Cash in on Learning: The Common Core: A Launching Pad for Thinking

by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., Free Spirit Publishing author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century

FSP Author Richard Cash © by Free Spirit PublishingLast month I blogged about how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will soon be driving the curriculum and instructional practices of our nation. Embedded within the CCSS is academic language (AL) that signifies the levels of complex thinking for which all students must prove proficiency. In this blog I will share with you ways to engage learners in your classroom through the essential thinking skills within the CCSS.

With the diversity of problems and issues that will confront our increasingly complex world, there will be a greater need for leaders to collaborate and cooperate to find workable solutions. Additionally, I’ve noticed a growing issue of “intellectual laziness” sometimes due to the advances of technology and standardization of assessments. An example of intellectual laziness is the student who gets frustrated and gives up when he can’t find the answer to a problem on Google.

Thinking is a process that is naturally embedded within all curricular areas and is replete throughout the CCSS. When you review the CCSS, you will note that much of the AL correlates with Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Term Bloom’s Level of Thinking
Analyze Analyze
Compare/Contrast Analyze
Define Understand
Derive Understand, Analyze, Evaluate
Estimate Understand, Apply, Evaluate, Create
Interpret Analyze, Evaluate, Create
Research Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create
Significant Evaluate
Verify Analyze, Evaluate

Note: All of the terms listed above and throughout the CCSS are above the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Past standardized assessments were heavy in the “remember” level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, such as: list, tell, explain, and so on. This is not the case with the CCSS nor will it be with the upcoming assessments aligned to the CCSS—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced.

© Monkeybusiness| Dreamstime.comAll students should be required to practice and achieve advanced levels of thinking. Many students will need scaffolding and significant practice to reach these high levels. For those students who can reach these high levels quickly, they must practice and become successful at sophisticated levels of complex thinking. This can be done through greater authenticity in the experiences that allow them chances to hone the thinking skills of a disciplinarian.

The act of thinking, “the mental process of using information to reach a conclusion” (Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century, Cash, 2011, pg. 92), has become an essential tool for success in the 21st century. Solving problems of survival (finding food, shelter, and water) is a natural process to our brain. However, solving problems beyond survival level is an evolved process to our brain and requires direct instruction and practice to refine this process. These advanced levels of thinking include critical reasoning (using information to solve problems), creative thinking (generating new and original ideas), and problem solving and decision making (reaching an effective conclusion). All of these skills require students to communicate and collaborate, because advanced levels of thinking are best done with and through others’ ideas.

Strategies for Developing a Thinking Classroom

  • Encourage intellectual risk-taking in your classroom. So many students fear being wrong in front of their peers or with their teachers. However, some of the best ideas were considered “wrong.” Galileo was considered wrong most of the time, but his theories form the basis of what we now know about how the universe works.
  • Nurture the development of thinking through a supportive and collaborative learning environment. Thinking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The very best ideas come about when people can collaborate and build on each other’s ideas. Edison didn’t create the light bulb all by himself—he worked with numerous others to come up with the very best solution.
  • © Michaeljung | Dreamstime.comAll students must be respected for their varying degrees of thought. Some kids will be analytical in their thinking process, others will be creative, and others will be practical. Nurture this difference because different ways of thinking can be best when developing a new product (creative) that meets the needs of a lot of people (practical) and is priced for the market (analytical). Your iPad is an example of a product that was developed with analytical, creative, and practical thinking. For more on these three thinking types, see Chapter 4 in Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.
  • Emphasize the delay of gratification and focus on the putting forth of effort. Our world is one of instant gratification: the increase in fast foods, the use of microwave ovens, the Internet for quick answers, and so on. Our students expect things to come easily to them because of this changing environment. Good thinking takes time and is worth the effort. Quick solutions are often not well thought through and oftentimes don’t address the real issue.
  • Build the learner’s responsibility for learning. When teachers answer questions in the classroom, rather than pose them or encourage students to find the answers on their own, they take away the child’s opportunity or need to preserve or persist to the end. Use well-formed essential questions at the beginning, during, and end of every lesson to focus students on the questions rather than the simple or easily found answers (for example, “In what ways are we a part of a whole?”).
  • Make your classroom a fun and enjoyable place to be. Well-developed thoughts are less likely to happen in a joyless environment. When student stress levels are low, they enjoy what they are doing and are respected by their peers, their brain can “up-shift” to the prefrontal cortex, the seat of advanced levels of thinking and self-regulation. Make thinking fun by doing creative learning activities (such as role playing, simulations, and guessing games). Offer students questions that have no right answers (for example, “In what way is a car like an idea?” “What would happen if there were no rain this summer?”). For more on creative activities or different questioning techniques, check out chapters 9 and 10 of Advancing Differentiation.
  • Finally, use and model thinking every day. Students need to hear you use metacognition (thinking through your own thinking), solve difficult but worthwhile problems, and enjoy the challenge of thinking. Use wait-time (at least 10 seconds) when asking for responses so children understand that you are allowing for thinking to happen.

The CCSS are not to be feared for the level of complex thinking embedded within them. The CCSS should be used as a launching pad of thinking for our students’ future success in the new world.

What are your strategies for encouraging and developing thinking in your classroom? Do you have any standards-based activities that you rely on? Please share them in the comments.


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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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