's the probem?" When you do that, you focus energy on what we want less of and work to "fix" things. Appreciative Inquiry is about focusing on what you want more of; knowing that what you want more of already exists; and amplifying what strengths and assests a group already has.

With Appreciative Inquiry students are heard, seen, and appreciated. It also enables students to be active participants in the thinking process and encourages them to amplify what strengths or qualities they already possess towards their learning or class environment.

Suggested Readings: (Online Only)

What is Appreciative Inquiry - This business consultant gives a clear introduction to what it is.

Case Western Reserve University - One school's use of Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry Commons- A place to learn more about Appreciatie Inquiry and to connect with others who practice it.

TALK AT THE TWB LEARNING CAFE:

How might you apply Appreciative Learning to your classroom experience? Read what others have said. Add your thoughts. Join your global colleagues in conversation at the TWB Learning Cafe.

HOW TO GET TO THE NEXT MODULE:

Usually, you just click "Next" to go to the next page. When you finish a section, however, (as you're about to do when you finish reading these two paragraphs), you need to click on the "Outline" button, which is on the bottom, right-hand side of the page. Look underneath the blue bar and click on the word "Outline."

When you click on "Outline," a screen will come up that will show you the outline for Course 2. Look for the next section to read and click on the first topic in that next section. For example, when you get to the outline now, look under the next section called "Classroom Management" and look for the first topic in black lettering called "Day One." Click on "Day One."

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