Lane Clark Workshop Series

real. thinking learning assesment

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Interview By Rodrigo Santodomingo for Revista Magisterio, May 2015.

Your approach puts the emphasis on the importance of giving students the possibility of self-selecting the most appropriate learning and thinking tools for a particular task. Is it something we need to do progressively through different school stages or this approach can perfectly work at very early ages? Can we expect students to be autonomous learners from the beginning of their school life?

I know it is very reasonable to expect our learners to take agency over their thinking and learning, even from a young age but steps must be put in place should you wish this to become a reality in your classroom.

We need to name the thinking tools, strategies and processes that we are using with our learners when we are engaged in modelling and shared situations. I have two frameworks that I have created, thinkbox (linguistic model) and thinktower (pictorial model) and I explain to learners that these are ‘houses’ for thinking tools. Every time we use a thinking tool, strategy or process, I name it, we find it on our thinking frameworks and we discuss why we are using it and how it is meant to help us with our thinking and learning. We must make a point to explain why we are using a particular tool at a particular time in the learning process; and we must ensure that the tools are made visible, by putting completed examples on the walls for student referencing and support.  Finally, and critically, we must invite our learners to evaluate the tools they have used and set goals to use the tool more effectively in the future or modify the tool so that it works better for them.

Would you say education systems have deliberately neglected the power of good thinking as an essential ingredient of quality learning, or is it more that schools were unable to set up systematic approaches towards the teaching of thinking tools and thought their students would learn to think spontaneously?

I don’t think I would say that anything has been done ‘deliberately’ but many education systems neglect to see the integral relationship that exists between thinking and learning.  Quite simply, if a learner’s thinking is superficial biased, weak, lacking depth or breadth then his learning will be superficial, biased, weak, and lacking depth or breadth.    Thinking and learning are inextricably linked.  Many curriculum documents now identify thinking as a key component along with a number of other 21C skills…unfortunately, if thinking is not statutory within the curriculum it is left to schools and/or individual teachers to address thinking in the design of their instruction.  For me it is a non negotiable.  I am so passionate about the deliberate, strategic infusion of critical and creative thinking skills so regardless of any mandate, these would be addressed in my pedagogic practice – when all is said and done I believe it is a matter of values and beliefs.

What is the best way to teach good thinking: as a different subject, across the curriculum?|

You need to think deeply to learn deeply, and I want learners to see this relationship.  For this reason, in the approach that I advocate, thinking is infused seamlessly into whatever is being learned.  In order to reduce cognitive overload, learners are first provided with ‘worked examples’ so that they see how the tool, process or strategy has been used by other learners to promote thinking and learning; the tool is then used in modelled situations; when learners are ready they begin to use the tool with the teacher in shared situations; until they are enabled and empowered to use the tool or process with their team or independently.  As I talked about earlier, learners are invited to ‘think about their thinking’ and evaluate the tool and its impact on their learning.  Eventually we will consider multiple tools that aid in the same learning job and learners will justify chosen tools.  Through consistent, visible and explicit use of thinking tools, strategies and processes, learners ‘learn’ these tools. Because the tools have been contextualised within the learning process, learners also develop a ‘valuing’ of these tools because they have ‘lived’ how they have legitimately deepened their thinking and therefore their learning.

Can we separate, from a teacher perspective, the processes of thinking and learning? In other words, can schools set different strategies while teaching their students how to think (on one side) and how to learn (on the other), or both processes feedback each other?

Hmmmm…I probably need more time to talk about this then we have!  Firstly, I don’t think teachers actually teach their learners how to learn.  I think they teach learning skills and/or study skills, and for me that is an issue if we are serious about preparing our learners for this complex world in which they live.  Learning is a process and by definition, processes have stages.  If we want to teach our learners how to learn, then they must become cognisant of the stages of the learning process and they must be empowered and enabled to navigate these stages independently.  Of course, we could teach a learner how to navigate the stages of the learning process and he will likely ‘independently, self directedly, fluff about’!  There is another critical side to this equation and that is all about thinking…to learn deeply, you must think deeply.  It’s not simply about independence and student agency over their learning – it’s also about agency over their thinking.  My goal is to see our learners navigating each stage of the learning process at a level of depth and breath commensurate with their developmental and cognitive capacity and this is where the thinking tools, strategies and processes come in.  I provide learners with a pictorial model of the learning process so that the stages are explicit and visible.  They also have their own thinkbox or thinktower model that explicitly outlines the thinking tools, strategies and processes that they can use to help them be great thinkers so that they can be great learners. The thinking part and learning part are addressed, as they should be – in concert.

Is there room for “old school” teaching and learning (master lecture by the teacher, memorizing…) in a 21st century classroom?

If we were really teaching in a way that activates learning, then no, there would be no ‘lecturing’ to the entire class at the same time.  This practice suggests that everyone in the class is ready and able to learn the same thing at the same time and we know that is just not the case.  Ideally, we would provide clinics or small target teaching opportunities that address the specific needs of our learners and we would video tape these so that our learners could revisit them again and again if necessary.  The other advantage to teaching in this way is that the video would be available to learners in the future who may then be ready for that specific learning.

Is that really realistic to think that a teacher can ‘target teach’ only a select number of students?  What are the other students doing at this time?

