Increase Thinking: 3 Simple Changes Will Make a World of Difference

Truth:  I am not a “quick thinker.”

Truth:  My mom and dad wouldn’t agree with that admission. Growing up, I was certainly “quick to react,” and I was described as having a “quick tongue.”

Truth: Reaction is what happens in the absence of strategic thinking.

Strategic thinking- thinking that maneuvers, changes, and grows can only happen if we are offered time. Time to process new information, synthesize it with prior knowledge, rethink, rearrange and revise, and decide how to share. In a classroom of 30-40 students, allowing each child that time sounds impossible.

Another truth:  I loathe the silence that happens after I ask my students a question.  For example:

“So, I’m thinking we should take extra time to read independently today since we had to cut it short yesterday.  What do you guys think?”

Blank stares.  A cricket under the bookcase.  Someone’s mom calls, and his phone vibrates.

Me again, kneeling on the carpet, “Seriously guys, do you think you need that time? Or do you have it covered at home?”

Someone raises her hand.

I bite.  I’m desperate.  I cannot wait for think time.

“Can I get a drink?”

Truth: Some students feel uncomfortable being an integral part of their learning.

Truth: Some students sit and wait for us to speak for them.

Truth: We’ve taught them to do this.

Here are few simple changes, to how we ask students to share their thoughts, that will make a huge difference for all students:

  • Wait time:  We all know what it is, but do our students?  Create a thinking culture by explaining why you pause after asking students a question.  Let them know you value “thoughtful thoughts” and not just their first thoughts.
  • Think About It:  Instead of asking “Why do you think…”, ask “Think about why… and photo- sky thinking best onewhen you have your thoughts ready, raise your hand, even if you don’t want to share.”  Once the majority of students are ready, say, “Keep your hand up if you want to share your thinking.”  It’s incredible how quickly this one works.  Students who never want to share, will begin thinking instead of letting others answer. They’ll also start sharing after only a few rounds of phrasing questions this way.
  • Turn and Talk:  It should be named “Turn and Process” because that’s really its purpose.  This strategy is tried and true, but it isn’t used nearly often enough.  I’ve found it particularly useful during lessons in which I’m modeling a certain skill. For example, pausing to allow students to turn and process what they notice me doing as I revise a sentence in a piece of writing, helps them pinpoint the important moves I make as a writer.  They are keen to observe once they realize their observations are important to their classmates.  Turn and talk very clearly places value on all thinkers. As kids are talking, be sure to confer with groups, and catch pieces of what students discuss, so that you can ask them to share out when the class comes back together. Letting them know that you value their thinking will open the door for sharing.

Simple changes.  Big impact.

Looking for a BIG change?

This week students began running whole-class discussions without raising hands.  We’ve worked on it for a couple of months, and this week they’re ready to run with it.  Teaching students how to have stimulating academic discussions without teacher direction at each turn makes a pointed statement to what we value:  their thinking.  More to come on the steps we took to get here.  Thanks to Alfie Kohn and his column ‘Your Hand’s Not Raised? Too Bad: I’m Calling on You Anyway‘ on  It was a reminder that the small changes written about above lead to big changes once students begin valuing their thinking too.

Teachers, what do you do to get every person thinking in your classroom?  I’d love to hear your ideas and tips no matter what grade level- preschool to college!  Thanks!








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s