## Theory

This section offers various support materials on bringing more thinking in your classroom.

Here I’d like to share how my understanding of TA has changed since my first meeting with this approach at the conference in September 2012 and after a year of attempts to implement elements of TA in my work with 4-7 year old children.  I leave the column “tomorrow” under a question mark, meaning that my thoughts can develop and lead to new revelations.

 Notion September 2012 Now (February 2014) What changed in me Tomorrow Thinking My perception of TA   was very emotional – I thought that implementing thinking would save the   world. I thought that teachers lacked it in their practice. Now I am aware of   the fact that many teachers use thinking and develop this skill with their   learners. It is widespread among maths and science teachers. TA brings   thinking into a language class. This idea changes focus of the process of   learning a language, stressing the idea, that language functions as a means   of solving problems. Earlier I didn’t pay   attention to logical tasks while working with language. Now I notice them and   use (sorting, odd-one-out, strong questions) ? Approach It seemed that   implementing a few elements of thinking (odd-one-out, sorting) into existing   tasks would be TA Now I am aware of   the fact, that “approach” is a system. It develops from simple to more   complicated. One should develop and apply a strategy for reaching TA aims.   Otherwise TA won’t happen. I stopped giving my   students occasional sorting tasks. I concentrated on   the four basic parameters – colour, material, size and shape. ? Students’ age It seemed that TA   works with school children (or preschoolers – 5-6 year olds) I try to implement   elements of TA (sorting) with 4 y.o. It goes slowly. I use the TA module   with all my groups (6-7 y.o., 5-6 y.o., 5 y.o., mixed group 4-6 y.o.), but not   with everyone I teach ?

Now I would like to share changes in my methods while using TA. My first attempts to implement elements of TA were in February 2013. Now, when a year passed, I have some results to compare.

# Mistakes of a Novice TA Teacher: Conclusion

Continuation of the post "Mistakes of a Novice TA Teacher"

Even though, the article is speaking about mistakes and difficulties, it is aimed at helping any teacher who is thinking of joining the TA-teaching become aware of potential mistakes and thus avoid them on their TA-way. In addition, I believe that difficulties do not come to destroy you, but to help you realise your hidden potential and power.
Let difficulties know that you are too difficult and do not be afraid of making your first steps on the TA-path.

# Problem situation 4:  Avoiding Hunt for Fast-Food Thinking Materials

Continuation of the post "Mistakes of a Novice TA Teacher"

### Theory

As it has already been mentioned, when we work with grammar within the Thinking Approach (TA) we work with the system of grammar tasks. The system consists of 7 parts each having several tasks, where every task is connected with each other. All the systems developed within the TA are available on the website (www.thinking-approach.org). Even though the systems are available, this is NOT, as I call it, the fast food material which can be taken as it is, brought to the classroom and is expected to perform miracles. You must adjust the material according to your specific classroom situation and the level of your own professional competence of working with the TA materials.

### Practice & Difficulties

In my first-year practical experience with the Thinking Approach, I was so happy to have the ready systems that I just expected them to work on their own. I started doing the first task of the system without taking into account the specific situation of my classroom and my own understanding of the system. As a result, I did not cope with a difficult existing system, which was too complex for my own understanding and too unclear for my learners.

### Possible Solution

The teacher should definitely not expect any “fast-food materials” when we are talking about teaching thinking within the Thinking Approach. Especially, when s/he only starts working with the new approach. Once you decide to work with grammar you need to make the relevant adjustments to the system you wish to work with in your classroom. As a result of the first year of working with the grammar within the Thinking Approach, I came up with the following adjustment to the system (which you are welcome to consider for your purposes but I would not recommend to take it as another ‘fast-food material’ if it does not correspond to your classroom and professional situation).

• Step 1 – give students 12 sentences and make them answer concept questions about these 12 sentences (with your help where needed).
• Step 2 – make students check if their answers are consistent (if they provided the same answer for the same grammar forms).
• Step 3 – build the first draft model showing the first step as an example/make hypothesis based on the analysis of the concept questions
• Step 4 – check your hypothesis/model by doing the exercise
• Step 5 – adjust the hypothesis according to the results
• Step 6 – check your hypothesis/model by doing another exercise
• It is important that your students come with the first SUCCESS here. So you might wish to give them slightly easier sentences/exercises to make them feel something works.

