What is New?

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What is new in education? Grab a partner and each grab a Post-It. Let’s try an experiment. Number your Post-Its from 1-10. On your own, not sharing ideas, take 30-seconds and each generate a list of many, different, and unusual policies, practices, reforms, and gadgets that have recently entered the world of education…let’s say in the last two or three years. Strive for as many ideas as will come to your mind. Write quickly. On the other side of this tune, more instruction will come. Click to start the timer:

Next step: take 1-minute and share your lists. As you compare ideas, add to what you have. Try to come up with even more ideas. Next step: Consider your lists and choose the one item on your lists which will make the greatest difference in education. Be prepared to defend your selection.

The activity you just practiced is a common opening in my classroom. Two or three times a week, students are asked to generate thoughts and observations about the day’s topic or the week’s lesson, compare their thinking with others, and then using some type of criteria, be it the most unusual idea, the most impactful idea, the most creative idea, make a decision, reach consensus. The next step is to quickly share small group choices and reasoning with the whole class. Once students become familiar with multi-step process, it can be achieved in about five minutes. This strategy can be used as a pre-assessment, a formative assessment, or even a summative assessment.

In a recent blog, Brainstorming Sessions: Don’t be Afraid to Judge, David Clemons shares recent UC Berkeley research indicating that those who debate and critique one another’s thinking generate more ideas than those who are told to put anything on the table. The research suggests that common wisdom about brainstorming in an environment “without fear of criticism or negative feedback” may indeed thwart creative and generative thought.

Dissent, on the other hand, does. It forces us to reassess, revise and reframe our views. It makes us look at the problem from a different perspective. And in the process, new ideas pop up. Better yet, these ideas are more likely to be practical, since they take account of other people’s suggestions  (Clemons).

That comes as no surprise. Although there is much new coming to education, including a new generation of researchers and teachers, there are also a number of researchers and teachers who have been practicing methods and teaching strategies informed by studies and research of anther generation that fully align with current thinking. The opening activity of this blog was generated from my experiences in the early 90s with Talents Unlimited, an instructional approach based on work of Calvin Taylor (1985). Talents, grounded in the world of work needs, incorporates the teaching and learning of six thinking and communication skills essential to success in life and learning. Taylor’s model is fully explained in Talents Unlimited. A Critical and Creative Thinking Skills Model and briefly described in the chart below.

Skill Description Components
Productive Thinking to generate many, varied and unusual ideas solutions and add to them. think of many ideas; think of varied ideas; think of unusual ideas; add to your ideas to make them better
Decision Making to outline choices, weigh alternatives, make judgments and justify decisions. think of many varied things you could do: ALTERNATIVES; think more carefully about each alternative: use CRITERIA; think of one alternative you think is best: DECISION; based on criteria, support your decision: REASONS
Planning to design a means for implementing an idea by describing the tasks, identifying resources, outlining the sequence of steps and pinpointing possible problems. tell what you are going to plan to someone else; tell all of the materials and equipment you will need for your project; tell in order the steps you will go through to complete your project; tell the many different problems you may have in carrying out your plan
Forecasting to make many a variety of predications about possible cause and effects. make many, varied predictions about a situation
Communication to use and interpret both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication to express ideas, feelings and needs. give many, varied, single words to DESCRIBE feelings; think of many, varied single THINGS that are ALIKE in a SPECIAL WAY; let OTHERS know that you understand how they feel; make a NETWORK of ideas using COMPLETE thoughts
Academic to develop knowledge and/or skills about a topic or issue through acquisition of information and/or concepts skill components vary from grade to grade and discipline to discipline

By using the Talents Model, teachers and learners are co-constructing learning. They are navigating the complexity of communication, whether that communication is digital, print text, or audio.
Consider the Common Core. Generate a productive thinking list of many, different, and unusual expectations these new standards place on teachers and learners. Prioritize these expectations; make a decision about where you must start. Then, create a plan that will take you there. Explain that plan. Forecast the problems you may encounter. Revise or edit your plan. And then…implement. As leaders, we navigate this type of thinking everyday. But if we are to be successful, no matter what plan we devise, we cannot hoard thinking skills. We must empower others to think with focus, communicate with clarity, decide with reason, and plan with detail. And in that cycle of thinking, we must also teach persistence and bravery to return to the drafting board if that’s what the situation demands.

By the way, I have no connection to the Talents Program other than I was trained it the methods long ago and have found them to be continually helpful in the classroom. For more information about how Talents may support your teachers and learners, check out these schools who use the Talents Model (Mobile Schools, Baldwin County Schools, J.B. Richmond Elementary).

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