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How do we create a "thinking" classroom?

Hello colleagues, Peter Liljedahl, upon visiting an 8th grade math class, concluded that the students in the class were NOT engaged in thinking! These students had been given a complex problem to solve (e.g., this "Lewis Carroll problem ... If 6 cats can kill 6 rats in 6 minutes, how many will be needed to kill 100 rats in 50 minutes?). Most of the students  were unable to solve the problem and were eager to give up.

In a recent blog, Building a Thinking Classroom in Math, Liljedahl reports on his experience:

"Once I realized this, I proceeded to visit 40 other mathematics classes in a number of schools. In each class, I saw the same thing—an assumption, implicit in the teaching, that the students either could not or would not think. Under such conditions it was unreasonable to expect that students were going to be able to spontaneously engage in problem solving."

Liljedahl offers interesting steps toward creating a thinking math classroom. He has designed a fairly complex process to support students' to engage in problem solving. As part of the process, he recommends that students work together in small groups at "vertical, non-permanent spaces such as white boards." And teachers should only answer questions that support students to "keep thinking" -- no "stop thinking" questions such as "Is this right?" or "Will this be on the test?".

What is your reaction to these ideas? Could you see this process relating to other content areas? What do you see as essential to creating a "thinking" classroom?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Thinking & Learning CoP


Edward Latham's picture

And teachers should only answer questions that support students to "keep thinking"

I love that suggestion. 

I recently became aware of a nice book filled with 21, very concrete routines that help learners think more critically and deeper into their learning. The book is titled "Making Thinking Visible - How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners". I know that with many of us strapped for time, digging through a book to find a routine you can try in class can be difficult, so I have started making 21 "collectible routines". In this way, I can share a card (1/4 page of paper with steps and descriptions of the routine) with staff in a way that everyone can just focus on that routine for a week/month and then we can discuss what worked well, what we observe, and what challenge were encountered. 

I can see many ways the suggestions in the blog Susan shared are incorporated in the 21 routines in the Making Thinking Visible book, but I find that the step by step guides of how a teacher might concretely approach the development of thinking to be practical for many teachers. I think many teachers would agree that they want students to be able to think or process in efficient ways, and to that end many could further appreciate all 14 suggestions from the blog and yet I think a good number of teachers might wonder "How do I make that happen in my environment though?"

Do others have resources that offer specific methods that help promote thinking skills? I am still just starting to process the 21 routines from the book I mentioned, but I am always looking for more ideas to try smiley

Kathy_Tracey's picture

Hi All, 

I am a fan of the book Making Thnking Visible and I think this webiste provides a highlight of core concepts. Higlights from this website  includ the Thinking Keys routine. The four keys and associated questions give individuals the vocabulary neccesary to think about and discuss their thinking. The four keys are: Form: What is it like?, Function: How does it work?, Connection: How is this like something I have seen before? and Reflection: How do you know?

Basically, the premise begins with students want to learn, but they lack the vocabulary of leanring. Additionally, this connects to brain based learning- connecting new informaation to existing experiences and background knowledge. Some activiites used in making thinking visible include the think-pair-share and graphic organizers as visual aids. 


Edward Latham's picture

Thank you for sharing that website, Kathy! As someone that likes to read digitally more than with actual text, I very much appreciate that much of the content of the book is organized on the site. 

If people take the time to look over this material, specifically the Core Routines, I wonder if we all might consider having a monthly study/practice together? Maybe we pick a routine for a month (January is coming up soon) and for that month we all experiment with getting that one strategy into a routine (something done over and over until it is a natural part of our class). If we focused on adopting one routine a month, by the end of 2018 all of our classes would have 12 routines learners are used to doing every day with us that promote thought, inquiry, communication around thinking and develops metacognition in each learner.  During that month we can have a LINCS thread that we can post our experiences and challenges in. In that way we can all try some new things and feel supported by the all the wonderful people in this network? Thoughts? 

Susan Finn Miller's picture

Hi Ed and all, I love the idea of LINCS members practicing a specific instructional routine that encourages student thinking and then reflecting together as a group!  Why not give this a try?!

Cheers, Susan

Susan Finn Miller's picture

Hi Ed and all, When reading over the steps in the blog I cited, I thought the very same thing, Ed. How do I make that happen? The author's entire process for encouraging thinking is pretty amazing, but is also complex, so I think I would struggle trying to implement all 14 steps.. On the list of steps, however, are techniques that can be tried more easily. Do members agree? Which of the strategies seem most feasible in your context? Which of the techniques on the Making Thinking Visible site resonate for you?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP

John Corcoran's picture

Some of you may think I’m old,

But in my mind I’m not that old

When it comes to reading, I am bold,

Or so, at least, I have been told


And perhaps it’s true that I am bold

Because more people must be told.

A teacher can never really succeed

Unless they teach their students to read;


A student can never really succeed

Until that student knows how to read.

That’s one fact you must never concede:

The fact that we all need to learn to read.


Poem from page 80 of John Corcoran's new book "The Reading Gap: Journey to Answers"

Leecy's picture

John, what fun it is to find you among us sharing wise words and thoughts. I know of your amazing history of promoting literacy and met you in El Paso, TX years ago when I worked to spread Laubach Literacy programs in the city and taught at El Paso Community College. Your visit was a real shot in the arm for many! Please continue to drop in to invite us to reflect on issues! THANKS! Best wishes with your new book. I hope it lights more fires than now rage in CA. 

A student can never really succeed
Until that student knows how to read.
[And that's a fact all must concede... Indeed!] :)