Summer Institute



Week 2 of the CTT 2016 Summer Institute is now over – and it was an extremely productive week. CTT usually works with schools on teacher-development projects in which all of the teachers are trained to use the methodology of thinking-based learning to teach their standard curriculum content, in contrast to the methodology pf memory-based teacher-centered learning. The methodology of TBL is student centered, with students working together in collaborative thinking groups, and engaged in active learning based on the use of strategies for skillful thinking that they learn and use to engage with important curricular content. There are about 15 different thinking skills that teachers help students to learn and to use in this way.

The participants in Week 2 of the Summer Institute included teachers familiar with TBL from these schools, but also teachers who had attended Week 1 in which we duplicate some of the basic training in TB we bring to schools, and teachers who have some familiarity with TBL, but have not been involved in an extensive training program like these.

Week 2 helps teachers work on three ways to extend TBL beyond introductory and practice TBL lessons that they engage in in our school programs and that the Week 1 teachers were exposed to. Fernando Trujillo from The University of Granada and Carol McGuinness from Queen’s University in Northern Ireland joined me as the team that facilitated all of this. The participants were teams and individual teachers from many schools involved in TBL projects in Spain, from Gran Canaria to San Sebastian, joined by teachers from Lima Peru, Antofagasta Chile, and Mexico City. The number was ideal for this kind of program – 28 teachers in all, though a few days we had one or two additional visitors.

The first two focal points in the week-long program involved structuring longer curriculum units into project-based learning units (PBL units) around a selection of the thinking skills to yield making the units a richer and deeper thinking and learning experience that just developing the project. The first of these involved developing deep-understanding oriented curricular projects into which appropriate forms of skillful thinking would be employed by the students as the drivers of this learning experience. Two examples that the participants worked on were Antarctica (primary grades) and Martin Luther’s impact on Europe (Eso and above). For example, in each of these students would be gathering their own information, but instead of just searching for it on the internet and recording it, they would have to judge the reliability of the sources of that information, an extremely important critical thinking skill, so that they could justify its inclusion in the project. Or instead of just identifying the various ecosystems on Antarctica, they would analyze how specific components of the environment of a land mass like Antarctica work together to provide a safe and sustainable ecosystem for the specific animal species that inhabit that continent. As a result they would be asked to explain how these ecosystems work. And, of course, these students would also consider what kind of threat global warming poses for these ecosystems.

In the example for secondary students the team suggested that, as a starter, they would have the students come to terms with the contrast between Martin Luther’s interpretation of Christianity and the Pope’s through an extended comparison and contrast that led students to reflect on the similarities and differences, identify which ones were important, and then draw out conclusions from this study that emphasized the big important concepts at stake here – what we call open compare and contrast done skillfully. And of course they would investigate what the world was like in the 16th century of Martin Luther, and grapple with how, in a social system built on feudalism, Luther’s ideas could have had such an extensive impact on major parts of Europe – a historical mystery that called for the most acute thinking to come up with a defensible causal explanation for this phenomenon.

To me the results of this first day of hard work by these teams were extraordinary – not only new thinking-based instructional plans that each of them could carry back to their on schools, but models for restructuring many of the other important instructional units identified in the curriculum of their countries as important learning focusses for students.

But just as important was that this moved us into how they could do the same thing using a new action-oriented problem-solving or project-development unit of the sort now being created as an alternative to text-book oriented learning across Spain and, indeed, world-wide. Fernando Trujillo’s great expertise in the details of the variety of such new action-oriented learning units being developed in Spain, and how teachers were going about this, made the next two days an equally rich experience for the 30 participants. In fact, I am so proud of their results that I have asked each team to write them up so that we can put them on the CTT webpage for everyone to see.

The last two days of the course were designed to be more exploratory – and indeed, the sensitivity and acuteness that the group had developed working in their teams yielded just that. The issue was: how can we make managing our emotions the theme of a project for all students in ways that makes the best use of what we know about the ways that skillful thinking can be used to focus on emotion-related issues. We explored how to help students become aware of what emotions war – not just learning to identify things like anger, fear, etc, — but to become aware that emotions like these, as they manifest themselves in our lives, usually contain “objects” – that is, we aren’t just afraid, but we are afraid of something, like not wanting to run across the street in the rain because we are afraid that we will be injured , or not just feeling happy, but being happy that our team won the game. And we also explored how to help students recognize that emotions also manifest themselves in our behavior – that’s how other people come to know what we are feeling. And finally, that there are usually specific situations that generate the emotions we feel.

But then, we thought about how thinking about what a situation before us is (is there an alligator there or is it just a log that looks like an alligator), and whether what we are angry at (he stole my homework) is correct, could help us reflect on “Should I really be afraid?”, or “Should I really be angry?”, and, of course, how we can help students recognize this and develop the habit of stopping t think when in the grips of emotions like fear and anger. Is that possible?

And, of course. If the emotion is justified, and it makes you want to do something, how can we help ourselves – and our students – to ask: is what I want to do because I am angry the best thing to do here? Sometimes it is (run away from the alligator) and sometimes it isn’t (start a fist-fight with him because he stole my homework). How can we help our students learn to stop and think in these circumstances. We explored the use of fiction and case studies to

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