By Ann Melby Shenkle
Asking why leads one into complex thinking. What or who could be the one persistent influence that could make a child “smarter”?
Teachers are especially vital to higher-level thinking skills such as “thinking about thinking”, or using cognitive strategies. All children can learn to use strategies, change strategies as they learn new information, and evaluate whether a strategy works. Children can ask themselves what worked, what was new information, what has changed, and why. Skillful teachers help children find methods to recall, ways to analyze and categorize, and eventually, methods to explore, affirm, create, and evaluate. As the need gets more complex, the strategies do too, like rising platforms.
Teachers know how to build in the steps to the platforms. Good teachers construct exercises that involve both “knowing” and “knowing what to do”. At every level, teachers approach content and cognitive strategies using experiences that are age-appropriate. Teachers construct, build, challenge, and reward. Teachers matter.
Of course, school learning is long. 12 years long. Not every teacher and not every student will connect well. But, by and large, research on human learning tells us that if we don’t have teachers who are able to deal with “metacognition”, children will not have the learning skills they need in a complex world. Anyone can drill the multiplication tables. Anyone can pass out worksheets and “correct” homework. Anyone can assign textbook reading and quiz the reader on what is remembered. And if the content is not remembered correctly, “anyone” can just go on to the next chapter. But there will be no development of applied thinking skills from just “anyone” in the classroom. To be effective, cognitive strategies must be deliberately planned and frequently taught. Skillful teacher-directed experience with cognitive strategies must be integrated into the daily schedule, every day in every year of school.
In a community where thinking skills are desired and respected, teachers will have time built in to their schedules for using cognitive strategies across the curriculum.
Communities make choices. Some communities might think that thinking skills are not needed. Some might think that teachers who use instructional experiences with cognitive strategies are wasting time that could be better spent teaching to standardized tests.
That is where good schools can go in the wrong direction.
A community that values thinking will respect teachers who teach students to learn how to learn. Parents will help teachers develop schedules that allow cognitive applications and creative problem solving. Parents will learn to ask good questions at home, like “What did you learn that was new?” “What did you think at first?” “What changed your mind”? Like good teachers, a good community will give children credit for “good ideas” and for “using strategies.”
The very best teachers are the ones who made you think. Think about that.