It’s no secret. Education is a “mile-wide, inch-deep” endeavor with new ideas about what’s best cropping up in district initiatives all over the nation. Some people attribute this to caring deeply about students and wanting what’s best for kids. Others say the world is changing quickly and it is our responsibility to keep up. Whatever the reason it seems like anywhere between two and ten new things are being added into initiative soup each year.
With so many options to choose from, I’ve found myself frequently wondering how do we know what to focus on?
A visit to my school this week from education author and presenter, Eric Sheninger, helped to shine light on the answer to this question. Initially, we were told his purpose was to visit our schools to do a “tech audit” of how the staff is integrating technology in the classrooms. He did come into our classrooms and give us feedback on this, but shared that his real purpose was to look at the level of thinking that was occurring in students, technology or not. Essentially, his driving question was,
“Who’s doing the thinking?”
I love how simple this question is, and yet how impactful it can be on any lesson. It transcends ideology as well as level and gets to the heart of what we want students to do in a lesson, become independent. If we are the ones constantly doing the thinking for students then how will this ever occur?
With adults, it’s the same concept. As an administrator or coach, if I’m the one who’s doing all of the talking during a coaching session or professional learning experience, how am I really empowering my staff to continue the work when I’m not there?
I challenge you this week as you are planning to ask yourself, who is really doing most of the thinking in this work? If it’s more you than them, I encourage you to shift what you are doing, or just don’t do the activity at all.
Some small shifts you can make to increase the thinking in your learners:
- Make sure that students know what the success criteria of the lesson and the work they are doing. Have them evaluate themselves at the beginning of the lesson as well as at the end. If you’re feeling really awesome develop the success criteria with the students. This lessens the number of, “Did I do this right? Am I done?” questions.
- Incorporate more peer discussion where students have to defend their thinking in response to a question, prompt, or idea. Have students share their ideas and invite the class to evaluate the validity of the ideas.
- Talk less. Pause more. Thinking takes time. I know it can be insanely awkward to wait, but when we rescue students at the first sign of struggle we are giving them the message that they are not capable and need someone to rescue them. Pre-plan questions that you might ask to students who you know might struggle with the work so that they get there on their own.
- Plan for activities that have multiple paths of success. It is rare that I have ever seen a worksheet or graphic organizer do this. I know that many curriculum come with these handy options and understand why they are frequently used, but if we are really examining the level of thinking it’s usually just filling in blanks and boxes to win the school game instead of deepening or extending learning.
- Make kids the creators. Some of the best learning I have seen is when a teacher asks students to design something on their own based on their understanding of the learning target.
By focusing more on increasing the level of thinking in our learners, and less on perfecting the latest initiative, we create a system for success that will transcend any subject, learning style or mandate. As Todd Whitaker says, it’s people, not programs that make the difference in education.