Of course this sounds like a might be painting a picture of panacea but this is realistic if you have the right pedagogic structures in place.  I teach the teachers that I work with to create learning tasks for their learners that are guided by ‘task cards’. These cards outline the task so that learners can independently direct their own learning.  Audio support is integrated into a digital task cards for our littlies, who may be capable of independence but may not be reading well. Multiple’ task cards’ are provided that direct developmental learning tasks.  Some of the tasks provided address learning at the same developmental level but offer learners a range of modalities from which to engage with the learning.  Some tasks are designed to address greater depth or breadth of knowledge and understanding.  Upon the completion of each task, learners check with the teacher in order to determine, together, their next step.  Because learners are independent in their learning, the teacher is free to provide the ‘clinics’ I referred to.

Do you think ICT are deeply reshaping the way new generations think, or do they basically think the same as we adults with some superficial changes that give the impression of a more profound shift?

Again, I could probably talk forever about ICT and its role in schools and learning…Back in 1991 I was lucky enough to work at a school in Canada that really set the tone for many education systems in regard to how they addressed digital technologies.  River Oaks, in Oakville, Ontario, was one of the first schools internationally that was built from the ground up with new digital technologies in mind.  Every room was connected to the internet, although there was not much on it!  We were all connected via an intranet.  Our learners did their own html coding as they designed websites and multi media presentations using Hypercard.  We had 4 computers in the classrooms of our littlies in jr. kindergarten to year three; 6-8 computers in the classrooms of our learners in years four through six; and 12 -15 computers in the classrooms of our learners in years seven and eight.  Of course I could go on with many  other innovations but here is my point…at that time educators internationally were saying, “If we could only get computer systems in our classrooms, we could really change student outcomes”.  The next wave, a few years later were heard to say, “If we could only get laptops into our classrooms then we could really change student outcomes…”.   Then we heard, “If we could only get smart boards into our classrooms then…”.  More recently, “If we could only get ipads and tablets into our classrooms then…”.   I don’t want anyone to misquote or misunderstand me, I think that digital technologies have the potential to truly leverage learning for our kids but seriously, learning outcomes will not be shifted until we teach differently.  For me, deep learning is activated by deep thinking and leveraged by digital technologies. We need to teach our kids ‘how to learn’ and they need to develop their thinking abilities with the use of thinking tools, strategies and processes.  Digital technologies and non digital technologies need to be self- selected and justified by our learners. “Why are you choosing to use that technology (digital or non digital)? Convince me that this is your best option.”

Can new technologies undermine the ability to think reflexively, and at the same time foster other thinking tools related to the notion of multi-tasking? (and I would add: do you think multi-tasking is a myth or can new generations really perform more than one thing simultaneously with the same level of attention?).

Multi-tasking is in fact a myth.  We can serial task or some call it switch task but whether you realise it or not, each time you change from one task to another you lose a few tenths of a second and this can add up.  There has been a fair bit of research done in this regard since the mid 90’s and findings suggest that productivity can be reduced by as much as 40% by the mental blocks created when people switch tasks.

I think we all switch from one activity to another. This was the case even before some of these new technologies were available to us.  If learners are task switching purposefully then the time lost will be second to what has been gained from the switch.  I guess I am more concerned with the switch when it is not purposeful to the learning – a quick check of my facebook page, a quick check of my phone for the latest text.  This switching is distracting and can really impact the learning negatively.

As far as reflective thinking, well, I don’t think technology is undermining this. I think our students need to learn what it means to reflect; they need to learn why reflective thinking is important; and they need to be explicitly taught skills for refection and metacognition.  These skills need to be recognised as important and infused into the learning process so that our students expect to engage in reflective thinking; they are provided consistent opportunities to reflect on their thinking and learning; they are provided tools and strategies that will enable them to more skilfully employ this thinking…and one day we hope it becomes habitual.  It’s just what they do.

What´s your opinion on the increasing importance of quantitative assessment in contemporary education? Do you see it as an obstacle for the development of good thinking or, more broadly, a skill based education?

Again, this is a difficult question to talk about given the constraints of an interview.  Collecting and responding to data is important if we are serious about informing our practice and doing what actually impacts student outcomes in a positive way.  Unfortunately, what we have at this time are standardised assessments that measure some but certainly not all of what truly matters in teaching and learning. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that we also have standardised tests that measure precisely what we know doesn’t matter but that is story for another time!

Until we find ways to measure the thinking and learning skills, dispositions and processes that we know are critical to our learners today, we will continue to face the great challenge of legitimately infusing thinking and learning into our education systems internationally.

And I should add that this is beginning to happen.  Northern Ireland has made thinking statutory in the curriculum and has endeavoured to identify measurable indicators.  The New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Project (an global partnership involving school leaders, teachers, students and families, across 7 countries, working together to design new pedagogies for 21C teaching and learning) has developed what they are calling the 6C’s (Global Citizenship, Collaboration, Character, Communication, Creativity and Imagination, Critical Thinking and Knowledge Construction). They have created progressions in reference to each ‘C’ for teachers to assess against . I have worked with the Victorian Education Department in Victoria Australia, who represent one of the countries involved, to ensure that each indicator is specific, measurable, observable and written in ‘kid speak’ so that these can be used by learners themselves to direct and evaluate their thinking and learning.  Many other countries and/or states are also recognising that the time has come to revisit what and how we are assessing our learners.


Interview by Rodrigo Santodomingo, freelance journalist for Revista Magisterio, the leader in educational publications in Spain.  May 2015.