Create a thinking classroom for your students
Thinking classrooms are something for which many teachers strive. After all, wouldn’t it be great for students to tackle a problem eagerly, explore variables, and collaboratively come up with a solution?
That’s not always what happens in classrooms, though. Students may attempt to solve problems but give up after a few failed attempts. Sometimes they stop before working their way through all the steps. They stop thinking.
The thinking classroom
Peter Liljedahl developed the Thinking Classroom concept, which originated from extensive research on which teaching methods have the greatest impact on student learning in math classes. Notably, the research focused on teacher and student perception.
Some of the takeaways from Liljedahl’s work are easy to implement.:
- Stand up. As it turns out, there’s a lot to be said for thinking on your feet. Standing up while solving problems helps students remain engaged with the work before them. Standing also leads to collaboration.
- Hint, don’t answer. Most students enjoy working out puzzles, especially if they know they are on the right track. Give enough hints to keep your students on the right path, but don’t walk the path for them.
- Work on erasable boards. Solving math problems is a process, often done by trial and error. By encouraging students to do their work on erasable surfaces, you are assuring them that it’s okay to make changes while problem-solving. Erasable boards suggest that errors aren’t permanent.
Creating a culture of thinking
So how can you get your students to think deeply about the math problems in front of them?
You must create a culture of thinking.
- Make sure that the learning tasks require problem-solving.
- Try random groupings for your students so that they become accustomed to working with skills of varying degree.
- Organize classroom seating so that you can get to the groups easily.
- Tell your students that you will answer only open-ended questions. Refuse to answer yes-no questions because they do not encourage students to keep thinking.
- Allow for collaboration within and among groups.
- Assign approximately five practice questions for each group.
- Grade students on the process, individually and as a group.
Develop a philosophy of learning
The thinking classroom is more than a series of approaches to learning. It’s also a philosophy about learning.
Teachers who commit to building a thinking classroom environment must also consider how they want their students to think about learning. This metacognition is critical for future academic success.
Some of the questions to ask yourself are:
- How can I get my students to develop the flexible skills needed for problem-solving?
- How well am I taking into consideration the diversity of learning styles in my classroom?
- To what degree am I engaging students in thinking deeply while problem-solving?
The object in creating a thinking classroom is to get your students to solve problems by thinking through them until they arrive at a solution. There’s no giving up, only opportunity for completing a task satisfactorily.
Teaching students how to think for themselves and solve math problems is an achievement, for you both.