Designing Effective Projects : Teaching Thinking
Explicit Teaching in Thinking

Discuss How and When to Use a Strategy
Possibly the most important part of explicit teaching is a discussion about how to use the strategy. Teachers need to explain when to use the strategy. They can also solicit from learners how they might use it and what changes they might make.

For example, after a lesson about comparing and contrasting, a teacher might conduct a discussion like the following:

Teacher:   When might you want to compare two things? In maths we compare numbers. How would we do that?
Learner     We say that one number is bigger or smaller than another.
Teacher: Is there another way to compare things in math?
Learner: We also compare shapes by saying some are round or rectangles or some have more sides than others.
Teacher:  When might we use comparing in social science?
Learner: We compare different countries, how the people or the products they make are alike.
Teacher: Good example. What are some tools we might use to compare things?
Learner: We could make two lists.
Teacher:  Good. What kinds of diagrams could we make?
Learner: We could make a chart with two columns.
Learner:    Or what about that kind of diagram with two circles.
Learner:  A Venn diagram.
Teacher:  Good. Are there any times that you compare things while you’re reading?
Learner:   When I read a story, I like to compare the characters to my family and friends. 
Learner:  Sometimes I think about movies I’ve seen when I’m reading a book
Teacher So comparing things can help us do a lot of things.

Presenting ways to use a strategy is important, but so is eliciting ideas from learners. This is all part of developing a “language of thinking” in the classroom, where learners can discuss how they think as well as what they think about.

Coach Learners in the Use of the Strategy
The biggest problems with improving learners’ thinking are getting them to transfer the skills they have learned in one context to another and to use them independently and flexibly when they are useful. The most effective way to accomplish this is by consistent and ongoing coaching in the art of thinking.

When teachers coach learners in thinking skills, they assess their proficiency in a variety of ways such as reflections, think-alouds, checklists, and formal and informal conferences. They provide frequent specific feedback on thinking processes. They praise instances of good thinking, describing them in terminology that learners understand. They remind learners of thinking strategies they have learned in the past and encourage them to modify the strategies to suit different tasks.

Teachers as Thinkers
The biggest challenge to improving learners’ thinking lies within the thinking awareness of the teacher. Teachers are good at thinking, especially in their areas of expertise, but they are often unaware of the skills and strategies they use when they think about academic problems.

The first step for teachers who want to emphasize thinking with their learners is to practice metacognition with their own thinking. By asking themselves questions about how they think, they can become adept at identifying the thinking skills necessary for completing particular kinds of tasks which will help them design explicit teaching in those skills.

To become more aware of your own thinking, record a think-aloud of yourself doing a complex task. The task must be challenging enough so that your thinking processes are not automatic. This means that generally, tasks designed for your learners will be too easy to help you realize how you are thinking. Once you have identified some thinking skills that you use, you can apply them to work that you are asking learners to do.

Becoming better thinkers benefits everyone, learners, teachers, and the communities they live in. Explicit teaching in both the “how-to” and the “when-to” of using different thinking skills and strategies is a teacher’s most important tool in helping learners grow into the kinds of thinkers that will make their world a better place.

Beyer, B. K. (1987). Practical strategies for the teaching of thinking. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.


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