Scientists don’t simply remember information; they pose questions then seek to discover the answers. Furthermore, they are of a mindset to be surprised, to have a hypothesis disproved, to be presented with findings that insist on a new path. As our students grow and develop here, they do so within what we could entitle, our ‘culture of thinking’.
Not that we articulate it this way, but you could say that our students are taught to ‘think like a scientist’ – across all subjects and instances. We could describe our culture as comprising the thinking and corresponding action (as well as what’s not thought and/or not actioned) that all of us within our community do and receive.
This culture, and its saturation of support, reinforcement and nurturing asks our students to be thinkers. To think about goals and pathways, to think about organisation and planning, to think in a lesson on a particular topic, to think about others and impact, to think about self and to think about there being something more to all of this. I love that we foster a culture of contemplation for and by our students. It’s just so important to be a thinker.
Thinkers consider, thinkers take time, thinkers observe and use information, thinkers question information and indeed knowledge, thinkers do the hard stuff.
Then, thinkers are best able to think on best action!
At genuine risk now of sounding like a Dr Seuss book (you may know the one I’m thinking of!) or a pair of classic Aussie TV bananas (I’m sure you know what I’m thinking of!), I’m trying to say that we teach, and give space for our students to think, because we know that it matters.
I have recently read ‘Think Again’ by Adam Grant (perhaps you have too) and it insightfully made the case for the importance of us all doing this…and affirmed much of the thinking we have put into our curriculum of thinking development in our students.
The Australian Curriculum also provides much guidance; there is a general capability weaved across all learning areas and stages that articulates the importance of critical and creative thinking. From this status of importance, students are taught to evaluate knowledge, clarify concepts, consider alternatives, reason, employ logic, imagine and innovate. It posits that thinking that is productive, purposeful and intentional is at the centre of effective learning and by applying a sequence of thinking skills, students develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the processes they can use whenever they encounter problems, unfamiliar information and new ideas.
In addition, the progressive development of knowledge about thinking and the practice of using thinking strategies can increase students’ motivation for, and management of, their own learning. They become more confident and autonomous problem-solvers and thinkers. We believe this and indeed elevate it to another level through our carefully contemplated values.
From this, stems our work; the Innovative Agency Framework including the Year 8 Innovate project being a fine example of sequenced progression in thinking skill development (see this previous Friday Flyer for more on that).
Responding to the challenges of now and the future – with its complex environmental, social and economic pressures – requires our young people to be creative, innovative, enterprising and adaptable, with the motivation, confidence and skills to use critical and creative thinking purposefully.
Critical thinking is at the core of most intellectual activity that involves students learning to recognise or develop an argument, use evidence in support of that argument, draw reasoned conclusions, and use information to solve problems. Over their learning journey, this sees our students develop stronger skills in interpreting, analysing, evaluating, explaining, sequencing, reasoning, comparing, questioning, inferring, hypothesising, appraising, testing and generalising.
Furthermore, we also plan for creative thinking development where our students are supported to generate and apply new ideas in specific contexts, seeing existing situations in a new way, identifying alternative explanations, and seeing or making new links that generate a positive outcome. This includes combining parts to form something original, sifting and refining ideas to discover possibilities, constructing theories and objects, and acting on intuition.
When our young people are truly open to accepting that they don’t know what they don’t yet know, that it is not a sign of weakness but of a growth mindset to change your mind based on new information and to not preach nor prosecute, but be open to others’ ideas – that is a sign we are on the right track.
To then reach the “Holy Grail” of even enjoying being wrong because of the growth and the step closer to the solution that that can reveal, that is a compelling environment in which to grow. That’s the environment we are committed to here. Within every subject and with regard to how we interact with others – social situations and relationships.
John Maynard Keynes agitated for a growth mindset when he wrote, ‘When facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?’. It’s a neat way to think on this. Is ‘best practice’ the way to go? I hear that phrase a lot. I get it. However, with minds open to thinking like a scientist, perhaps current ‘best practice’ is not actually the best practice for the circumstance?
At St John’s, we teach our students to be mentally fit – to think about their thinking and to be open to rethink and unlearn. This disposition can feel uncomfortable if it’s a new mindset to have, I think. But, personally, I am trying myself to better embrace my inner scientist mindset (incidentally, I did once graduate with chemistry honours but I have to think really hard to remember the learnings from that!).
How open are you to thinking again? The impact of this on your work, relationships and outlook is profound.
Head of Middle School