What is TBL



When Rita Hagevik teaches her students about energy in her 7th grade classroom she doesn’t just ask them to learn basic facts about nuclear, solar, and wind-produced energy from school textbooks. Rather, she teaches them explicitly a basic procedure for making decisions skillfully (considering options, pro and con consequences, the importance of the consequences, and then determining the best choice based on these), and asks them to take the time to use it to develop a well-thought out recommendation about what the best energy source is for their country to rely on as its dominant source over the next 20 years. And as she does this he teaches them how they can listen carefully to the views of others and how they can extend skillful decision making to other important decisions in their lives so that they learn to guide themselves in this important thinking skill.


This is an example of Thinking-Based Learning. TBL is an active student-centered method of teaching that stands in direct contrast to more traditional modes of instruction that emphasize teacher-centered lecturing and students’ reliance solely on memorization in order to pass tests.

Thinking-based learning involves instruction in procedures for doing various types of higher order thinking skillfully (like decision making, compare and contrast, and prediction) and in important thinking routines (like listening carefully to others or providing reasons for accepting or rejecting ideas), that the teacher then asks students to use in thinking about important content that they are learning. When this happens they are infusing instruction in skillful thinking into standard content instruction, the cornerstone of TBL, as exemplified in Rita Hagevik’s’s lesson. They are taught to use various thinking tools as they engage in TBL, like specific question-strategies and graphic organizers, and they learn cooperatively as they work together in collaborative thinking groups. Students then don’t just try to remember things that they have learned to pass tests. Rather, they draw upon a variety of things that they already know and gather new relevant information, and bring these to bear on their present learning task in ways that enrich and deepen their understanding of what they are learning.


The result of TBL, then, is that students learn life-long skills of good thinking and achieve an of understanding of the content they study in the regular curriculum in ways that are richer and deeper that they achieve in more traditional classrooms. And when these students are also taught to guide their own thinking by using specific reflective procedures for thinking about their thinking then using these strategies for skillful thinking has lasting effects on their thinking habits leading to improvement not only in their understanding and ability to use what they learn, but also in the quality of the lives they lead after schooling. TBL has now been used worldwide at every grade level and in every subject area with the same results, and often whole schools adopt this as a coordinated school-wide approach. What more could we want to achieve as dedicated educators?




The Center for Teaching Thinking (CTT) provides and supports high quality consulting services for schools, school districts, and colleges on projects related to infusing the teaching of thinking into content instruction worldwide.

Robert Swartz directs the Center. Art Costa and David Perkins are on the Board of Directors. In 1994 CTT was the sponsor of the Sixth International Conference on Thinking, held at MIT.

In addition to offering a number of special programs on the teaching of thinking, CTT also provides experienced consultants for on-site staff development projects during the school year.

CTT offers certification as a teacher of thinking, as a trainer, and for model thinking-based learning schools, worldwide. It has branch offices in a range of other countries that coordinate offerings using CTT materials and programs and are run by CTT-certified trainers. The main CTT offices are in Newton Center, Massachusetts.


The CTT mailing address is P.O. Box 590607.

Telephone: 617.965.4604.

Fax: 617.795.2606.

E-mail: info@nctt.net. Website: www.teach-think.org.




Please contact our main office for more information.


Robert Swartz, Director

Center for Teaching Thinking, USA

January, 2011