Documentation - Tell Show us what you are thinking
One of my biggest 'take-aways' from this round of teaching observations is the need to be explicit in the expectations of the lessons. One big difference between adult learners such as our students and younger students is that adult learners generally need to know just how the work is relevant to them. With younger learners, this is true as well and they always benefit from knowing the relevance of something, but the difference is that adults have control of their own destiny and so will either not do something if the relevance is not clear (for often very good reasons), or will edit and change it to suit their needs. Younger students, and especially primary students are a captive audience and will generally do as asked, even if the purposes are not clear. They don’t have the larger world view to consider when looking at their assignments.
One change that I am making is to demand of students even more documentation of their own activities than I have in the past. A big part of my portfolio approach is the need to document what we are learning. However, I can see from this past semester that we need to do even more, and provide time and opportunities for this activity.
Similar to the time span of discretion, most students do not see the need to do so until they have amassed a certain amount. Only when patterns emerge from the learning, that can 'float' above the actual content of the documents do students start to see the larger value of the documentation. Until this realization, they are too close to their own ideas. Reflection is not always a natural activity and there are better ways and worse ways, or more effective and less effective ways to do so.
This harnesses the cultural forces of artefacts and of expectations. I expect more artefacts from my student teachers. I cannot read their minds and I am not in their classrooms all the time so they need to make their thinking visible through artefacts, journals and details in all forms of documentation.
Documentation processes have been instrumental in allowing the students and us to see what everyone is thinking and they set benchmarks that allow us to see how we have moved forward. The documentation allows us to see not just their prior knowledge but their current thinking and gives a starting point. This allows us to then balance the time needed to set the stage for the content and then we can move forward with the activity as we are all clear on what each other is thinking and believing about our new content. We can then think critically about our own ideas because we can see them in the light of others’ ideas and see where we may have made assumptions or baseless claims.
Assessment & Opportunities
We really need to focus on the opportunities that we create for older students. In terms of seeing the relevance, the more clearly we can create opportunities for them to pursue activities that lead directly towards their own goals, the more successful will be the learning. Even with college students who we might think just need to complete their assignments, have a larger world view and need to see the assignments as contributing their actual lives, not just their academic lives.
We can negotiate with older students about many of the assessment details. In these cases, we then need to be explicit about what we need. For example, we need to tell them that we need a document in a certain form in order to show stakeholders that our students are meeting particular college outcomes, and that these expectations are beyond our control. Then they will be more accepting of an honest and real world view.
In most educational settings, thinking is regularly modeled, but the models are not always appropriate. Opportunities for visible thinking are present anywhere, but we need to work to make the opportunities happen. There are always pockets of opportunity dependent on the teacher’s awareness, pedagogy and interest to think outside of the box and try new things. The challenges are to make opportunities with the framework and culture of the wider educational environment.
Time is a consistent factor in any schedule. Staying around the college campus to talk and socially construct ideas takes time and there needs to be space for such activities to happen. We need to develop an awareness, understanding and acknowledgement of the culture of thinking. We need to focus on providing time and opportunities. For example, a reduction in the number of discrete assessments given to our students would allow a deeper understanding of each assessment. We would also be able to develop each assessment more thoroughly and thus provide a range of thinking models to allow for individual learning styles and needs, especially with older students. In this way, we can encourage people to take the time to think.
The thinking routines explored in the 'Making Thinking Visible' course allow us to embed thinking dispositions into our outcomes and provide a language to facilitate this activity. We can then move beyond the content and employ the content for various purposes. We now have a meta-language to use in our sandpit as we play with the ideas. This is a constructivist view in action that allows the students to think for themselves and feel empowered to actually do so. Their thoughts and views become more valuable because we can see them, share them and build upon them.
The routines are a leverage point for us to generate more critical thinking and extend their thinking beyond what we might normally do. The routines get them to go beyond just what is in their heads. We need to get the thinking out of their heads and on to paper so that others can see it – MTV!
We can position the content at the center of the activities and it creates a way of thinking and focuses our attention in the places that we deem necessary. The thinking routines give us a critical thinking model that spans from early childhood learners to adult learners.