Words I have been looking for.

Free thinkHere’s a quick example of how my thinking has shifted over the last few months:

While plowing through my literature the other day, I found this beauty of a post by Dennis Harter and Justin Medved, where they talk about re-designing their technology plan for the International School in Bangkok. Oh to be a fly on the wall in that place when the thinking churns out some wonderful ideas like this:

Technology is in a constant state of evolution and change. Access speeds,hardware, software, and computer capabilities all evolve and improve ona monthly basis….Is it not time that we create a curriculum model that understands this fact and works with it rather than tries to control it?

When I hear thoughts like that one, and like this one here:

Instead of asking the question “What technology skills must a student have to face in the 21st century?” should we not be asking “What thinking and literacy skills must a student have to face the 21st century?” These skills are not tied to any particular software or technology-type, but rather aim to provide students with the thinking skills and thus the opportunities to succeed no matter what their futures hold.”

I get excited that minds like these are helping to shape policy for schools somewhere in the world; the fact that it is halfway around the world is a bit unfortunate for my immediate needs, but in this ever-shrinking world, one of the graduates from that school may turn out to play a major role in my life at some point, so I am warmed by their progressive ideas.

They go further and define some essential questions, a la McTighe and Wiggins to really spell out their purpose:


From this, which would have wholly consumed me, I found myself searching for some more research on teaching thinking the thought process. Now, a few months ago, Harter and Medved would have been enough for me, but things have changed, and the world of technology has shrunken for me, so to speak. In dealing with larger numbers of teachers, I have come to realize more than ever that there use of technology has less to do with good teaching than I thought or had experienced before. If you are not convinced of this, go read the T.C. Williams debacle and its various off-shoots.

In my search for more information, I came across Marion Brady‘s article in Educational Leadership “Cover the Material–Or Teach Students to Think?” in which he argues that our obsession with standardized testing is more than just irrelevant, it’s downright criminal to the upcoming generations. One of my favorite discussions in the article deals with the passing along of information from one generation to the next, which Brady describes as language of allusion, the information that allows societies to share complicated information in only a few words for the purpose of sending

students on their way with meaning attached to thousands of ideas like
those, efficient, society-sustaining dialogue is possible.

In most cases we often argue for the need for schools to socialize our children, and, while this need is apparent and real, it may be less necessary for our students to learn the language of allusion of a world whose solution sets don’t serve the future.

Now before I get all future-drunk here, the thinking and the teaching of thinking is what is critical in our schools today. Time is always an issue, as is adherence to state standards when teaching material, but I like what Brady points out near the end of the article: that teaching these skills is not as difficult as we make it out to be. Look locally. As near as your own school environment, opportunities for teaching thinking skills that draw upon the need to transfer the “” skills they have memorized and assimilated from textbooks, abound and present themselves as legitimate modes of inquiry. Some examples:

For example, at the middle or high school level, teachers can pose
myriad school-focused questions related to every field of study: What
kinds of energy power the school? How are these energy sources created
and measured? At what cost to taxpayers? At what cost to the
environment? What kind of waste does the school produce? Where does it
go and how is it processed? What could be done to decrease the school’s
carbon footprint?

Getting back to the ideas of Harter/Medved/Wiggins/McTighe, huge questions that cause learners, whether they be teacher or student, to draw upon their knowledge or ability to acquire necessary knowledge, are key. However, as Brady points out, their location geographically is irrelevant.

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Image Credits: Dennis Harter and Justin Medved

Free Think” from pioforsky’s photostream


8 thoughts on “Words I have been looking for.

  1. Just wanted to let you know that some of us are asking these questions you mentioned. When students who are twelve see that they play a role now in making the world better rather than when they graduate, it is great. Ownership and Success are two components that motivate. Skill development is close behind or simultaneous in all of these “real life problems” being addressed. What has also been rewarding is watching the students move from the school based questions to community based questions on their own. Keep asking these questions, they are essential to positive educational change.

  2. Your post is tremendous feedback for the work we’ve done. We were hoping that by posting as guest bloggers on Dangerously Irrelevant, that we would reach an audience and hopefully strike a chord with more than our blogs normally reach.

