Thinking About Thinking

On Friday, our Grade 5 team had a chance to plan with our vice principal, principal (for a bit), our instructional coach, our curriculum consultant, and our 21st century learning consultant. This is the kind of professional development that I love! I left the meeting with a head full of lots of new ideas to try and lots of things to consider.

One quote in particular stuck with me through the meeting, and surprisingly was even tweeted out to me by our 21st century learning consultant, Karen Wilson, just as I wrote it down: “Good feedback causes thinking.” (Dylan William) It’s funny as I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as I’ve worked with my student teacher, Yakira Smeltzer. Every day, Yakira teaches at least one lesson, and as I sit back and observe, I also email her some feedback. My feedback always includes specific things that she does well and one or two next steps. Instead of telling her what to do though, I always write down the general topic and then ask her some questions. These questions are the starting point for our discussion, as we look at what she can try next.

I could tell Yakira what to do, but that doesn’t give her the chance to reflect. That doesn’t give her the opportunity to suggest her own solutions and take ownership over what she’s going to try. That also implies that I know all of the answers, and trust me, I don’t. Sometimes it can be difficult not to just give a solution, but asking questions, leads to so much more thinking. I’ve seen that when working with Yakira, and I also see it when working with my students.

When they ask me a question, I often follow-up with one of my own. Students are getting used to hearing questions instead of answers, and they’re getting used to exploring more of their own solutions (if they work or don’t work). Sometimes it can be difficult to sit back and watch people try something that you think isn’t going to be successful, but more times than not, I’m genuinely surprised with the outcome. It’s exciting to listen to students explain their thinking and work through a problem, instead of me just telling them if they’re right or wrong.

In the video example below, these two students did not agree on the next number in the pattern. As they talked it out, they saw how the pattern worked. Asking questions as simple as, “why,” forced them to explain what they did and why they did it. Thinking is all about that!

As I write this post, I think back to the feedback I used to give to my students. I told them all of the things I loved about their work, and I told them specifically what they needed to fix. Sometimes they fixed their work and sometimes they didn’t, but all of the thinking about what to do was done by me. Questions change this. Now the students are forced to do the thinking, and they’re replying to me with new knowledge to share. I now understand what Dylan William means.

How do we do this even more in the classroom? How do we get students to ask even more questions when providing feedback to their peers? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


2 thoughts on “Thinking About Thinking

  1. Aviva…thanks for your wonderful post and rich with examples too. It is so much easier to give students the answers than it is to cause more thinking. For teachers, it is very much a learned skill to keep on asking WHY…WHY…WHY. It’s funny, a 2 or 3 year old child is ALWAYS asking WHY…WHY…WHY…As adults, at first we think it’s cute and then we sometimes move to irritation….and we find ourselves just saying ‘because.’ It’s unfortunate that we often work our kids out of that stage as a part of their perceived growth and development.

    For me, I am learning more and more that I have to revert back to my childhood and embrace the ‘love of learning’ that kids have in every little part of their day and ask my WHY questions. The answer isn’t so much the most important thing as that ‘thinking about thinking’ you have described. I am learning more as I get older and more experienced.

    Thanks again for thinking about thinking and causing your students and learning network to do so as well.

    • Thanks for your comment, Karen, & your push to write this post! You’re absolutely right about young children. Hopefully this new focus on inquiry (in schools around the Board) will have all of us asking more of these “why” questions. It’s great to see what happens as children and adults think more about their thinking!


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