In the March, 2012 issue of the Teacher’s Voice, ATF President Ellen Bernstein discusses in depth the “Promise and the Peril” of the Common Core State Standards. She states, “We won’t have thinking kids without thinking teachers.” So, curious about what a thinking teacher looks like, and whether the opposite is even possible, a Jeff Foxworthy style description began playing in my mind…
If your box of teacher-generated projects is larger than your textbook resource box…you might be a thinking teacher.
If you’ve used up your allocation of photocopies, but it’s only September…you might be a thinking teacher.
If your word wall covers half the classroom…you might be a thinking teacher.
If the “rubrics” section of your filing cabinet is three full drawers…you might be a thinking teacher.
If you backwards plan your family dinnertime…you might be a thinking teacher.
Well, maybe that last one is a stretch. Or maybe it isn’t…inspiring children to learn is what thinking teachers do, and children learn everywhere, even at the family dinner table. How many times have our families shared a meal and a discussion of northern and southern hemispheres, whether “to” is a preposition, or made the water goblets sing like a Franklin Glass Armonica? Thinking teachers know how to blur the boundaries between home and school life such that what makes home special also makes school important.
The phrase “thinking teacher” casts a new light on our “teacher thinking.” Particularly, how do we see the teacher thinking valued in our current instructional climate in relation to the teacher thinking that will characterize the depth of understanding required for teaching to the Common Core? In our current mandate to achieve adequate assessment progress, we have been thinking with fidelity across scripted, scientifically researched based programs of study. Most include ample opportunity for students to show their growing knowledge and skill in a variety of discrete, easily measured ways. Subsequently, teachers have been thinking about the role of discrete skill data within a carefully designed sequence of instruction. Many savvy teachers also have been thinking about creative and interesting ways to gather and display student assessment data and exhibit student learning.
Also, the authors of our current textbook programs have provided numerous options for “authentic” assessment, including pre-packaged rubrics for evaluation of hands-on, integrated projects. Many teachers have thought of unique ways to apply these prescribed, interdisciplinary connections within their own instructional sequence and teach students how to persevere through lengthier projects. And we’ve been helped along the way with student-led conferences at the middle and high school levels, making teacher thinking even more transparent in the community.
However, transparency, cut and paste projects and skill data cannot be the sole depth of teacher thinking. If so, then we’re missing opportunities for transference and understanding, especially with students in need of intervention or with students from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds, who may not perform well on textbook program assessments. If we expect our students to gain college and career readiness attributes, then teachers must be among our students’ first best model of inquiry and resourceful problem solving. ATF President Ellen Bernstein describes this level of teacher thinking when she says, “Thinking teachers, who develop curriculum from multiple sources, will be able to develop in their students the skills, attributes and dispositions that employers want and that our students need. Schools will graduate students who are creative, innovative, adaptable, self-motivated, and able to solve problems and work in groups.”
Thinking teaching plans for transference and depth of understanding while simultaneously planning for individual moments of growth in knowledge and skill. If we’re planning by activity, by quiz, or by project, to what extent are we actually assessing student compliance, the quality of their notes, or socio-economic factors like home access to poster board and the Internet? Our instruction is tantamount to the path toward student proficiency goals and the key to unlock every student’s potential for a life well lived. Let’s not serve up a franchise, short-order menu of instructional fare, but find recipes for the educational equivalent of soul food.
Perhaps an unintended outcome will be that dinner table conversation grows more probing and interesting as well.