History of CTT

The Center for Teaching Thinking (CTT) originated as an outreach program of the new graduate program on Critical and Creative Thinking created at the University of Massachusetts at Boston in the early 1980s. Dr. Robert Swartz was the founder of this new program and its Director for six years. This program was designed for in-service teachers and led to a Master of Arts degree. It was designed to provide teachers with the knowledge and abilities to infuse instruction in critical and creative thinking into content instruction. Faculty from Philosophy, Psychology, and Education were the core instructors in the program.


The outreach office was created when it was discovered that a great number of teachers who already had a Master’s degree wanted to learn how to teach thinking. It was designed to provide on-site workshops to schools whose teachers were not interested in a Master’s degree but who wanted to change their teaching to include effective thinking as an educational goal. During this period the outreach office of the CCT graduate program served schools across the USA, from the Provincetown Elementary School in Massachusetts to a large number of elementary, middle, and secondary schools in South Carolina to the Elementary Schools in Lubbock, Texas, to the Elementary School in Bellingham, Washington. These programs, though not aimed at a Master’s degree, were exceptionally successful. Dr. Swartz was not only the Director of this office but also the presenter of many of these programs along with other faculty from CCT.


In the late 1980s it was decided that this outreach program should be detached from the MA program and established outside the University as a self-supporting non-profit organization. The official birth of The Center for Teaching Thinking occurred in 1992 when CTT was incorporated as a non-profit organization in the State of Massachusetts. CTT not only continued to offer its program of on-site workshops, now supplemented by one-on-one coaching of the participants as they implemented what they learned into their own teaching, but it also began to sponsor a special summer institute open to anyone. . CTT made a commitment to provide teachers access to the leading figures in the movement to bring thinking into regular classroom teaching by inviting experts in the field to provide week-long courses.


During the period of the early to middle 1990s CTT not only worked with teachers to help them infuse instruction in critical and creative thinking into content instruction, but it began to move some teachers who became committed to this style of teaching into the position of becoming CTT coaches and workshop presenters. The idea was that schools could then develop their own internal mechanism for training new teachers in the techniques of infusion.


Some of these teachers, however, expressed an interest in working with other schools on CTT projects. Teachers such as Sandra Parks, Rebecca Reagan, and Stephen Fischer joined the CTT team to broaden its capability of providing quality programs to the ever-growing network of schools interested in bringing the teaching of thinking into their classrooms.


It was during this period that CTT developed and published the first of the lesson-design handbooks on infusion, the book for the elementary grades, K – 6. Subsequently, the secondary science book was published in the late 1990s.


In 1995 CTT sponsored the 6th International Conference on Thinking (ICOT), held at MIT, drawing more than 1500 participants. By all counts, this conference was a great success.


The MIT ICOT changed CTT. After the ICOT CTT became an organization that not only served schools in the USA, but also schools in the worldwide educational community. The exposure of CTT’s focus on thinking and learning to the wider international community was greatly responsible for this.


Starting in 1995, but dramatically increasing after the Singapore ICOT in 1997, many schools in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, invited CTT to work with them. CTT, for example, engaged in multi-year programs with a number of the important poly-technic schools in Singapore, and, among other things, introduced them to the idea of “problem/project based learning”, which they have now developed into a major framework for teaching thinking. Of course, at the same time CTT continued to serve schools and school districts in the USA. This included a multi-year project with the Naperville, Illinois schools, a similar one with Atlantic City High School, a number of schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, the high school in Monroe, Michigan, 6 schools in Eastern Massachusetts, and numerous others throughout the country.


Unfortunately in the early 2000s many schools in the USA shifted their priorities from teacher and curriculum development to helping students learn how to take and pass tests. As a result, the number of schools CTT worked with in the USA declined. At the same time interest in infusing thinking into content instruction internationally blossomed. Therefore, during the 2000s CTT shifted its programs to serve teachers and schools in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Venezuela, and Canada. And many of these projects involved major universities: for example, King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and the University of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi, UAE.


In most of these projects CTT built in a training of trainers program that led to the certification of a large number of coaches and a smaller number of workshop presenters, most moving their own schools and colleges along as CTT phased itself out.


In 2008 CTT was invited to work with the instructional staff in the Al Tarbia Al Islamia School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, one of the most prestigious girl’s schools in Riyadh. The result was the certification of the whole school as a Thinking-Based Learning model school in 2011. At the same time CTT worked with both the elementary and middle schools in Rockport, Massachusetts, USA, in a four year project aiming at the same goal. These are examples of a major shift in the programming of CTT school-based projects. Instead of working just with the teachers in a school CTT developed an extended program that would lead to a fully integrated curriculum in which each major content topic was taught through thinking-based learning. These three projects have been major successes, with demonstrated and well researched deep improvement in student content learning, as well as significant improvement in a wide range of student’s thinking and writing skills. These schools stand as models for other schools seeking to find the most effective way to improve the thinking of their students and succeed in improving student learning.


In 2011 CTT opened an office in Madrid, Spain to coordinate the large interest in TBL throughout the country. Today CTT has 4 multi-year projects in schools in Spain, among many others, with these schools becoming TBL schools as their goal. CTT was also invited to Arica, Chile to do two intensive six-month projects with over 150 teachers, projects that have spawned 10 new certified CTT coaches from this group, and interest on the part of at least six schools focused on also becoming TBL schools.


This brings us to today. CTT is alive, well, and in great demand, and ready to provide the highest quality school-based staff development programs that will change the schools involved to model 21st Century learning institutions.