TC² @ 25
Focus for This Month
Success Stories
Next Steps
Media Release
TC² @ 25
Focus for This Month
Success Stories
Next Steps
Media Release

September/October: Setting the Stage for Creating a Community of Thinkers

In my early years of teaching, the worst piece of teaching advice I received was “not to smile before Christmas.” This admonition may seem surly at best, but even at the time I realized that it revealed something worse: an underlying belief that teachers should control the classroom and consequently the learning. Such a belief is antithetical to the very notion of a classroom as a community of thinkers.

The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC²) believes that the best learning happens when we empower students by encouraging their participation in a collaborative and supportive learning environment. We define a community of thinkers as “a collection of individuals interacting in mutually supportive ways to nurture critical reflection.” If that does not describe your classroom, and you wish it did, TC² can help you get started.

Getting started early

The first few weeks of school go a long way in establishing the tone and culture of the classroom. Creating thinking classrooms where students engage in the exploration of meaningful issues is best achieved by setting expectations and by using routines, activities, and strategies that encourage students to thoughtfully weigh options in a collaborative and supportive environment.

Step 1: Establish expectations that help create a community of thinkers

The first few weeks of a new school year are a vital time for creating a learning environment that puts thinking at the core. This is the time to establish expectations, so that students know what behaviours you will support. To get your students started on the right foot, consider establishing some of the following expectations with your students.

  1. Reach your own conclusions. Don’t accept everything you read, or hear, or see as “truth” until you examine things yourself.
  2. Give reasons and examples to support your observations, conclusions, and behaviour.
  3. Treat all people respectfully, even if their ideas seem wrong to you.
  4. Feel free to disagree with people, but never attack them.
  5. Do not merely criticize and complain. Instead, examine the pros and cons of an issue, as well as possible solutions to problems.

Step 2: Engage in routines and activities that support a community of thinkers

The following teaching practices can help your students gain a positive mindset that will lead to greater self awareness and an internalized desire to learn. Consider which of the following routines you already put into practice and which ones you might like to add this year.

  1. Use the vocabulary of thinking as a matter of course during discussions (e.g., evidence, observation, conclusion, hypothesis, argument, and justify) and encourage students to use this vocabulary of thinking themselves.
  2. Consistently engage students in tasks that contain a non-trivial requirement to think.
  3. Involve students in scrutinizing accounts, textbooks, news articles, reports, and other reputable sources of information for bias, stereotyping, overgeneralization, simplification, and inaccuracies.
  4. Regularly solicit student ideas and suggestions for assignments, class rules, and criteria for evaluation, and then be sure to use as many of those ideas and suggestions as possible.
  5. Invite students to explore and defend positions from particular points of view, such as the point of view of a stakeholder or an opponent in a debate.
  6. Involve students regularly in identifying and defending criteria to use in assessing student work and behaviours.

Step 3: Make use of strategies that support collaborative engagement

TC² offers many strategies you can employ in your classroom to encourage students to engage collaboratively in the pursuit of sound answers to provocative challenges. By starting off a new school year with some of these strategies, you can help students engage deeply and meaningfully with the concepts and competencies of the curriculum. This month, facilitators at TC² will be sharing a few of their top strategies.

Worth the effort

With a little effort, you can use the first few weeks of school to start establishing the tone and culture of a classroom of thinkers. No doubt these efforts will pay off in the coming months, as students begin to flourish in the collaborative and supportive environment you have created.

—Garfield Gini-Newman
Senior Consultant, TC²

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