Designing Effective Projects : Teaching Thinking
Explicit Teaching in Thinking

Think-aloud Examples
Intermediate Phase Example
I’m going to compare myself to an African animal. Let’s see, what are some things I can compare? I could compare our sizes, our homes, what we like to eat, and what we look like. I could also compare the things we’re good at. I’m kind of like a gorilla because I walk on two feet and so do gorillas. I also have black hair like a gorilla. I’m fast like a cheetah and have very strong legs. Cheetahs are also good at sneaking around and attacking things. I’m pretty good at sneaking up on my mom, but I don’t attack her.

Senior Phase Example
I’m going to try to figure out what the symbols are in the book Lord of the Flies. I know that some things in a book represent big ideas and some don’t. They just are what they are. One way I can tell if something is a symbol is if it shows up over and over again in the book. Well, the conch shows up over and over again, and so does the fire. Another way to tell is if something plays an important role in the story, like Piggy’s glasses. I don’t think the plane is a symbol because they don’t talk about it much.

Provide Guided Practice
After you have modelled the skill, give learners some practice using the skill in a structured context. Provide them with a list of suggested steps to follow with a partner or walk them through it as a whole group. It is very important to pay attention to how the learners are performing the skill and give them encouragement and suggestions as they try it on their own. They may need close supervision and lots of scaffolds for support, especially with unfamiliar skills.

For example, if the explicit teaching is on how to evaluate a website, you could give them a list of pre-selected websites to evaluate with a partner using a set of questions. If learners were studying comparisons, you could give them two things to compare using the strategy you have explained. After a lesson on determining symbols, you could give them a short poem, video excerpt, or comic strip and ask them to apply the process of finding symbols to that text. This practice should be structured and should call out those aspects of the skill that you want to emphasize.

Discuss Strategy Use
While it is true that learners can learn a strategy if it is taught to them, there is no guarantee that they will use it spontaneously with appropriate tasks. In fact, research overwhelmingly suggests that learners rarely use what they have learned in new situations, even situations that are very similar to the ones in which the skill was learned. In order for learners to have the information they need to become proficient at using a new strategy, they need to think about it metacognitively.  

The most efficient and independent learners are aware of how they think. By practicing metacognition, learners can learn to control their thinking and make decisions about how to approach complex projects most effectively.


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