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.