Problem situation 2: Structuring the Non-Linear Teaching-Learning Process 

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




The Thinking Approach is based on the idea of a non-linear nature of learning and a non-linear organisation of the teaching-learning process (see here for reference). It offers several technologies which are used for implementing this kind of teaching, namely, Creative Grammar Technology, Text Technology, Self-study Technology, Research Technology and Yes-No Technology (check here for more information on TA Technologies). It is important to highlight that these technologies are interconnected and make a system, which means that work with one technology always includes elements of the other. Technologies are linked together through some basic elements that the teacher should use for structuring his/her lessons. These elements include:

  • facing a problem,
  • formulating of learning goals, 
  • developing of a model of a solution, 
  • checking and adjusting the model,
  • collecting examples beyond the scope of the model, 
  • evaluating processes and products of work or reflecting on the process, results of learning and tools which helped to develop the model solution.

Which means that it does not matter what you are working on, Grammar or Text, these principles should build your lesson, thus making interconnections between your lessons explicit. It would be a mistake to work with Grammar Technology separately and Self-study separately and to avoid without reasonable justification elements summarised above.
The idea of the basic elements of a thinking lesson is well presented through the Thinking Task Framework, which serves as a tool for integrating the inventive thinking dimension in a lesson. It summarises three steps to be made by the teacher and the learners while working on any task. The aim of the TTF as a model for professional development is to change the way teachers build the teaching-learning process from ‘non-thinking linear teaching’ to ‘inventive thinking, non-linear learning’. The three steps of the Thinking Task Framework are:

  1. Introduce the challenge;
  2. Build a solutions;
  3. Reflect on the tools which helped.

These three steps are to be followed if one wishes to introduce room for thinking into his/her classrooms.

Practice & Difficulties

Since it was a new way of organising the teaching-learning process for me, I did not stick to the basic elements (three steps of the framework). There were lessons without the proper challenge but with the attempt to build solutions for unclearly identified problems. There were other lessons with the high challenge and reflection but ‘teacher explanation’ dominated ‘building the solution’. In other words, I was not successful in building a clear system of the non-linear teaching-learning process but was jumping from ‘traditional teaching’ to ‘using some elements of teaching for inventive thinking’. These were ‘jumps’ both within the technology and between the technologies. Namely, activities within the system of a grammar task were not clearly interconnected, and our work with Creative Grammar Technology existed separately from our Self-study Technology without any explicit overlapping.
The difficulties which I faced are rather obvious. First of all, without any consistency between the lessons I failed to create any system out of my teaching-learning process, thus, making my students frustrated about the lessons. Jumping from ‘explaining rules’ to ‘building rules’ without any clear reasons for the latter caused logical questions on behalf of my students – ‘why do we need to build anything, just explain us the rule’. It will be fare to mention, however, that sticking to the same lesson structure would, I assume, still create frustration amongst your students but it will be only a question of time for them to get used to a new way of doing things. While in my case, I had a little chance to arrive at the acceptance.
If I reflect back on the possible reason of my mistake I can say that a new way of working with ‘learning’ takes time to be fully understood. Even though there are basically only three steps to be made to pass from a non-thinking to a thinking lesson, there are so many things behind these three steps that one can hardly capture everything during his first attempts to organise a non-linear teaching-learning process. Thus, an explicit interconnection of technologies is not that easy as it might seem.

Possible solution

Even though the suggested solution might sound too general, I still believe that for a novice TA-teacher it will be of use to be aware of it as a possible way out of potential dangers.
First of all, it is important to be aware of the need to structure your learning plan according to the common elements/principles (3 steps of the Thinking Task Framework). When you make your lesson or unit plan, identify for yourself where ‘learners are facing the problem’ stage is, where ‘learners are building a solution’ stage is and where ‘learners are reflecting’ stage is.
Secondly, I would recommend to keep in mind that you do not work on Technologies (Grammar, Self-study, etc.) as separate entities but you build a system where Technologies are interconnected. These interconnections can be made explicit, for instance, by referring to self-study after finishing working with a certain grammar system and concluding that an additional work must be done if one wishes to have a better progress.
And finally, the solution is not to aim at being perfect with your new way of teaching in the beginning but rather try to be consistent with the principles you use. Jumping from “giving knowledge” to “introducing methods for acquiring new knowledge” will only decrease the efficiency of your effort to introduce thinking into your classroom.


Problem situation 1: Teaching Thinking Explicitly 
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 15:32
Renata, do you think you could give a few examples that would illustrate the difference between 'traditional' planning of a lesson/unit and planning on the basis of the Thinking Task Framework? I am afraid the difference might be obvious to someone reading this post. For example, if I am planning a grammar lesson, what would be the difference in my planning?
# Renata Jonina 2012-12-19 20:23
Thanks again for the question.
It's a difficult question you are asking since I am not sure I did the correct planning on the basis of the TTF. But guess the 'traditional' planning would include:
a) planning grammar content part - which grammar content I will explain.
b) structuring content part into bits according to the level of difficulty - the first part of rules to be explained on lesson X, the second on lesson Y.
c) preparing exercises for students to practice each content part (including practising grammar in a communicative context).

When planning 'thinking' grammar, I would be thinking about other parts:
a) where will be the 'thinking' part?
b) how to organise work with a bank of sentences?
c) how to introduce reflection?

I am sure I have skipped something. Guess other people working with grammar can add/edit this reply. But so far, this would be my reply.
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