Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thinking Connections: Learning to Think and Thinking to Learn

Perkins, D.N., Goodrich, H., Tishman, S., & Mirman Owen, J. (1994). Thinking Connections: Learning to Think and Thinking to Learn. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Group.

An Annotation by Jaimee Rojas

Summary/Analysis: Developed in conjunction with the Project Zero Cognitive Skills Group of Harvard University and the Northeastern Regional Educational Laboratory, this program proposes thinking strategies that can be used by educators within the context of their regular curriculum. These critical and creative thinking strategies are interchangeable throughout disciplines and are meant to help our students create and hone long-lasting thinking skills. Using specific skills and strategies, students will learn to practice meta-cognitive thinking and will develop ways to access deeper learning through deeper thinking. Thinking Connections, the name of the program developed by these researchers from Harvard's Project Zero and Northeastern's EdLab, offers educators 3 thinking modules to cultivate a culture of thinking in the classroom. These 3 modules must be introduced and practiced so the authors propose a 12-week timeline, so that each module takes 4 weeks. The three modules: The Mental Management Strategy, The Decision-Making Strategy and Understanding through Design are taught in three steps, a pre-task step, a post-task step, and a second post-task step, with the task being the teacher's task. The Mental Management strategy, for instance, asks students to focus on their thoughts, remember the last time they did a task like the one they are about to do, and form visual images of the task or topic they will be addressing. This allows students to get into a focused state of mind prior to beginning the task. Then, the students complete the task, whether it is taking a quiz, reading a passage, critiquing a peer's work, etc. This strategy seems to work best for skill-based tasks. After they complete the task, the teacher leads the students through the post-task steps: making connections, where students make connections between other areas of study and their own personal lives. Then the second post-task step: thinking about thinking: where students give feedback on the task by identifying what went well and what was hard about the task. This task is meant to empower students: to show them how to be aware of their thought processes and that they have the power to improve upon them. The Decision-Making Strategy (Module 2) uses three powerful questions: What are the options, What are the Reasons? and What is the best choice? and Module Three: Understanding by Design provides a systematic approach to deeper learning and three thought-provoking questions: What are the purposes (of this design)? What are the Features and Reasons? And how well does it work?

These three modules provide an accessible infusion structure for thinking. As an instructor, I can implement this line of questioning in my daily lessons in a project-based environment. Once I teach my students how to use these skills, the art of practicing them will lend itself to deeper learning. I am close to being sold on the program, but the research on whether this program works is thin. There is one brief paragraph on the results of testing this program, which shows it has been formally tested in grades three through six. The results, which I might add are written in the book by the authors, purports the following: that Thinking Connections is very teachable, that students in grades 3-6 respond well, that student scores on thinking skills tests have improved after the full 12 weeks of the program and reinforcement thereafter, and that teachers improve their thinking skills and their teaching.

One useful part of the text is a dialogue between teacher and student an an FAQ for the teacher. I really gained a lot of knowledge from this formula and can see it being useful in my own research as far as how to give the audience useful tips and strategies. The book posts popular questions that have run through my head often, "What do I do when my students have no ideas?" "Sometimes my students' suggestions form improvements in a design are outlandish. how realistic should their ideas for improvements be?" In addition to these questions and scripts, the book offers worksheets and lessons for each of the 12 weeks. The Thinking Connections really is a pre-packaged thinking strategies curriculum that seems easy to implement, but it does make me wonder why didn't these thinking routines become more popular in the education world?


Critical Text/Quotes:
"Teachers have mentioned that they become increasingly aware of their own thinking processes as they work through this programs with their students. Once teachers internalize the steps in the strategies, they know that they, as well as their students, have the power to apply the strategies across the curriculum and in their daily lives. (p. v1)"

"Teaching thinking is an excellent way to integrate different subject matter. Since thinking should be a part of every subject, the teaching of thinking strategies provides an excellent way to connect subject matter to one another. (p. vi)"

"All students can learn to be better thinkers and learners and that they can develop positive attitudes toward thinking and learning. (p. v.)"

"Research shows that students notice differences in praise. if they see big differences, tehy often start focusing on the game of getting praise instead of on the task. Other students may quietly drop out. Fuller and more honest participation results when strong praise is avoided in favor of midly positive acceptance of everyone's efforts. Therefore, a simple 'okay,' or 'good' or 'yes, that's interesting,' is preferred."


Other Sources: (no other sources were given, but the following programs have done extensive research into these thinking routines)
Harvard Project Zero
Northeastern Regional Education Lab

1 comment:

Melissa Han said...

Asking students to reflect and connect to their learning processes is a valuable tool in helping them to engage with the act of learning. So often the skills are isolated without reflecting on the complex processes it takes to arrive to learned skill. I echo your same questions from the book "What do I do when my students have no ideas?" "Sometimes my students' suggestions form improvements in a design are outlandish. how realistic should their ideas for improvements be?" How would you adjust it to fit your students' current thinking processes?

The quote "Research shows that students notice differences in praise. if they see big differences, tehy often start focusing on the game of getting praise instead of on the task. Other students may quietly drop out. Fuller and more honest participation results when strong praise is avoided in favor of midly positive acceptance of everyone's efforts. Therefore, a simple 'okay,' or 'good' or 'yes, that's interesting,' is preferred." is something I've been wondering about too. I've been reflecting on the idea of rewards and punishments lately too. I accept the value in that quote's reasoning and also at the same time wonder is it truly harmful to provide strong praise especially for the students whose lives are often surrounded with either strong punishments and/or no recognition at all? I'm still not sure...still researching that.

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