"Don’t listen to the person who has the answers; listen to the person who has the questions"
- Albert Einstein
Thinking for Learning
As we reach the halfway point of our last term in 2022 I find myself beginning to reflect back over the year that was, and more specifically our theme for the year, ‘Thinking for Learning’.
The idea behind this theme is rather simple. At AISM, we believe that education is about more than just the transmission of knowledge into the heads of our learners. Yes, knowledge is powerful and knowledge is important. We need more knowledgeable people in the world!
But becoming an ‘educated’ person is so much more than just that. For Ron Ritchhart, Principal Researcher from Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a core purpose of education is helping our children develop what he calls ‘Intellectual Character’. By this, he means that as educators we should direct much of our attention towards helping our learners become more creative, curious, analytical, and healthily sceptical, to be better listeners, able to justify, and keen to consider ideas from a variety of different perspectives.
This is what we do at AISM. Whatever we teach, we teach it in a way that helps our students develop these dispositions. It is part of what makes us so very unique. When you step inside our classrooms, you’ll find our teachers using what we call ‘thinking routines’ - content-free cognitive scaffolds that enable us to put thinking front and centre in the learning experience. By using these thinking routines, we teach our children how to think. They learn how to learn. And by ‘thinking for learning’, they also develop a deeper understanding of what they learn. They are more likely to value learning for the sake of learning, not just working for the sake of examinations.
With this in mind, I thought you’d like to read about five guiding principles which are at the heart of our culture of thinking here at AISM.
1 - For classrooms to be cultures of thinking for students, schools must be cultures of thinking for teachers.
Our teachers at AISM are always learning. This year, they have been variously engaged in Inquiry-Action Projects, Impact Cycle work, Thinking Routines workshops, Mindfulness workshops, Inclusion workshops led by an educator from Harvard, and the list goes on.
If we support and empower the adults in our school to continually grow, innovate, question, take risks, reflect, examine, inquire and learn from and with one another, then teachers create those same conditions for the students in their classrooms.
2 - Students learn best when they feel known, valued, and respected by both the adults in the school & their peers.
Rich, warm, kind and respectful relationships between students and staff are a hallmark of an AISM education. AISM children feel seen and known by their teachers as individuals. And at AISM, we believe in spending time with our students and respect them as human beings. Just take a look at our recent camps for evidence of this!
If we focus on knowing our students, demonstrate that we value them as thinkers and learners, and develop positive relationships with them both individually and collectively; students will become more engaged and more connected to the school community.
3 - Learning is a consequence of thinking.
This is a central belief for us here at AISM. Step into any of our classrooms and you will not see teachers lecturing on and on to students who don’t want to be there.
If we identify, communicate, & scaffold the thinking needed in every lesson, assignment & task; then student understanding will deepen and students will focus primarily on the learning over the mere completion of work.
4 - Learning occurs at the point of challenge.
Great learning isn’t meant to be easy. At AISM we believe learning is often the richest when we are stretched to the limits of our potential. We don’t believe in doing the thinking for them. We believe that tough challenges and tough thinking is what leads to a great learning experience.
If learning tasks are purposeful, contextualised, challenging, and self-differentiated; then all students will experience deep and powerful learning.
5 - Questions drive thinking and learning.
Coming back to my opening quotation, it was Einstein who said, ‘Don’t listen to the person who has the answers; listen to the person who has the questions’. At AISM, we regularly invite our students to wonder at, about and with their learning. We want them to ask questions which stretch the limits of their (and our!) understanding.
If we make effective questioning a hallmark of our instruction and encourage student questioning around ideas, then we will deepen student understanding and promote curiosity.