MAKING THINKING TRANSPARENT

“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it”

This is nothing new as shown through a few examples. A great book by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison was published last December, Making Thinking Visible. The fusion of Executive Function and Transparent Thinking probably grew out of Cognitive Theory. Wouldn’t it be cool to sit in on some of the conversations between Socrates and Plato? Then there is Bloom’s Taxonomy, later revised by a group of educators. David Sousa in, How The Brain Learns says, “encourage students to use their innate thinking abilities to process learning at higher levels of complexity.” He suggests an addition to Bloom to make a distinction between Complexity and Difficulty. He says that, often, “teachers are more likely to increase difficulty, rather than complexity, when attempting to raise student thinking.” He posits that the Analyze, Evaluate, and Create levels can be implemented with success at any level of ability. All the examples address transparent thinking.

I agree with Sousa. Making Thinking Transparent is the skill of knowing the minds of our charges, a requirement of good teaching. But the quest isn’t initially for students; it’s for we the teachers. We must seek “Our Answer” first requiring constant self examination of method, style, and curriculum. Good doctors read medical journals for best common practices; we also have journals riddled with theory and practice. When we begin to apply “Our Answer” we’ll find solutions for each student IF we share the details of that process with them.

My personal challenge is to discover ways and means to accomplish this goal. How do I know what my students are thinking? How do I know what my students know? What percentage of each class do I spend in the attempt to discover those answers? Formal assessment of content falls short.  Medina in Brain Rules says, “No two people’s brains store the same information in the same way in the same place.” Can our initiatives vary from person to person? Is that even possible with 15 kids in the class? Some can’t recall facts as well as others, some are confused by questions, some tense up during testing. The use of formal assessment is quite useful in the right hands for specific purposes. But in untrained hands, it is a poor measure of learning. There are many meaningful means of assessment and they are littered all over the net. Just do a search on informal assessment.

Enough theory! Here are two practical applications:

1) When a student is stressed, their fight/flight response is engaged; brain research, through fMRIs, proves that very little learning takes place. Yes, we must allow stress and mistakes to happen, but we should realize that we are not getting an accurate measure of learning.  Conclusion? Keep asking the tough questions, but remain hyper-aware when doing so.

2)  Expose thinking with two seemingly simple questions: [a] What questions do you need to answer to complete the problem? and, [b] Exactly what information do you need to be able to solve the problem? You can see immediate application for those questions. At first glance they seem overly simple, but exploration of the consequences is remarkable in practice.

Those two questions are an easy beginning to a very hard path. Jimmy Dugan from A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!”

That’s a good teacher’s constant condition…deliberately and carefully emphasizing the tough to assist confidence, curiosity, and XYZ.

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Submitted by Bill Chamberlain, Landmark High School Faculty Member and Head of the Technology Department

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