thinking classrooms, thinking dispositions

There’s some strong support out there. Take Ron Ritchhart, for example. This is from Ritchhart’s book, Intellectual Character,

“What if education were less about acquiring skills and knowledge and more about cultivating the dispositions and habits of mind that students will need for a lifetime of learning, problem-solving, and decision-making? What if education were less concerned with the end-of-year exam and more concerned with who students become as a result of their schooling? What if we viewed smartness as a goal that students can work toward rather than as something they either have or don’t? reenvisioning education in this way implies that we will need to rethink many of our well-accepted methods of instruction. We will need to look beyond schools as training grounds for the memory and focus more on schooling as an enculturative process that cultivates dispositions of thinking.” (Ritchhart, 2002, pg. xxii)

It’s a meaningful thing, creating “thinking” classrooms. It takes time and energy, more energy than it takes to get all those “knowledge bits” into kids’ heads. We know it’s worth it. Put on our teacher hats, put on our parent hats, put on our citizen-of-the-world hats, we know it’s worth it. We want to see learners happily undergoing changes that will last a lifetime, who are motivated and empowered, and who have the dispositions that drive them to keep learning.

Ritchhart’s list of “thinking dispositions” is as follows: people in learning environments need to be open-minded, curious, metacognitive, seeking truth and understanding, strategic, and skeptical.

Open-minded: we need to have students “…being flexible, willing to consider and try out new ideas, generating alternative options and explanations, and looking beyond the given and expected.”
Curious. Curiosity “…acts as an engine for thinking. It fuels our interest and helps us to generate questions and pose problems.”
Metacognitive. Metacognition is thinking about one’s thinking. “Research on the thinking of experts and effective learners has shown that these individuals tend to actively monitor, regulate, evaluate, and direct their thinking.”
Seeking truth and understanding. “Truth and understanding must be developed actively through certain mental moves, one of which is reasoning based on the evidence we are able to uncover…Helpful mental moves include looking for connections, exploring applications and consequences, pushing ideas to to the limits, pulling ideas apart, contrasting one ideas with another, and building explanations.”
Strategic. We’re strategic when we’re “planful, anticipatory, methodical, and careful in our thinking.”
Skeptical. We’re skeptical when we’re probing. “Being skeptical means probing below the surface of things, looking for proof and evidence, and not accepting things at face value.” (Ritchhart, 2002,)

Acceptance of Ritchhart’s list would lead us to view education as not at all primarily about accumulation of knowledge-bits, but rather about attending to learners’ development as whole selves, as active, aware, caring, motivated learners. Nurturing and cultivating a “culture of thinking” in our schools is wholly different than having kids recite or parrot knowledge-bits we choose for them to memorize.

It requires shifting perspectives to something qualitatively different, in which to a great extent you hand the reins to the kids—while guiding them, of course. We have to let the students have ownership of their learning. Teachers are watching, encouraging, listening, providing feedback, and helping along the development of metacognitive skills at each stage of the way. Creating a culture of thinking means shifting over a substantial part of our curricula to what’s variously called “project-based education,” “learning by doing,” or a “performance perspective,” all of which emphasize kids choosing for themselves how to extend or apply their knowledge by creating a product or activity of their own.

Views: 212

Comment by samccoy on August 23, 2007 at 2:08pm
Project Zero is so cooool in my book. I am glad to hear about Ron Ritchhart and his new book, Intellectual Character. I will try to get a copy ASAP.

I think the main thing we, as teachers, can do is to stay healthy so we can 'keep em honest'.

There are ways to have a standards based curricula and a thinking, inviting, collegial curricula. The curricula always must be metacognitively grounded. "Gotta think about how we think, so we know to think!!" It isn't always "...better to look good than to [think] good".

Sometimes the admin needs to be, gently, taken back to school ;).
Comment by Laura Gibbs on August 25, 2007 at 1:16pm
hi Connie, I really enjoyed reading this post! one thing I've been thinking about lately is the CURIOSITY thing... pondering my courses has made me realize that while they are doing a pretty good job at promoting creativity and encouraging students to be creative, that's the low-hanging fruit: once I tell the students, YES, you can be creative about this, they run with it.

but how to get the students to be curious? they seem absolutely ready to be creative, even if that is not something encouraged in their other classes...

but with curiosity - hmmmm, I don't know why, but it seems that a lot of my students are truly not curious about things... and I would love to give them the chance (the need? the encouragement?) to be "curiouser" as Alice in Wonderland would say.

so, that is a question I am pondering this year, and the comments about curiosity prodded me think about that some today! no conclusions yet...

here is a blog post about creativity and curiosity that also really got me thinking about this:
McGee’s Musings: It’s not about creativity, it’s about curiosity

I also like very much the motto of this man's blog, which is from Dorothy Parker: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Comment by Connie Weber on August 26, 2007 at 8:57am

What a great question to ponder. Let's ponder about it together this year!

My gut level about curiosity is that it's the natural human state; if it's not there, something has blocked it. We need to work on removal of the blocks. (This sometimes may be beyond us, as basic needs have to be attended to first; hunger, poverty, and anxiety get in the way of being naturally curious. Curiosity could be conceived of as a rather high level, say, on something like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. What do you think?)

Thanks so much for your comments. Let's join thoughts and forces and be inquirers together.
Comment by Sylvia Martinez on September 1, 2007 at 3:41pm
it's crazy that we all "know" what works, what needs to change, etc. and it never happens beyond isolated instances.

What's up with that? Is scaling a good idea impossible?
Comment by Doug Brockbank on September 3, 2007 at 1:37pm
Great question. Scaling seems to be the domain of our institutions, and I can't help but wonder if they are hopelessly broken.

The ideas I read here are inspiring. And, it seems that such creativity may need to be directed toward a total rebuild of the education system itself so that this wonderful thinking has a chance to make a difference on a larger scale.
Comment by Ian Carmichael on October 19, 2007 at 3:55am
This scratches where I itch. The whole 'curiosity' idea is the basis of the constructivists argument from Dewey on, isn't it? Somewhere it got derailed into 'creativity' as the main feature, and then it seemed we settled for tinsel and glitter instead of either. Out of curiosity comes the wish to communicate and thence creativity. (Anyway that's the educational delusion I like - and in a postmodern age, my story only needs to satisfy me!)


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