Theory

theoryThis section offers various support materials on bringing more thinking in your classroom.

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I would like to conclude with offering a brief checklist for a teacher who is applying the Thinking Task Framework for constructing and conducting his lessons. This checklist includes the three basic components that I discovered while observing expert TA teachers at work.

There is the Thinking Task Framework that is supposed to help a teacher organise and manage the learning process where his/her students will be thinking. Every time a teacher plans his/her lesson following the framework, (s)he is invited to think about three other components by replying three questions:

  1. Is the sequence of instruction I am planning for Step 1 and 2 spiral-shaped? Will it make at least one loop during one lesson?
  2. Will there be space for a qualitative dialogue with my students? Will I meet all the three quality criteria?
  3. Did I think about making my students aware of lesson and task aims? Will they have the chance to contribute to their formulation?

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And the last point concerns a well known but very seldom implemented point. It has many times been highlighted that the focus of educational process should not be placed on getting learners acquire the factual information as on helping learners acquire components of the learning activity (from Russian, компоненты учебной деятельности). There are five main components mentioned in the literature:

  1. set learning aim
  2. define learning task
  3. perform specific actions for doing the task
  4. ensure self control
  5. ensure self assessment of ones own performance

I will pay attention to the first component only – setting learning aims.

Observations of the lessons showed that expert teachers would make students think about learning aims (for the lesson in general and for each task in particular), while non expert teachers would not do it at all. I would like to highlight that ‘making learners set the aim’ is not the same as ‘teacher voicing the aim in the beginning of the lesson’. It means involving students in defining the aims, entering into the dialogue (the quality aspects of which have been discussed above).

To illustrate this third point, I would invite you to check the following video excerpt from a lesson of an expert teacher. This is a lesson of English as a foreign language in form 11. While watching the video you will notice that students are already used to defining learning aims so respond to the task very actively, which will obviously not be the case with the class that is only learning how to do it.

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The first similarity shared by expert teachers can be called a sequence of instruction. In order to understand the point, I would like to pay a closer attention to the first two steps of the Framework (TTF), forgetting for a while about the third step. 

Basically, the first two steps show us the actions the teacher has to perform if (s)he wants to bring more thinking into the classroom. These steps are the following: offer a challenging task (in other words, offer an open ended task or create a problem situation) and when students are stuck, help them build the solution (in other words, develop a method for solving the difficulty). Even though the steps seem straightforward, there are various combinations of how these are administered by teachers.

After analysing lessons of experts, I discovered the following pattern that distinguishes instruction of expert teachers from non experts.
A teacher gives a challenging task number one and students do it. As a result students produce result one (see Fig 2)

 

 

Figure 2. Sequence of Instruction: Step 1

 

I would argue that students always produce something. It is very rare that they cannot do the task at all. A teacher has given an open ended task; therefore, it is not that difficult to produce ‘something’. The question is often about the quality of what students produce.

Thus, the next step is very important – how the teacher deals with the produced result.

The second step of the framework says ‘help learners build the solution – develop the method for coping with the challenge’. There may definitely be different forms of providing this help. In my observations I’ve discovered that experts normally provide help in the form of a dialogue. So this is the point to hold a dialogue with the class on the quality of the first result (see Fig 3).

 

Figure 3. Sequence of Instruction: Step 2

 

The function of this dialogue is twofold. On the one hand, it is supposed to help students become aware of the problem with their first result. A teacher can use the following questions during the dialogue to achieve its function:

  • How can we assess what you produced?
  • How do you know that this is what it has to be?
  • The task is one, the results are different – how do we know which one is correct?
  • Looks like your results (you) disagree with each other, how shall we resolve it?
  • How did you do the task? Why this way? Are there any other ways of doing it?
  • The task was given; you were not able to do it, why?, etc..

The second function is to provide learners with the thinking models for building a solution, i.e. thinking models for constructing a method/a tool, which will allow students to come out of the difficulty. In the case of TA teachers, these thinking models are various OTSM-TRIZ models (e.g. ENV, Multiscreen, Problem definition, etc.).

During this dialogue-stage a degree of teacher’s help/involvement can differ depending on the extent to which students are familiar with the approach the teacher implements.

And as the last point of the instruction, students are invited to come back to the very same task they were doing and improve it, taking into account the conclusions they made for themselves after the T-Cl dialogue (see Fig 4). So basically, help is intended to help students improve the first result they produced.

 

Figure 4. Sequence of Instruction: Step 3

 

It is important to notice that the class stays within one task and the whole cycle forms a kind of a spiral or a loop where the students come back to improving the first result after holding a dialogue. It has been noticed that there may be several spirals/loops of this kind during one lesson. Sometimes one loop appears only as a result of two or more lessons but I would argue that when a teacher only starts working with the Thinking Task Framework it is better that (s)he plans a task that would allow students experience the loop during one lesson.

As to what concerns non experienced teachers, my observation shows that they would give one big task, subdivide it into smaller steps and during the dialogue would hold the discussion on the ‘next step’ students have to do (see Fig 5). So basically, the help will be never provided for improving the first result of the first task, but would be ‘addressed’ to ‘push’ students agree on the upcoming task.

