Sunday, September 10, 2006

Teaching Students to Think

I watched Mona Lisa Smile this afternoon thinking it would just be a diversion from some other work I should have been doing. Instead, it got me back to work thinking about instruction and thinking skills. At the beginning of the movie, Katherine Watson, meets with her art history class at Wellsley for the first time. She informs her students that they would be learning using a particular syllabus (not hers) and begins to show them slides (the technology of the time) of art thinking that she's giving her students brand new information (and possibly teaching as others expect her to teach). The students begin to name each piece of art, its place in history and something about the technique used by the artist. Immediately Katherine sees that the textbook is going to be of no use to her. The students have read it in its entirety and have the art pieces and their expected responses memorized - most likely, as they'd been taught to do in the past.

The second class begins much differently. This time, Katherine begins her class (using her own syllabus) with a slide showing a piece of art that's not in the textbook and the students are surprised to discover that they don't know what they're seeing. She asks simple questions, "Is it art?" "How do you know it's art?" "Who determines what's art and what's not?" Her students are suddenly empowered to think!

Katherine's technology was quite simple: she used images and she asked her students to think about what they were seeing, analyze it, defend their ideas about it. What might happen in 21st century classrooms if we used the technology of our time to empower students to think beyond what they can find in a textbook, beyond simple recall questions? We have the tools, we have the research based instructional strategies, we have learning standards and benchmarks. Now, all we need to do is put it all together. I'll bet Katherine Watson could have...

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