Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Developing a Growth Mindset

We've all heard defeatist self-talk from students:

  • "I'm terrible at math."
  • "I'll never be a good writer."
  • "I hate history."

Of course, such beliefs make learning these subjects all the more difficult.

But sometimes positive self-talk can also be problematic:

  • "I'm great at math."
  • "I'm a natural-born writer."
  • "I know everything about history."

What's wrong with such statements? Like the negative self-talk, these statements limit learning because they create a fixed mindset.

Using Shared Inquiry in Language Arts

As every teacher knows, learning begins with engagement. Engaged students read thoroughly, write thoughtfully, and grapple with content. But how can we get our students to engage?

Shared inquiry helps students engage. This teaching approach requires a team effort. Instead of imparting knowledge, we work with our students to ask questions, sort through evidence, and draw conclusions. Shared inquiry requires students to communicate, collaborate, solve problems, and think critically and creatively.

Here's how you can use shared inquiry to teach writing, grammar, vocabulary, and reading.

Discover Persuasive Strategies

Instead of telling students what they should do in their writing, let them discover for themselves. Let them read and learn "how they do it." In “Exploring Inquiry as a Teaching Stance in the Writing Workshop,” Katie Wood Ray outlines one way to use shared inquiry in a writing workshop:

This awesome photojournalism project comes from Cindy Smith of Karcher Middle School in Burlington, Wisconsin. Students research a historic spot in their community and create a slide show or digital story that portrays the history of the spot in images and words. You can use this project in your classroom to develop students' thinking, reading, writing, speaking, and literacy skills—all while connecting kids to the community and to history.

4 Writing Strategies for Creative Thinking

When your students think creatively, they discover new, original ideas. They open their minds to possibilities rather than seeking expected answers. Creative thinking works hand in hand with critical thinking to help students deepen their learning.

The word creative comes from the Latin word crescere, meaning “to grow.” Creative thinking grows when students are interested, challenged, and motivated. You can foster creativity by encouraging your students to take risks and learn from mistakes. Also, you can use the following writing activities to help students develop four traits of creative thinking: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.

How Project-Based Learning Motivates Students

How can we motivate our students? Rewards? Punishments? Brownie points? Rules? What works for one student may not work for another. That's why teacher-centered strategies often fail to create student engagement.

Not surprisingly, student-centered classrooms tend to have greater engagement. One method we can use to build a student-centered classroom is project-based learning (PBL). Research provides seven reasons that PBL helps motivate learners.

Reason 1: Students gain autonomy.

In an exploration of more than 50 years of research, Daniel Pink found that autonomy of work is a greater driver of motivation than rewards (grades) or punishments (88). Conversely, rote instruction with little student interaction or project work is a leading cause of apathy. Our students need to have a “sense of control over the work” in order to be engaged and motivated (Headden and McKay 4).

7 Graphic Organizers for Critical Thinking

smit, 2015 / Shutterstock.com

We all want students to think critically about the subjects we teach, but how can we make it happen? What does deeper thinking look like in English language arts, science, social studies, and math?

One way to see students' thinking is to have them create graphic organizers. Each graphic organizer that follows requires your students to use different critical thinking skills (in parentheses). Read about each organizer and the thinking it creates, and then click to see minilesson activities you can present to your students to get them thinking deeply.

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