When I was working as an ESL Reading tutor a few years ago, I worked with John, a socially fluent English speaker who struggled in all academic areas.
John was sitting at one standardized test or another when he broke into tears. “I don’t know this,” he cried.
“It’s OK, John. Just think about it for a little while then do your best.” I encouraged.
John looked down at the test then started this mantra, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking, I’m thinking,”
It would have been funny if it weren’t so tragic.
And today, about six years after the completion of that test, it dawned on me: We had never taught John to think.
I’m learning so much about helping kids figure out this big idea, “thinking.” It started with our school’s focus on student discourse. From Pre-K through fourth grade, we’re teaching kids to have academic conversations that help them work out their opinions, build on each other’s ideas, and back up their assertions with appropriate evidence. I’ve brought it into our reading where together we work on taking good notes about what we read with our end goal in mind. Planning to compare this book to another? Then we’d better look for commonalities. Looking for the lesson in the folktale? Pay careful attention to what choices the main character makes and the results of those choices. We spend time “whisper thinking” to ourselves, talking with a partner, and sharing ideas with the group. My second graders use words, phrases, and pictures to keep track of their thinking. We’re practicing the difficult process of turning those notes into written responses to reading.
Thinking is harder than it, at first, sounds.
We follow a similar process in Writing and I’m working to make thinking this concrete in
Math and science as well.
I always threw words like “thinking” out and expected kids to just know what that meant when, in fact, I didn’t fully know myself. I’m becoming a much better teacher because I assume less now and try to make everything I say as concrete as I can. Thinking is the mortar that holds all academics together; we’ve got to help kids learn how to mix this foundational ingredient.