When the Ed Directions coaches started working with schools, they were working with schools that had been identified as “in decline” or “in crisis.” They were given labels because of scores that their students had earned on a very rigorous state assessment of all content areas. As we started working with schools, we discovered that superintendents and content specialists assumed that if students miss questions in a content area, that they hadn’t been taught that content. When we did audits of unit and lesson plans, we initially concluded that the material under discussion had been taught, but we couldn’t prove it had been learned. Later, we found that we could prove that it had been learned, but not to the level required to answer the questions that the students had encountered on the state assessment.
As we improved at assessing what the students knew and what they could do with what they knew, we found that many of the students who were judged “not proficient” actually knew much of the content being tested, but they had never been required to:
- Think to the level required.
- Follow through multiple thinking steps to get to the answer of a question.
- Answer an open response question that required not just a correct answer, but an answer supported with reasons and evidence that the student had to provide from long-term memory.
We also found that “thinking” is not a monolithic study. Questions require critical and creative thinking, inductive and deductive reasoning, habits of mind such as seeking clarity and completing task sets, and complex thinking processes required in decision-making – making judgments in strategic planning. Not only is thinking required, but multiple thinking steps are embedded in every question in every discipline on the state test.
The chart below shows some of the most important characteristics for critical thinking.
|Characteristics Required for Proficiency in Critical Thinking
|Current Tools Available
|Usable in Regular School Setting
|Usable in VI or NTI Setting
|Mastery of appropriate grade level reading and listening skills that enable the student to acquire information, get directions, and initiate planning answers and/or processes
|A positive attitude about thinking and thoughtful habits of mind
|A positive perception of self as “thinker”
|An accurate perception of what effective thinking is and what it takes to be an effective thinker
|Successful linkage of thoughtful “habits of mind” and thinking strategies to learning, taking assessments, and applying learning in real-world settings
|Mastery of grade level appropriate thoughtful writing skills needed to demonstrate thinking in class work and assessment work
|Successful development of critical and creative thinking strategies (e.g., decision-making or comparing/contrasting)
|Development of the attitude and perception base that supports review and revision of one’s own work or the work of others
|Mastering the “languages” of thinking (e.g., comparing contrast) that trigger thinking in an assessment question and establish the rubric for a proficient answer
|Mastery of the linkage between thinking and the classroom activities and assessment activities expected at a grade level
|Successful thoughtful communication of reasoning, thinking, decision-making, etc.
|Mastery of the different formats and venues of the thinking and thoughtful prompts included in the different state assessments
|Successful reaction to and participation in real-world thinking exercises
Almost every state standards set includes a statement that indicates the state Department of Education considers “thinking as fundamental,” but one has to unpack standards in all the content areas to arrive at the thinking processes and skills that are actually required on the state assessment. In Ed Directions’ tools and in some of our website activities, we address what we call “clusters” of skills that fall under the umbrella of the state “thinking” expectation. These include:
- Habits of mind – seeking clarity, seeking to respond with precision, meeting a rubric’s specifications, etc.
- Reasoning strategies and techniques.
- Critical thinking – judging, decision-making, strategic planning, etc.
- Creative thinking – synthesizing, extending, etc.
There are numerous vendors the deal with thinking in learning and thinking and performing; Ed Directions’ coaches have recommended Marciano, Costa, Paul and others. In addition, Ed Directions has developed its own approach to unpacking the thinking component of standards and tests in building curriculum that delivers not only work that causes the acquisition of content, but work that builds thinking skills and processes and enables thinking about and thinking with content.