 

Figure 5. Sequence of Instruction: Non-Expert Teachers

 

At the same time, I do not want to claim that experts don’t make any subdivision into smaller sub-tasks, but every sub-task of an expert teacher goes through the loop (see Fig 6). In other words, the difference will be that non-expert teachers will not make students experience a loop when working with sub-tasks.

 

Figure 6. Sequence of Instruction: Expert Teachers vs Non-Expert Teachers

 

This may seem a little bit complex, but for those teachers who have already tried to apply the framework for creating and managing learning activities following the framework this observation can help to think about their own lessons and plan tasks in ‘loops’ ensuring every single conclusion (s)he wants his/her students to make is done through a task, not explanation:  

  • task
  • my students do it
  • they produce the result
  • we talk about the result and agree on the method for improving it
  • I let them improve the result individually (in pairs/groups) after this discussion.

The following video excerpt from a lesson of an expert teacher is supposed to illustrate the first point. This is a lesson of English as a foreign language in form 11. Since this was an open lesson you will see some teachers present. The slides in the video are used to help you notice the main components of the instruction.

 

To sum up the first point:

  • Process for every task is spiral-shaped/done in loops: task 1 – result - help – task 1 is back;
  • Before help is provided the presence of the problem is explicitly agreed on;
  • During the help stage the OTSM-TRIZ thinking models are offered;
  • Sequence “teacher activity – students’ activity” is maintained.

 

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As it became evident from the previous discussion on the sequence of instruction, the teacher-classroom (T-Cl) dialogue plays a very important role in the learning process the teacher is organising in the classroom. There is quite a lot of research on the importance of the classroom dialogue in the development of thinking skills.

A very remarkable difference was traced in the quality of the dialogue between expert and non expert teachers (see Fig 7).
The quality was measured by three criteria discovered in different literature on the role of a dialogue in a thinking classroom:

  1. Nr of students involved in a dialogue;
  2. Nr of seconds given as a ‘think time’;
  3. Treatment of students replies.

 

  Expert teachers Non expert teachers
Nr of students involved in a dialogue 4 and more 1-2
Nr of seconds given as 'think time'  4-9 ?
Treatment of students faulty replies

a) Seeking clarification for tracing source of mistake

b) Providing example to make Ss aware of faulty reasoning

a) Verbal rejection

b) Instant involvement of another student in correcting his/her classmate

Figure 7. Quality of a Dialogue: Expert Teachers vs Non-Expert Teachers

 

The question mark that is placed in Fig 7 for ‘waiting time’ of non expert teachers means that it is difficult to count this time in those cases, when the dialogues are hold with 1 or 2 students. Another point is that a teacher can wait even 10 seconds but if he expects the answer “2+2=4” then do we really speak about ‘thinking time’ in the sense we understand this phrase?

What are the possible reasons for such a difference? I assume that very often novice TA teachers keep strongly in mind only the framework, forgetting to pay attention to such an important aspect as classroom interaction.

I would also like to connect this point on the dialogue with the previous one discussed above. As you remember, the dialogue is a form of providing help on the produced result (i.e. make aware of the problem and offer thinking models). The questions which are often asked during this dialogue are so called open questions: Why? How? In what way?, etc. They allow variations in the answer. If there is nothing to discuss, then probably the task a teacher gave to students is not ‘problematic’ or challenging, it’s more knowledge-based so there is nothing to discuss. And a teacher is ‘not interested’ in students’ reasoning. So, when planning a lesson, a teacher can use a dialogue planning stage as a criteria for checking whether the task being offered will require any solution building or not.

The following video excerpt from a lesson of an expert teacher is supposed to illustrate the second point. This is a lesson of Russian as a mother tongue in form 8. The translation of what is being said is provided in the transcript.

In order to contrast the difference in the quality of the dialogue of an expert and a non expert teacher I am presenting below the comparative overview of the dialogues of two teachers (one from the video above and the second one - a transcript of a dialogue of a non expert teacher).

 

EXPERT TEACHER  ......  NON EXPERT TEACHER ..................................................................
T     Please, read the topic of our today’s talk and explain the reason why it has been offered to you. Why does the teacher offer you this topic for today’s lesson?  

Let us specify, why we need these questions?

 

00:14-00:27 waiting time

    [is not calling any specific student]
There are more hands. Thank you, Ksenya, I see. Thank you.   Class  [in one voice] In order to find new parameters.
  00:33 – 00:43 waiting time   T [confirmative tone] In order to find new parameters.
T [calling a student] Rita. You know that I first ask those who don’t raise a hand.   T Tell me, how the work with these questions will help you to find new parameters?      
S1  I think this topic is offered to us today because we have studied ellipses […] but we haven’t covered everything on this topic yet.     [is not calling any specific student]
T Do you mean that this is a part of the topic that we have been studying for several lessons?   S1 [volunteers] We see similarities.
S1 Well…yes.   T Similarities in what? 
T Who does NOT agree?   S1 We reply the questions and compare the result.
  [calling a student] Marina.   T Absolutely right. We have to compare if we want to find the parameters. We describe one element, another one and as a result find the parameters.
S2

I think that on the previous lesson we were describing our problems and we found out that we still don’t know a lot of things. Probably that is the reason we will study ellipses again. 

