“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
– Attributed to Henry Ford
My previous two articles in this review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum have examined the presentations by Dominic Hearne and Simon Brooks. This article follows on with a review of the first presentation after the networking and reflection break, which was delivered by Dr Britta Jensen of Marist College presenting under the title Community of Inquiry – teaching methodology for the thinking classroom.
Dr Jensen opened her presentation by making a statement that I agree with wholeheartedly; “[t]hinking skills should be explicitly taught and practiced,” a statement which harks back to Simon Brooks’ comment that “learning is the product of thinking.” Dr Jensen produced a non-exhaustive list of thinking skills and some of their applications, which I have included here.
Thinking skills – a non exhaustive list:
- Discriminate between types of questions
- Compose conceptual (divergent) questions
- Give reasons (to justify)
- Make distinctions, suggestions and inferences
- Define concepts and test their definitions
- Examine generalisations
- Identify (underlying) assumptions
- Use examples and counterexamples
- Create and test criteria
- Engage with the meta-language of thought – to reflect on one’s own and others’ thinking moves
You can see how many of these relate to the Four C’s as previously introduced by Simon and also back to the examination of generalisations and of underlying assumptions that Dominic Hearne spoke about in his presentation. The introduction of thinking skills, and particularly the explicit engagement with the meta-language of thought may increase the quality of class discussions (and as an aside, when combined with other strategies, may reduce the incidence of the Hermione effect) and increase the awareness of the thinking strategies which students are engaging with in a variety of contexts, that is, of meta-cognition around thinking skills and strategies which they are employing.
Dr Jensen then produced the brief version of five steps for a community of inquiry:
- Introduce a stimulus
- Generate questions
- Collaboratively question generation on board
- Group the questions based on thematic commonality
- This has the side-effect of creating more abstract questions, challenging students to think more abstractly.
- Collaboratively choose a question/s (from step four) to explore and examine in depth.
Dr Jensen played for the audience the trailer for Sur le chemin de l’école and then we, as an audience, generated questions that arose from the brief clip (included below).
The underlying aim of the exercise was to demonstrate the ease with which a questioning and thinking exercise can be initiated in a classroom. Dr Jensen followed this up by showing us a stimulus that had been used with a Stage One class:
This stimulus generated a significant level of conversation with Stage One students, and the responses were quite articulate and demonstrate a high level of awareness when it comes to questioning and thinking.
There are a range of potential benefits to explicitly teaching and practicing thinking skills, some of which Dr Jensen elucidated on, including the ability to contribute, constructively, to discussions, the ability to refine ideas and arguments upon the reception of new information (a skill which will carry across to the scientific domain), and very importantly, it teaches students to respectfully disagree. This last skills in particular is a critical skill for all students, indeed, all adults, to possess as it will be required, essentially, throughout their lives as a skill to avoid creating arguments and disharmony in various contexts.
Dr Jensen closed with discussion of two schools in Australia, Buranda State School in Queensland and Bondi Public School in NSW, both of whom have introduced explicit teaching of philosophy and thinking, which has had a flow-on effect on NAPLAN results. Dr Jensen was quick acknowledge that NAPLAN is merely one way to measure, and that there is knowledge of any other programs that may have been put in place by those schools that may have assisted with the results.
Dr Jensen provided some links to other resources for anyone interested in further development and using philosophy and thinking their teaching, as well as some links to academic resources:
- Cam, P. (2010). Philosophy for a Thinking Curriculum. Accessed 1 June 2013 via http://www.philosophyinschoolsnsw.com.au/index.php?page=philosophy-fora-thinking-curriculum
- Cam, P. (2015). Educational Disadvantage and the Community of Inquiry (manuscript).
- Jensen, B. (2013). 21st Century teachers should promote thoughtful dialogue: We should establish and sustain communities of inquiry. Poster presented at Department of Education Knowledge Fair, Macquarie University.
- Jensen, B. & Kennedy White, K. (2014). The case for Philosophical inquiry in the K- 12 Classroom SCAN Volume 33, Issue 2 pp 6-11.
- Kennedy White, K. (2013) “How to embed Philosophy into the Crowded Curriculum” presented at the Australasian Conference on Philosophy for Children, Sydney and the International Conference of Philosophy in Schools, Cape Town, South Africa.
- Kennedy White, K. & Jensen, B. (2015) Creating a thinking school: a case study in the value added by philosophy inquiry. To be presented at the International Conference of Philosophy in Schools, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
- Topping, K.L. and Trickey, S. (2007). ‘Collaborative philosophical inquiry for school children: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up,’ British Journal of Educational Psychology 77, 787-796.
I would like to hear from anyone who has implemented explicit teaching and practice of thinking skills in their classroom, and the problems that were encountered and strategies for solving them, as well as the success stories with using explicit teaching and practice of thinking skills.
As always, thank you for reading, and tomorrow will see the last article in this series on the Teaching for Thinking Forum, a review of Dean Lomaca’s presentation under the title Towards a Thinking Curriculum.