Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer PD Book Report: "How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core"

Let's be honest--is there any better way to stick some PD in this summer than by laying in the sand and reading a book of your choice? Probably not. Although I attained a less than admirable sun burn that covered 85% of my body the other day, the real winner was still me for discovering, reading, and finding good use for a new favorite book of mine--How to Teach Thinking Skills With the Common Core.

Toward the end of the school year, I began to ask myself those age-old educator's reflection questions in order to help me choose some books to read over the summer. The goal, of course, was to be able to gain more knowledge to drive my instruction and planning for the following year. While I feel as though I have a firm grip on reader's workshop (newly implemented this year), math workshop, management, the inclusion model, etc. there are still things I am willing to admit I need to know. I have lost count of the number of days I have driven home from work beating myself up over one child not "getting it" or an 80 second disconnect I had with others during small group instruction. It was not until I found this book that I could even pinpoint one major area I was not exploring enough of with my students--critical thinking.

I am well aware all of our students are supposed to have a solid foundation of higher-order thinking skills in order to meet the rigorous demands of changing state curriculums and assessments. Assessments that will one day (as of now) determine their college and career opportunities. What I was not entirely convinced of was just how much brain-training would need to go into attaining these critical thinking skills. In other words, yes, in schools teachers must explicitly teach students how to think before expecting them to think. Add that to high ESL populations, Title I, Special Needs, Basic Skills, teacher collaboration, demands of your district, curriculum changes, PARCC....suddenly you are asking yourself things like, "Hmm..If I only eat canned soup for x years, will I have enough money to move and never work again?"

Until you read this book. Authors Bellanca, Fogarty, and Pete have made it so simple for teachers to hit the ground running with teaching thinking skills to students. I actually read all 186 pages thoroughly in about 2 hours (sans sunscreen...woops) giving me enough time to post-it, highlight, and annotate. The book is organized very effectively--one unit for each thinking area educators should teach to their students, otherwise known as the 7 Cs (they sure know their way into our hearts).

1) Critical Thinking--Analyze, Evaluate, Problem Solve
2) Creative Thinking--Generate, Associate, Hypothesize
3) Complex Thinking--Clarify, Interpret, Determine
4) Comprehensive Thinking--Understand, Infer, Compare and Contrast
5) Collaborate Thinking--Explain, Develop, Decide
6) Communicative Thinking--Reason, Connect, Represent
7) Cognitive Transfer--Synthesize, Generalize, Apply

It seems like a lot, but let me tell you. This is a short, quick, easy read and very beneficial. The authors organize the information and teaching strategies so clearly. Haven't you seen all of those words before, anyway?! Problem Solving. Oh! Problem Solving! We do that in math! Yup...but you coouuullllddd explicitly teach it through acronyms, song, and concrete objects first to ensure students acquire the skill with accuracy and finesse. It's pretty simple--the more you talk to them with familiar words, objects, and situations, the more successfully you train a part of their brain that they'll need to use later.

My favorite part of this book is definitely the road map given for each skill. There are variations of explicit teaching lessons, a walk through of integrating the skill into a content lesson, and a CCSS performance task lesson. I especially adore these "Look-Fors and Sound Bites" tables:

Wow, I did not expect to write this much at all--sorry everyone. Long story short, this book was probably one of the best I've read since I began teaching. I  am so excited to incorporate a short "Thinking Skills" period into my classroom schedule in September (I have a few open blocks). I'm going to attempt to use this book to drive instruction and truly teach my students how they are going to need to use their brains throughout the year.

So after a long day at the beach....My skin- 0, My students- 100!

Post any questions or share your favorite PD reads below!

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