   T What do we have to compare? Where exactly are you looking for similarities? 
T [calling a student] Ksenya.     [is not calling any specific student]
S3 I think we will study ellipses because we use it very often so have to know it properly.    S1 [volunteers] Highlighted words.
T Please, explain your idea. What do you mean ‘we use it often’?    T  Exactly, highlighted words and word phrases.
S3 In our essays.    T What else? Look at the questions. Where else can we find similarities or differences?
T

I haven’t noticed that. Don’t know. Then maybe you should say ‘I use it often’.
A short remark. You actually do not use ellipsis often in your writings.

So do you mean that on the previous lessons we were talking about ellipsis? Our object of inquiry was ellipsis?

    [is not calling any specific student]
T [calling a student] Polina.    S2 [volunteers] parts of speech
S4 The task says ‘we continue our inquiry’. So maybe there will be something new about ellipsis.     T  Parts of speech of what?
T Let’s avoid too general words like ‘something new’. We’ll define the aim later. I am interested now why this topic appeared.    S2 …of words or word phrases.
T [calling a student] Lada.    T Of the highlighted word or word phrase. In a word phrase we will always have one main word and we can define its part of speech. 
S5 You said that we were studying ellipsis but in fact we were focused on the choice between a dot [.] and an ellipsis […]. And now it is clearer for us when to use a dot but it is not so clear with an ellipsis.       
T

I remind you that when you reply you, you speak only about yourself. ‘This is clear for me and this is not clear so I can assume that my classmates may have problems as well”
Are there any other ideas on your part?

     
General analysis:
  • Total number of students involved in a dialogue: 5
  • Waiting time: 10-13 seconds
  • Treatment of students replies: Neutral acceptance, asking for clarification
  • Quality of students replies: full sentences
  General analysis:
  • Total number of students involved in a dialogue: 2 and one all-class reply
  • Waiting time: less than 3 seconds
  • Treatment of students replies: Immediate verbal acceptance with affirmative tone, asking for clarification
  • Quality of students replies: short word phrases

 

 

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The conclusions presented in this article were done as a result of analysing the following data:

  Expert (experienced) teachers Non-expert (non-experienced) teachers
Nr of teachers Three language teachers Three language teachers
Nr of lessons analysed 15 lessons (40 min each) 8 lessons (40 min each)

 

The more detailed information on the expert teachers and the reasons for labelling them as ‘experts’ (experienced) is presented below:

  • Teacher 1 – EFL teacher. Expert in the development of learners’ inventive thinking skills (results supported by the research ) with more than 10 years of teaching for thinking experience.

Refer to the following article for more details on the results: Sokol A., Oget D., Sonntag M., Khomenko N. (2008). The development of inventive thinking skills in the upper secondary language classroom. Thinking Skills and Creativity 3 (2008). ELSEVIER. 34-46.

  • Teacher 2 – EFL teacher. Expert in the development of learners’ inventive thinking skills (results supported by the research ) with more than 8 years of teaching for thinking experience. 

Refer to the following article for more details on the results: Sokol A., Oget D., Sonntag M., Khomenko N. (2008). The development of inventive thinking skills in the upper secondary language classroom. Thinking Skills and Creativity 3 (2008). ELSEVIER. 34-46.

  • Teacher 3 – Teacher of Russian as a mother tongue. Expert in the Developmental Education (for references, see Leont’ev, Davidov, Elkonin, Repkin) . In 1997 has got the title of the best teacher of Russian as a mother tongue; has more than 3 years of experience in teaching for inventive thinking.

For references on Developmental Education (from Russian, Развивающее обучение), check the following authors Leont’ev A., Davidov V., Elkonin D., Repkin V. (from Russian, Леонтьев А., Давыдов В., Эльконин Д., Репкин В.).

 

The non-expert (non-experienced) teachers are those who have no strong background in any thinking-related education and no data is available to support their expertise. One of these teachers has only one year of teaching for thinking experience, while two others have been working with the Thinking Approach for around three years. All of the teachers are EFL teachers apart from one who is a teacher of Russian as a mother tongue.


The limitations of the given study is clear cut. The data available for the analysis was only that coming from language classrooms. In addition, all the lessons were organised in a school context ranging from basic to secondary school students so no data is available for making any conclusions about application of the TTF for organising learning in a non formal context. In addition, more data coming from both expert and non expert teachers is needed to make any firm conclusions on the findings presented in this article.


Despite the given limitations, the study allowed me to make the first conclusions on what expert (experienced) teachers do differently in the classroom when they apply the Thinking Task Framework for constructing and conducting their lessons. I am presenting below the three main differences that I discovered.

 

Subcategories

This category contains structured reflections of teachers who have been trying to implement the TA in their work and would like to share some lessons learned.

This category includes articles that can help you understand the Thinking Task Framework better. 

This category contains materials that can help you in the process of sharing your experiences on this site. Please note that the site is changing all the time, so some posts need updates. If you notice such a post, feel free to update it and make the life of your colleagues easier.

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