In addition, we should not forget, that when students only start working with the Creative Grammar Technology, one of the first aims of the teacher is to make learners experience a new procedure, new way of working and a new way of thinking. Thus, we should be careful about the level of a challenge we make our students face in the beginning. If the teacher is competent him/herself in working with the system, then the level can be much higher since the teacher will know the procedures of bringing students to the finally desired result. Whereas, if the teacher only starts working with the Creative Grammar Technology and students have never experienced the ‘thinking grammar’, then increasing the challenge too much will only cause additional problems in the classroom.

P.S. If you have never been dealing with the grammar system within the Thinking Approach (TA) and do not understand the offered steps then I invite you to consult the TA website (Creative Grammar Technology).

# Problem situation 5:  Evaluating Thinking Results

Continuation of the post "Mistakes of a Novice TA Teacher"

### Theory

When planning the thinking lesson the teacher is having at least two aims: language aim, connected with evaluating language content, and thinking aim, connected with evaluating how learners use specific thinking tools (see more here to check what I mean by “tools”) for solving the problem.
Thus, when assessing the lesson the teacher should also think about it on 2 levels: linguistic results and thinking results. The thinking focus of tasks and activities is assessed by the amount and complexity of models (tools) students practice and acquire while working upon the task (see here for reference).

### Practice & Difficulties

Even though, I was trying to introduce the thinking dimension in my lessons, I have never been evaluating the thinking part. My assessment system in general was directed towards evaluating the result, not the process. The correct answer rather than the process of HOW the learners arrived to it was still in the centre. In addition, I had the difficulty to assess any thinking at all, any HOW learners applied the thinking models. In fact, I doubt I was even teaching them to apply the thinking models. This was my wish only, which did not correspond to the reality in the classroom.
If I reflect back on the reasons of failing with the assessment of thinking, then I see a possible explanation. First of all, the notion of the thinking models was new for me. What are the thinking models I am supposed to be teaching explicitly? Do I myself master these models? Apparently, I do not master them to a certain degree, thus it is difficult to assess whatever ‘thinking-related’ is happening in your classroom. In other words, the difference between the ‘thinking’ and a ‘non-thinking’ result was not evident so it was difficult to notice differences in my learners’ performance.
It is obvious that if the teacher does not assess what s/he teaches then the learners see no much sense in the ‘non-assessable’ part.

### Possible solution

I would love to say there is an easy-to-implement solution but I see that the solution is rather a long process than a one-shot activity. However, if being followed, the process will lead to the result.
First of all, I believe it is important to keep setting thinking aims for every lesson and a sequence of lessons. The questions which might help to clarify these aims are the following. What are the thinking models we are going to work on during this lesson/sequence? How will I evaluate the difference between ‘thinking’ and a ‘non-thinking’ performance? Do my students understand the thinking purpose of the task they are doing? The questions like “What do I mean under teaching thinking?” and “What do I expect my students to be able to do as a result, i.e. which thinking models they should be able to use?” should always be kept in mind since they will make a teacher gradually find the answers. In fact, a list of skills and dispositions, which clarify what students should be able to master as a result of working with the Thinking Approach are available on the Thinking Approach website. But if you only start your TA-way you will find this list more discouraging and incomprehensive than helpful since it is rather complex. However, consulting this list from time to time at different stages of your professional way to TA-teaching will finally help you to understand what it means to teach thinking and how to evaluate it.
Secondly, when checking students’ works, it is essential to think about integrating the evaluation of the process (how the solution was built by a learner; the algorithm of a solution) into the actual evaluation of the result (or ‘correct answer’) of a specific test.

When discussing teaching thinking issues with Dr Alla Nesterenko, who is a teacher, teacher trainer and researcher in the field of key competencies in school education, I discovered for myself that thinking models (e.g. ENV) must be taught as content, just like we do teach our language-specific content. But what normally happens, is that we, teachers, use these models as a methodology, and do not teach it as a content (from the personal conversation with Dr Alla Nesterenko, during the international conference “Bringing Creativity and Thinking Skills into the Educational Process”, Sep 16, 2012). I think this is a very important remark, which allows explaining why I did not evaluate thinking well enough. I did not teach it as content, so there was no need to evaluate it.
In addition, one of the last issues I discovered about the Thinking Approach is the assessment system, which should no longer be based on a “test-mark” system but should rather be an integration of a “work process + test” leading to a mark (discovery which appeared from the conversation with Dr Alexander Sokol during the course “Creativity and Thinking Skills in the Educational Process: Advanced Course”, October 13, 2012, Italy, Cantalupa). In other words, the mark a student is getting should not be based on the results of one test only, but it should rather depend on the results of several tasks done during a certain period. I will not go into details about the system of evaluation since it is a separate topic, which deserves special attention and hopefully will be discussed more in other articles.

