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Learning STUFF

Posted on the 11th September 2015

As the temperature chilled the other day with late summer here in the Sierra Mountains of California, my mind jumped months ahead to the ritual of Thanksgiving and how my Mom always filled the turkey cavity with a breaded stuffing.   How could my mind jump so far ahead ?  I really loved watching her stuff that turkey and I loved to stuff huge portions in my mouth—because there was always more!  The meat was precious, the stuffing always abundant (and void of nutritional value).

And, as the weather changes and a new school year opens up for many countries around the world, there is anxiousness by most students about how much content there is to stuff into their brains—and how they will “cram” for tests.  Most students have the concept of school as a place where you learn STUFF and then you get grades for being better or worse than other students at remembering all the stuff.   Their brains get STUFFED.  

This is what needs to be undone


What if EVERY student came to the first minute of school saying to themselves:


“How can I improve my thinking this year?”

I know.  This is a very odd question that you would never expect from a student.  But we should. That is the problem.  This is because very few educators say this at the beginning of the year to students, or ever.  What if every teacher stated to their students on the first day of class:

“Together, we are going to improve your ability to think so you can learn better.  You are going to learn how learn.”

The capacity we all have as human beings to reflect and become truly fluent with our own thinking and open to other ways of thinking—thus becoming more adaptive to life’s experiences—is essential to future generations of students and to the future of this planet as we face daunting challenges and exciting new opportunities.  But most school systems hold to the assumption that, simplistically, if students learn more STUFF then they will “naturally” improve their abilities to think.  They are right—in a very limited way.  Yes, by STUFFING more information into your brain you have to think on some level, but if most of the learning is by memorization then students learn to memorize better and not necessarily think in a variety of ways:  creatively, generatively, analytically, conceptually, systemically… and most important: reflectively.

Schools involved in the Thinking Schools network share a common belief and grounded research that “the shift” toward balancing deep content learning and student-centered thinking processes is absolutely essential for students of the 21st century. Improvement in student achievement, as identified on conventional assessments, is certainly one of the desired outcomes. However, measures and demonstrations of students’ ability to interdependently and independently, strategically, and thoughtfully apply the strategies and tools they learn through their experiences in a Thinking School are distinctive features of a Thinking School’s impact on student learning.

What if every teacher created a poster and put it up in on the first day of class the three principles of Thinking Schools:

  • ALL of us have the innate ability to think—and learn to think better–as part of our human developmental process.

  • Content learning is improved when thinking abilities are developed.


  • Thinking is improved when all teachers and students in our school use common models

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