OK, dumb question in a world with no dumb questions!  But I have to wonder how many of us teacher-folk really walk the walk.  I’m reminded of this this week by my good friend, Leslie Maniotes who sent me this blog post which triggered a conversation about not only allowing students to think, but actually setting up the opportunities to force them to think.  As I was aware of this, it also triggered some observations of my own practice and the practice of those that I work with.

The fact that a teacher is asking if we should encourage students to think should feel ridiculous.  It’s school, and the students are there to learn.  How can you learn if you don’t think?  But the reality is that so many of our systems and behaviours actually get in the way of that.  Standardized testing has been lambasted to death (or at least I would hope that it had died) as a practice that encourages memorization but not thinking.  If I hear, “but it’s not in the textbook” one more time, I’ll likely find a high precipice to start practicing base-jumping from.  Yet, we get in the students’ way, over and over again.

How many of us set up a class discussion with the hope of getting students to think and explore a topic themselves and then find ourselves jumping in to correct some misguided opinion, or simply add to the discussion?  SHUT UP!!!!  Let the students’ come to those realizations.  Be patient, they will.  Or if they don’t, ask more questions that might guide them, but don’t simply give them the information.  Yes, it takes more time.  Yes, they may get more lost before they find their way.  But in the end, the learning and thinking that they’ve done in the process are much more powerful.  Your job as a teacher, isn’t to provide information, it’s to push the students to their own learning.

How many of us set up that wonderful assignment that actually allows students to connect to a topic in a way that has personal relevance and then push personal agendas on the decisions students make?  Yes, again it takes more time for students to make these connections, but by introducing personal pet interests to the discussion, students may see taking your topic as the easy way out or worse, as the way to please the teacher.  If you truly value student autonomy in the choice of research topics, then SHUT UP!!!! Let them decide.  Yes, you might have curricular demands that you have to meet, but ask the student to connect their interest to the curriculum, don’t do that for them.  Let them think and figure it out for themselves.

How many other ways do we as teachers get in the way of our students’ thinking?  I know that I do it all the time in the interest of saving time or because I act out of old patterns.  I know that this is not a new topic, but it’s on my mind this week.  Descending soap box…

2 thoughts on “Should students think?

  1. Love the raw reflection, Marc. Sometimes we assume inquiry learning is easy, just follow the framework or process and it’ll all pan out. But these subtle moves we make do have a huge impact. So much of our responding in the moment is, even with best interest in mind, often not calculated and intentional. We can get caught up in the moment and begin to impose our thinking on kids work. This is the art of teaching and guiding inquiry. Having intentionality behind what we say- or stop ourselves from saying! This takes serious awareness and work on our parts. We can’t take this for granted as an easy aspect of our role. It’s worthy of our own reflection, conversation and developing strategies or sentence stems that keep us on track.

    Paraphrasing kids thoughts is a great start. Rather than always coming at them with an answer, try to capture what they are saying to you. If they confirm that you’ve captured what they are saying you’ve done a few great things- 1. Bought some thinking time, 2. Helped the student to clarify their intent and meaning 3. Helped you to listen with and inquiry stance instead of reacting.

    I learned this as a coaching strategy in my work with teachers and it also came out in my dissertation study on the third space. The teacher encouraged third space interactions by listening and she would say to the kids ‘Oh, so you’re saying…’ And things like that. That helped her to listen and hear students’ thinking and let them articulate their intent. So much more to say on this… But this is good starting place for us all!!

    So shut up, Marc… And paraphrase! Haha
    Thanks for continuing the conversation here!

    1. Yes, Leslie, paraphrasing is one tool we have to encourage thinking. The NSRF protocols are also ways of structuring conversation such that all are encouraged to say their piece and none (including and especially teachers) are permitted to dominate the exchange of ideas. Ron Ritchhart’s books, Making Thinking Visible and Creating Cultures of Thinking also provide ideas for encouraging students to be active in their learning. Simply asking, “What makes you say that?” or using other probing questions help to get students in the habit thinking rather than parroting or answering questions on pure impossible. It demonstrates that getting the “right” answer first is less important that getting a well thought out answer.
      Unfortunately I think that to truly get to a point where schools can truly value student thinking, there are broader, more systemic issues that need to be resolved. We have to put real value on thinking and change our curriculum, assessment, time-organization and student organization. As many have said, our system is an efficient factory model of education churning out groups of students that are filled, to a greater or lesser extent, with the requisite number of facts stuffed into their heads. But that doesn’t mean that any of them, necessarily, can think their way out of a wet paper bag. The truly great thinkers often succeed in spite of the system, not because of it.

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