Review: Teaching for Thinking Forum (Part Four)

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
– Attributed to Bruce Lee

Today’s article is the final in the review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum held last week at St Leo’s Catholic College, and focuses on Constantin Lomaca’s concluding presentation titled Towards a Thinking Curriculum. If you have not read the articles covering the previous three speakers, I would recommend you do so, by clicking here for the first presentation. Constantin is the head of Teaching and Learning at St. Leo’s, and opened by thanking everyone for their attendance, and promising that he would push through quickly to preserve the question time that was planned for the end of the evening.

Constantin entry point into the discussion on thinking and philosophy in education was reminiscent of components of the previous speakers’ messages; the current curriculum is crowded, the pressure on teachers stress to “…get through all the content…” and the ensuing stress as we seek to achieve this leads to our students having little time to think and to process the discussions and learning in which they engage; and this on the back of us, as teachers, having only a small amount of time to plan and prepare inside school hours, being forced to take work home far too often.

“By the ‘time our students reach senior school, they have not acquired the tools or dispositions for “thinking through” problems, concepts and ideas independently, which impacts their HSC performance, particularly at the higher bands.”
  Constantin Lomaca

As a primary teacher, I do not necessarily see the end results that Constantin is referring to. What I do see, however, is the effects he is implying when it comes to NAPLAN. Students that do not ‘get’ the answer, or think of the answer within the allotted time (often only a few seconds) and are thus used to being supplied with the answers to ‘problems’ are being asked to think for themselves and this is causing anxiety and stress.

Simon commented in his presentation that “…learning is the product of thinking…” and Constantin extended this statement. To learn something, is to understand it, intrinsically. To be able to transfer the knowledge across domains, and therefore, “…[u]nderstanding is NOT… a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating [or] creating, but a RESULT of them. Thus UNDERSTANDING is the outcome of Thinking” and accordingly, it is only when students have demonstrated with evidence their understanding and reasoning behind a specific concept that our job is done. Constantin’s statement regarding the lack of dispositions for thinking also hearkens back to a comment by Simon ,in his presentation, that without the disposition to think, it is irrelevant how much explicit teaching of thinking [tools] we provide.

Constantin echoed Dr Jensen’s call that thinking skills need to be explicitly taught, and time for authentic practice given, however it is not enough, I believe, to provide time for practice of thinking skills and strategies. The discussions that were engaged in during the evening indicated that there was a general awareness and understanding of this point, and the pedagogical strategies that have been put in place to support the implementation of the explicit teaching of thinking skills and strategies.

Constantin continued his presentation with a brief overview of how St Leo’s were utilising a process to program and plan called Understanding by Designor UbD, to facilitate the inclusion of thinking skills. I had not previously heard of this programming method, but based upon Constantin’s explanation, it does sound somewhat similar to a process that was introduced to me during my undergraduate degree as backward mapping, which is also known as Backward Planning or Backward Design.

Constantin expanded upon how this process was being used to implement teaching for thinking and to make thinking visible within the context of his school, and concluded his presentation by inviting three students to make a presentation based upon their learning during the year thus far. The students demonstrated an awareness of the basic principles of critical thinking skills, and the historical providence from the Age of Enlightenment and other thinkers throughout history, which despite some obvious nervousness from the students, flowed well and was tightly structured.

The Forum at this point, after some closing remarks from Constantin, and an invitation to join himself and others for a meal at a local venue, broke up, with a number of small groups forming to digest, discuss and reflect with each other upon the evening. Given that my mode of travel is motorbike, and that at this point it was around 7.30pm, cold and a little windy, I made the decision to opt out of the dinner in order to make the approximately forty-five minute trip home.

The Forum was, in my mind, absolutely worth attending, and each of the presenters linked in with each other on various points. There was a lot to get excited about, a lot to take back into the classroom and put into action, much to ruminate upon and plans to consider for future action.

I was excited by the results of the two philosophy courses being implemented at Waverley College, and am eager to visit and see some of those classes in action, in order to extrapolate some of the pedagogical strategies backwards to put into place with my Stage Three students. I am also beginning to make explicit thinking time part of my pedagogical practice when asking students to engage with concepts. So far, in the week since the Forum, this has met with mixed responses from students, but I am confident that as it becomes more and more common and that as we continue the conversation about why thinking is critical that more students will get on board with the practice. Finally, I very much want to spend some time considering how, when I do have a full-time class, I can embed the teaching for thinking principles within my class, my pedagogy and my students, to achieve the goal of creating life long learners and thinkers.

I will leave you with a final comment, a reminder that “…learning is the product of thinking…” (Dominic Hearne)that “…good thinking is a disposition as well as a skillset…” (Simon Brooks), that “…we need to explicitly teach and embed thinking skills, including the metalanguage of thinking and metacognition…” (Dr Jensen) and finally, that “…our job is done only when we see evidence of students’ understanding and reasoning…” (Constantin Lomaca).

As always, thank you for reading, and my thanks go to St. Leo’s Catholic College for organising and hosting this event, to the speakers for their time, energy, expertise and ideas, and to my fellow teachers, who gave of their Thursday night to open themselves up to concepts and ideas that can be challenging in the face of needing to “…get through the content…”

3 thoughts on “Review: Teaching for Thinking Forum (Part Four)

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