# Problem situation 3: Getting Prepared for Building Solutions in Grammar

Continuation of the post "Mistakes of a Novice TA Teacher"

### Theory

Step 2 of the Thinking Task Framework is asking teachers to help students develop a model solution for the problem students have faced. For instance, working with grammar we expect students to make hypothesis about the difference between various forms used to refer to the past (i.e. students are asked to build algorithms using ENV model. See an example of using ENV here), collect and analyse a bank of sentences which would confirm the model to be right or would force the learner to change the model. In addition, the teacher is not supposed to be the ‘provider of the correct answer’ but s/he should rather introduce or remind students about the tools necessary to cope with the task - to build the solution.

### Practice & Difficulties

I have a strong assumption that the majority of teachers including myself normally think about grammar through a set of rules that has to be acquired. We never describe grammar through the ENV, nor do we think about collecting and analysing any kind of bank. These are rules which are deeply rooted in our heads. The reason for this is very simple; throughout our “learning life” we have experienced only rule-based grammar. Even now opening any grammar book we see a list of rules which provide answers to all our WHYs. We are taught to explain, be it a Presentation-Practice-Production or a Communicatively-oriented explanation, a teacher is still expected to provide explanation. Thinking through the ENV, making hypothesis about grammar, collecting banks, and building models is not a part of our experience. Thus, it is only natural that we, teachers, expect a student to come up with an understanding of a ready-made rule and give us the correct answer. Even though, we can be trying to help students build solutions, we will subconsciously want them to come up with the correct rule prescribed by the book.
Thus, in my first year attempts of trying to help students build the solution for the problem I still expected them to come up with the rules. And I was trying to use the ENV to explain the rule. In addition, mistakes were not much welcome and the rule had to be perfect from the very beginning. In other words, I did not focus so much on HOW my learners build the rule and what procedure I should offer them to help them be more efficient but I was too much interested in the final result – perfect rule. So there was a clear mismatch between my aim (change the way learners work on grammar from ‘learning rules’ to ‘building and checking models/rules) and my in-the-classroom expectations (i.e. a perfect rule, understood through the ENV, which should somehow correspond to the list of rules in a book with all the exceptions which might exist).
In addition, I realised that seeing grammar through ENV is not that easy and requires a serious preparation on my behalf.

### Possible solution

Since seeing grammar through ENV as well as working with a bank of sentences is not a part of an average teacher’s experience, I strongly believe that before bringing ‘a thinking grammar’ into the classroom a teacher must undergo certain preparation. Building a model should first become a part of a teacher’s experience. The aim of this preparation for the teacher is NOT to develop a perfect rule using ENV model which s/he will make students learn and practice. The aim is to change your way of thinking about grammar and to see the HOW or the process of model-building with the eyes of a learner.
Here is a possible process of the preparation required to help you make ‘building grammar solutions’ a part of your experience.

1. Choose one ‘topic’ (e.g. speaking about the past), build a model solution through the ENV (answer concept questions), and collect a bank of sentences supporting your rule. Do some exercises on the past and apply your ENV rule.
2. Reflect on the process of building a model and build an algorithm for HOW you build the model.
3. Think of the procedures for making your students build a model and collect a bank of examples.

One potential threat that the teacher should keep in mind when undergoing the suggested preparation is that after building a model s/he will simply impose it to students (will be explaining again but already using his/her ENV-based rule). To avoid this threat, I would suggest you should destroy your model once you develop it to prevent yourself from giving it to your learners as a ready-made product. The task is not to make learners copy your model but rather to help them build their own, check it through exercises and adjust the ‘wrong’ parts.
In addition, the teacher should always remember that the first models students build cannot be perfect. However, there are still no right or wrong answers which exist at the stage of ‘building’. But there are rather hypothesis which must be checked in order to proof themselves right or wrong.
Here you can find an example of ENV-based models for the past tenses I tried to build for myself.

### Subcategories

This category includes articles that can help you understand the Stages of Competence Development better.

This category includes articles that can help you understand the Thinking Task Framework better. Please note that Thinking Task Framework is a fairly simple model that is useful as an introduction into teaching thinking. For deeper understanding, please refer to the model of Stages of Competence Development.

This category contains structured reflections of teachers who have been trying to implement the TA in their work and would like to share some lessons learned.

This category contains materials that can help you in the process of sharing your experiences on this site. Please note that the site is changing all the time, so some posts need updates. If you notice such a post, feel free to update it and make the life of your colleagues easier.

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