Designing Lesson Plans - Thinking about Thinking
Thinking is one of the top 15 activities that we talk or write about, at least in the English language. We use thinking more than feeling, asking, wanting or telling in our day-to-day vocabulary. At the same time, when I did an informal survey, it showed that what people know about thinking is limited. About 25% of the people just used synonyms for thinking (‘having thoughts’, ‘thinking is a process’, etc.) and only about 1/5th said that thinking was to connect things.
Making connections is at the core of thinking. As educators, the education endeavour, our lesson plans, our learning outcomes should be about making these connections. Look at the two set of letters at the right.
Which one are you more likely to remember for a longer time? Most of us will remember PXNAPLLE for a longer time. And this set of letters seems familiar to us. Maybe reminds you of pineapple, pan, apple, or other familiar words. This familiarity is your brain making connections between this new set of letters to already known existing sets of letters. The second set of letters makes stronger connections to existing memory of pineapple (maybe), and hence we think it is easier for us to remember. So, making connections is an important part of the learning process.
One may argue that this example only takes into consideration the remember and recall type of thinking. And that ‘having knowledge’ is at the bottom of the Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid. I (as many others have) want to argue that the different types of thinking are not a pyramid at all. Yes, different types of thinking exist, but they are not hierarchical. Different types of thinking are used to solve different problems. In the above example, remember and recall type of thinking was needed. But if you had to assemble a table in your house, you are not going to start with attaining knowledge about the table and the tree it came from. You are going to do and start putting the table together. In Bloom’s taxonomy, you would be using application, having skipped some types of more ‘foundational’ thinking. There is limited evidence that thinking is hierarchical. Despite this, the reason that Bloom’s Taxonomy has remained a part of pedagogical vocabulary and practice, is due to its relatability to the school curriculum and expected learning outcomes. Learning practices in schools (most schools in India) are geared toward memorising, recalling, and repeating during assessments. If all teaching is structured to remember and recall, it will be the easiest (foundational) type of thinking. If a student is made to use all types of thinking right from the beginning, the Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid is likely not to hold true. Another criticism of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which I agree with is that understanding is one of the ways to think. I argue that thinking leads to understanding which leads to learning. Understanding is the outcome of thinking. Further, learning and understanding are memories stored in the brain. Learning and understanding is deeper when the connections made in the brain are stronger.
So, thinking is central to understanding and hence learning, thinking is about making connections, and thinking is not hierarchical. If thinking is so critical to the learning process, thinking needs to be made more visible – for teachers, in lesson plans and for students. For teachers it is essential to make the different ways of thinking (Box 1) a part of lesson plans.
To ensure thinking processes are active during a lesson, it is important for teachers and facilitators to create and implement thinking routines (examples in Box 2. For more information on thinking routines, please visit the Project Zero website.
Finally, if the process of thinking is central to learning, it becomes imperative that students know about how learning happens and indulge in the best practices. This will help students understand the lesson plans and the activities in the lesson that they are doing. So that metacognition (thinking about thinking) happens, it is important to nudge students to start by asking questions like ‘Why do you think so?’, ‘What makes you say that?’, and so on. Metacognition in students leads them to think more critically and understand their emotions. I have seen examples of students especially in the middle school, where they sometimes do not know why they do something – it is an emotional response, they do not fully understand that emotion. Asking students and helping them slow down the process of thinking and hence understand their thinking process has been very successful. You can see how this slowing down would help with critical thinking, as well. So, the next time you want to make a lesson plan sit, think and ask yourselves five questions. This will not guarantee a great learning experience for the students, but it will be a step in the right direction.
unboxED is based on multi-disciplinary learning. It offers the child and parent resources to build a growth mindset at home while exploring Literacy and STEM concepts through conversations and creation, and letting kids be kids. These educational boxes have been built keeping in mind the academic and cognitive skills needed at various stages of the child’s development.