Thursday, December 29, 2011

Teach Thinking Skills to Increase Learning in Class and Life

The first days of school that year found me in a panic. I had all these great ideas and strategies, but most of my students couldn’t focus long enough to listen, couldn’t follow directions, couldn’t understand when to stop talking, or manage any of the basic learning skills I had come to expect in a new class. After going home deflated and exhausted several days in a row, I realized that there was no point in trying to teach content when the kids did not have the basic skills needed to learn.  Something had to happen.

That Something
That something was a strategy I learned in a BrainSMART class. It was in the curriculum Thinking for Reading by Dr. Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers. I remember when I was going through the class I thought the skills would help far beyond reading. Fast-forward and I realized
NOW would be the perfect time to see how well the curriculum would work in an extreme setting. I frantically grabbed the curriculum set and held onto it as if it were my lifeline to sanity…which it did turn out to be. The curriculum came with a teacher’s manual, a class set of reproducibles, and a CD. I became quick friends with the copy machine (okay, it was really a love/hate relationship) and started making copies of the discussion pages. Just a note: this curriculum is for grades Pre-K through 3, however the concepts are valid for any age or grade.

Introducing the Curriculum
I introduced the curriculum to a previous class by teaching one skill a week for ten weeks. With this class, I ramped it up to two skills a week for five weeks. There was no time to lose! The first week the kids learned Practical Optimism with an adorable optimistic puppy. There is a recorded story about the puppy that taught the importance of optimism, and a set of corresponding coloring pages with discussion points. Listening to this story was literally the first time I had seen the entire class quiet and focused! After the story we discussed the importance of optimism and gave examples of optimistic behavior. It is very important as a teacher to model optimism for your students as well.

The Skills
This continued for five weeks. There is a story, discussion points, and coloring pages for each skill. We learned:

Practical Optimism
Understanding Space
Understanding Time
Focus – Selective Attention
Working Memory
Systematic Search
Systematic Planning
Appropriate Courage
Making Comparisons

These concepts became part of our daily language and discussion. I could see changes beginning slowly class wide. I was exceptionally rewarded one day when I saw a student who had a particularly difficult time keeping his hands and body to himself, stop himself from running into another student. He just froze himself in place and said, “Understanding Space!” then went on his own way leaving the other child alone. You would have to know the child to understand what a big deal that was for him to do. I almost cried! Another time a child started to yell out, then stopped and whispered, “Understanding Time.” She then sat quietly with her hand raised.

Here is a video of my current students sharing the thinking skills and saying how these skills apply to both life and reading.

These concepts are not internalized overnight, it is definitely a process. However, the process is worthwhile and can have a positive lifelong impact on a child. Teacher modeling and frequent discussion are essential. Once these skills began to be internalized by students, things became much better in class. I kept my sanity, learning took place, and we all survived!

(If you are interested in the curriculum I mentioned, it is called Thinking for Reading by Dr. Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers. It is available on the BrainSMART website here: Scroll down to Thinking for Reading Primary Grades (PreK - 3rd)).
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  1. I am enjoying your blog. Excellent work!

  2. Thanks for sharing. It looks like something worth checking out. I would love for my kids to learn all that skills on the list.

  3. Hey hi...i just go through your's really awesome. i think here is the place where people can share their knowledge easily. Thank you for sharing such a nice Information.

  4. Wonderful blog post as usual, Diane. Inspiring and filled with practical examples.
    Thank you for sharing!

  5. So cool ! Thank you for working so hard with our students !

  6. I really enjoyed this post and I agree that these are important skills for the children to learn. I love how you saw the need of basic learning skills in the classroom and took the initiative to step in and change it. You took what you had learned from others and applied it in the classroom. I feel it is very important for teachers to build a learning community and help each other to discover effective methods for teaching. This curriculum would be a tremendous asset for any class. It is clear from the video and the stories of your students' responses that it had a major impact on them.