Problem situation 1: Teaching Thinking Explicitly 

Continuation of the post "Mistakes of a Novice TA Teacher"



In the context of the Thinking Approach we speak about the need to teach thinking explicitly, which means we should inform our students what we are going to do and why we are going to do it. This is especially important if we introduce the approach which is radically different from the routines learners have experienced before. Your students should know there will no longer be a familiar way of working and they should know the reasons for the change.
In addition, when working with Grammar as seen in the Thinking Approach, we work with the system of tasks rather than doing separate exercises. Every system consists of interconnected tasks (see more information on the systems of tasks here). It means that when starting working with grammar your students must be informed about the whole cycle of the work on grammar. In other words, system must be presented. Moreover, learners should know that they are NOT going to receive ready-made rules and practice them but they will aim at building solutions to the grammar problems.

Practice & Difficulties

Surprisingly enough, I never informed my students that starting from this day we will deal with their learning in a different way and I never dared to pronounce the reason for doing so, namely, that we are going to work on the development of their thinking skills.
In addition, when working with grammar, I never revealed the whole cycle what expects my students but was rather giving them separate activities, which they were not able to interconnect into any system.
As a result, my students were wondering what we are doing and why we need to build any sort of rules if these rules are given in a book and my task should be to explain these to them. They perceived the teaching-learning process as something fragmented, without clear idea of where we are going and why.
If I reflect on the reasons of making these mistakes and hesitating on speaking openly about teaching thinking then I can see at least two possible explanations. Firstly, I believe it is psychologically difficult to voice to your students that starting from today we are going to develop their thinking skills. I did not feel myself an expert who really knows he will be able to develop thinking skills and what ‘development of thinking’ actually means. This is a new approach, what if I fail with it, won’t my ‘development of thinking’ sound ridiculous? The second reason might be connected to the fact that the teacher might want to have a way back if something goes wrong. “I am only trying a few elements, I am not changing everything so no need to put learners in a bigger picture”. In my case, I was working only with grammar and self-study and could always switch to non-thinking tasks if I did not see how to make them ‘thinking’. Why should I explain anything to my students if I just try out the elements?

Possible solution

The only solution I see at this point of my experience is to be fair with your learners about what you do. Be explicit in teaching thinking. If you are afraid to pronounce loud the phrase ‘teaching thinking’, then think of a less ambitious explanation of what you are working on. For instance, tell your students that they will try some special techniques on helping them becoming more efficient in their learning, and in order to become efficient, the way of working will be changed. But it is really important to position yourself as a teacher who is working differently, in what way differently and why differently. It concerns both starting a new approach in general and working with a system of grammar tasks. Learners should see a bigger picture of what’s going to happen; otherwise you risk to have low efficiency of your work and a long-lasting frustration of your students.


Problem situation 2: Structuring the Non-Linear Teaching-Learning Process 
Problem situation 3: Getting Prepared for Building Solutions in Grammar
Problem situation 4: Avoiding Hunt for Fast-Food Thinking Materials
Problem situation 5: Evaluating Thinking Results




# Alexander Sokol 2012-10-23 15:26
Renata, perhaps you could share your experience of finally telling your students about the thinking part. How did you do it? How did the students react? Did it turn out as difficult as you'd imagined it to?
# Renata Jonina 2012-12-19 20:12
Thank you for the question, Alexander.
Starting from the second year I have finally told my students about the development of thinking (using the Thinking Approach) and said this is what I am interested in and what, I believe, is important for their future. This is the reason why our lessons will be different.
Yes, it was pretty difficult to say since you sort of cut off all the ways back to the 'traditional' way. But at the same time, the first reaction was fine, and students looked curious.
At the same time, there appeared a new difficulty. Students expect success from a 'new system' from the very beginning without changing their old habits much. They do not understand quite many things and in my experience they did not succeed with their first test. So, it brought disappointment and disbelief in a 'new system'.
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