Thoughtful Learning Blog

Insightful articles about 21st century skills, inquiry, project-based learning, media literacy, and education reform.

Critical and Creative Thinking: Lessons from Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin's twisted take on traditional snowpeople shows his creative thinking.

When I write the first draft of a novel, I'm Calvin from the classic comic series Calvin and Hobbes. Brimming with imagination and life, I don't care what may be sensible, realistic, and conventional. I'm full of passion, flying in many different directions. Sure, there'll be plenty of mistakes, but at least they'll be big.

When I revise and edit a novel, I'm Calvin's parents. I have to look dispassionately and critically at what the child mind has created. I have to analyze and evaluate. Patience, persistence, and a kind of longsuffering skepticism must prevail.

To put it another way, the parents' job is to make the child's life safe, and the child's job is to make the parents' life dangerous.

Read more

5 Questions to Analyze Any Communication

Communication is complex. Students need to be able to write to different audiences. They need to create an appropriate voice for each topic and purpose. They need to understand how to get their point across in a larger context. All of this complexity can be bewildering. When I help students analyze communication situations, I use a simple graphic:

Communication Situation Graphic

Read more

Deeper Thinking for the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards require students to think more deeply in all classes. But what counts for deeper thinking? Bloom’s revised taxonomy lists thinking skills in order from superficial to deep:

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy List

For many years, we’ve done well teaching and testing the top half of the taxonomy. After all, multiple-choice, true-false, and fill-in-the-blank items do an excellent job of measuring what students remember, understand, and can apply. On the other hand, they don’t easily measure what students can analyze, evaluate, or synthesize. What is tested is taught, so our inability to test these skills has meant that they were not getting taught.

However, the new assessments for the Common Core will test the full range of skills required. These tests combine new strategies, interactive environments, simulated research situations, and good-old essay responses in order to assess how well students can analyze, evaluate, and synthesize. Of course, now that these skills will be tested, they must be taught.

How can I teach analyzing and evaluating?

Start by teaching thinking strategies. One strategy that most educators already know is using graphic organizers to stimulate thinking:

Read more

Helping Students Be Awesome

My friend Oliver Schinkten knows 150 awesome human beings. They’re students in his Communities and leadership classrooms at Oshkosh North High School, and they routinely do amazing things.

Last year, each student in Communities found and interviewed a local veteran of World War II, the Vietnam War, or the Korean War. They prepared questions, conducted and recorded hour-long interviews, edited them into stories, and created keepsake DVDs for the veterans and their families. The students then planned and ran an event celebrating the service of these people and presenting them with the DVDs. Afterward, many families contacted Oliver to tell them how moving and powerful the experience was, and how the DVD was a priceless heirloom they would pass down for generations.

Pretty awesome stuff for high schoolers.

Or how about the hydroponics lab that the students are building? It isn’t just a 48-foot long hoop house that will raise fish and fresh vegetables around the year to be used in the cafeteria and sold locally. It’s also a STEM Learning Center, creating a living lab for students from Oshkosh North and offering educational tours to school groups from around the area.

And it’s being funded, designed, built, and staffed by high school students.

People often assume that Oliver is teaching a gifted class, but he has public-school students from all different backgrounds, with a variety of historic levels of achievement. He says that the difference is authenticity. When students realize that what they are doing matters and is real, they engage, and the results speak for themselves.

During the 2012 election campaign, the Communities classroom created a non-partisan Web site that factually reported on the many issues in that divisive campaign. Read more

Shifting to the Common Core

Shifting to the Common Core

For most educators, the Common Core is a reality. The question is what to do about it. How can we shift from what we have been doing to what we are required to do?

Many groups have created lists of ways that the Common Core differs from previous sets of standards. These differences, or “shifts,” provide educators a focus as they rework and redirect their approach.

“We hear from educators across the country that understanding the Shifts makes their lives easier by clarifying the key changes required by the Standards.”

—Achieve the Core

Some groups advocate six shifts for each content area, while others present just three. Regardless of the number of shifts or the exact wording, most groups present a list like the one that follows, from

Read more

100 Guiding Questions for Summer

Sun Glasses

If you teach in an inquiry- or project-based classroom, you probably use guiding questions to help your students really dig into a topic. Well, now that summer is officially upon us, it's time to consider what questions will guide your summer and help you really dig in. Here's a list of 100 guiding questions that can help you get the most out of this season. Pick a question from the list, or let the ideas here inspire you to fashion your own. Then get busy with your summer of inquiry!

  1. What self-improvement should I do this summer?
  2. What positive health habit can I adopt?
  3. What is my most negative health habit, and how can I end it?
  4. What is my biggest physical complaint, and how can I get rid of it?
  5. How can I get outside more?
  6. What activity can I do with friends?
  7. What preventive care should I do this summer?
  8. How can I improve my attitude and outlook?
  9. How can I become happier?
  10. What part of my personality would I most like to change, and how?
  11. How can I better manage stress and anxiety?
  12. What self-talk do I do, and how can I make it more positive?
  13. How can I improve my energy and strength?
  14. What new hairstyle should I try?
  15. What shift in fashion would make me feel better about myself?
Read more