Encouraging students to think by creating a classroom where ideas matter, where students find the big idea in multiple sources, and where time is provided for thinking practice.

by Maryann Woods-Murphy

Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


It’s really important to help kids access different kinds of sources with a researcher’s mindset. They need to become investigators by starting with good research questions that they have articulated themselves.

Once they develop that mindset, it’s just a question of giving them a set of tools to explore how to find the answer and along the way, create their own knowledge.

Investigation works best in collaborative teams. But I also want them to be able to reflect independently. To create an environment for thinking, learning, and reflecting in my classroom. it’s important to:

-Model good questioning techniques, push students to think deeper, and model persistence;

-Provide multiple opportunities for students to find the big ideas in many different sources and require them to evaluate those sources carefully.

-Give students ample time, space, and activities to create thoughtful interactions with their peers.

Students need to develop thinking skills, habits, and dispositions that cross all content areas. So when you teach students how to think, you give them essential skills for learning in school and in life.



What I did well…

In this sequence, I like the way that participants engage in paired activities that helped them to imagine ways that they can design a thinking classroom.  By giving groups four words to focus on and incorporate into a “constitution” that reflected their process of consensus building, I modeled ways that teachers can experience what they are hoping their students will go through in class. Furthermore, results from such a process are meaningful in that they truly bring diverse viewpoints and experiences into the products that students create.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

In this sequence, I would definitely give participants more time to meaningfully engage in the process. I notice that I am very focused on getting everyone through the series to be able to achieve the goal by the end of our session. This created some noticeable stress or haste in my voice. I need to slow this down and watch not only my body movements and voice, but to allow more silence to include participants’ voices. I sometimes find that in my desire to energize the group, I can get too enthusiastic and frenetic. I need to continually improve this aspect of my practice. 

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I want to continue to engage participants in thinking activities. This includes more guided conversations, diverse student products, choice and exposure to a wide variety of prompts or texts that will evoke interesting processes and results. One of the aspects of instruction that I find most lacking in schools is the trust of participants to think well together and to give them enough time to do that. What “enough” means is a delicate calculation involving micro decisions that are crucial. Capturing ourselves on film and viewing ourselves both alone and with teaching peers is a helpful way of learning to see what we do well and what needs improvement!



About Maryann Woods-Murphy

Maryann Woods-Murphy is a Gifted and Talented Specialist teacher, working in five elementary schools in Nutley Public Schools in Nutley, New Jersey...

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