    I, too, have grappled with a continued focus on content knowledge over thinking skills in our curricula, even writing about it <a href=”http://dharter.edublogs.org/2007/05/02/choice-or-obligation/”here, <a href=”http://dharter.edublogs.org/2007/05/10/my-turn/”here, and <a href=”http://dharter.edublogs.org/2007/08/21/will-richardson-wonders-about-some-good-stuff/”here. While we continue to push forward with our “I.T.” Curriculum 2.0, what I secretly hope for is leadership acknowledgment (someday) that in fact this may be the most important curriculum of all.

    The great thing about being able to have this conversation on-line through blogs and comments is that thinking becomes collaborative. The fact that we are working in Thailand, doesn’t mean that education can’t grow globally.

    If only that level of connectedness, conversing, and collaboration were happening in student learning!

    Your thoughts in this post are awesome and I love that you took it further, looking into teaching the thought process. Thanks for the Brady article link. I will be reading that next.

    As for TC Williams, I believe that a curriculum of thinking skills that our children need to have will ultimately REQUIRE technology be involved. Schools and more importantly teachers do not have the choice anymore to disregard this. But they also need to be given the human support to make their use successful. Showing work on an LCD projector instead of an overhead is not a measure of good technology use. Talking to kids about the nature of how search engines retrieve sites, or how private information is actually public is.

    Finally, as a side note…I think my career high point may have just happened when you put my name in the same line with McTighe and Wiggins. It’s all downhill from here. 🙂

    Thanks for reading and continuing the conversation.

  3. Thanks for the affirmation. This medium is so great to solidify that we are not all crazy 🙂

    Our big push right now is to move from rhetoric to reality and make these ideas happen. This will be the focus of our next few posts. Your critical friending would be valuable.



  4. Dennis,

    Thanks for the impetus to write, something that is becoming all too few and far between lately. I am in the curriculum department in my district, so I am seeing firsthand how much, or how little, room is taken up by these process skills. It’s a unique marriage that Wiggins and McTighe talk about between “coverage” and “curriculum;” what we struggle with is that balance between what we are mandated to teach and the process and literacy skills that we feel we need to impart to the students. Your post has triggered a reaction of sorts on my end, and I thank you for that; the resources are beginning to pile up on this end, and I hope to push even further.

    Enjoying your stint at DI.

  5. Justin,

    As evidenced by today’s post at DI, you are moving in the direction that most of us ask about when we meet up: “but what have you actually DONE to move your idea into action phase?”

    My wife is a 4th grade teacher, and we discuss often how schools often provide the big idea, or the big-name speaker on PD Day, but the implementation plan is always lacking, as if it’s the last thing put together. With ideas as big as the ones you and Dennis are having, this relationship building-conversation step is crucial for you both.

    Best of luck and keep us posted.

  6. Every day I realise how privileged we are to be working with such a forward thinking team of “TLCs” (technology learning coordinators) at ISB. They inspire us daily. There is no way of avoiding learning with this rich thinking team surounding us. The best part of the day is when reflecting or meeting in the office, the door flies open and TLC Justin asks, “So, what are we on to?” or “Where are we at?” These are our daily just-in-time opportunities that take our reflections down that deep well of learning and get us giddy with thinking and imagination! We are already future-drunk (love that term!) and never want to sober up again!

  7. Great post Patrick. I came to a similar realization a few months back while reading the book “Reinventing Project Based Learning” by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss. One of the questions it asked me to consider in when planning a project was, “What concepts and processes do you want your students to understand?” The word that really caught me was the word “processes.” What processes of the Historian am I teaching in my class? Do I even really know what the Historian’s process is? Can anyone name a History teacher they had in their past that taught them the Historian’s craft?

    My new direction as a teacher is in “doing” History and not just “covering” History. In doing History, and simulating the same processes that present day Historians go through in analyzing and thinking about the events of the past, I believe I am giving my students a better skill set for their future than the one I am giving them now.

    Check out this Google Talks video with Robert Frank. He’s a college economics professor who I believe is redefining the methods of economic instruction in a way that provides an example to when you said,

    “Don’t hold onto the learning, let it go and let your students play with it in a secure environment. Make it real, and engage the hell out of ‘em.”

    Authors@Google -Jeff Frank: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QalNVxeIKEE

  8. @Anthony,
    Thanks for sharing your shift in thinking–from covering history to doing history. Would love to know more about how this is playing out. What’s changed in your day-to-day teaching practices? What tools help your students investigate history and share their analysis? Any colleagues along for the ride (from other disciplines, maybe?), or are you making this shift mostly in your own classroom? Curious what’s helping change take hold.

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