As a member of this Online Book Club, you are expected to post to the book blog at least once per week between now and July 11 -- that's six weeks. You should finish your book before then, and you will meet during the Institute in your groups to extend the discussion and plan how to present the book to the others in the Institute.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Teaching of "Training the Mind to Think"

Photo from: http://quotlr.com/image/2968
Throughout the chapter about assessment and critique, I found myself thinking often about how I need to do a better job at teaching and modeling these skills like self-regulation, organization, communication, and others. These skills are incredibly important to help towards "training the mind to think," but I rarely remember being taught how to do them in my own education. I can vividly remember being taught (or told) how to organize my binder or where to write my name for each specific class in middle school, but there were never really options and it wasn’t explained why we needed to do these things – other than the fact that our teacher wanted us to do them in that way. So, I want and need to do more to make these skills clear, obvious, and learnable for my own students, but I’m not entirely sure how to teach them.

However, I’m lucky enough to be in a situation where my colleagues are also trying to figure out the same thing. I teach in International Baccalaureate (IB) schools, and the Middle Years Program (MYP) of the IB emphasizes a number of these skills in something called “approaches to learning” (ATLs), and in the last six months and continuing into next year, my school has been collectively focusing on how we can better teach and incorporate these skills into our existing lessons. The ATLs include the following skill categories and clusters:

My department (social studies) has sort of decided to focus primarily on teaching the research skills of information and media literacy as well as the critical thinking skill set because those are things we expect students to do anyway. They have to evaluate sources, be able to conduct their own research and find trustworthy information, etc. Plus, they then need to think critically through all of that information they’ve found to develop a clear and logical argument based on their evidence. I think we’ll also end up talking about communication, collaboration, organization, and reflection a fair amount as well because those are also areas that we have students do throughout our classes.

I’m still struggling, however, to figure out exactly how to teach these skills. There are a few ideas Lattimer (2014) had that are helpful, but I still need more guidance and help figuring out how to really teach these things, so if anyone has ideas or examples, let me know! But, the things I found helpful from Lattimer (2014) are:
  1. It is incredibly important to give students clear expectations and models, opportunities for self-assessment, and clear feedback and instruction focused on growth. Lattimer (2014) outlines these ideas from McManus (2008) by saying that “students must be able to answer three questions: (1) Where am I going? (2) Where am I now? (3) How can I close the gap?” (p. 112). The expectations and models help answer question 1, giving self-assessment opportunities leads to an answer to question 2, and question 3 is solved when given that clear, meaningful feedback and instruction on what to change, why, and how.
  2. Students need help and guidance in self-assessment, which can be accomplished through a combination of individual self-reflection and goal setting focused on these “soft skills” rather than on achieving a particular grade or mastering a content area. And then these self-reflections should be followed up with some guidance from the teacher, often in the form of a quarterly conference with the teacher to check in and set new goals for the next quarter. Lattimer (2014) outlines this process in an example from a specific teacher (p. 127-128), and it is clear that the conference portion is student-led, but that the teacher has also spent time thinking about the student’s goals and growth with some observations and other feedback.
I hope that next year I will be able to incorporate these things – giving some clear expectations and models and having students self-assess and do quarterly meetings with me to think about growth and goals. However, as I mentioned before, I’m still struggling with the actual process of figuring out how to teach these skills of organization, critical thinking, self-assessment, etc. I hope our conversations next week can help me think through this part of it in more detail, so that I can work towards the Einstein quotation that, "Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think."

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