A Thoughtful Note (on Building Thinking Classrooms)

This past week I attended a PD session facilitated by Peter Liljedahl entitled Building Thinking Classrooms.
Two things I noticed right away:
1) No mention of the word mathematics in the title. It's about the thinking.
2) Participants were tossed into the role of learners. It's about the students.
(We were thinking about mathematics but the thinking proceeded the math)

During his consolidation piece, Peter Liljedahl discussed the role of note taking and suggested that perhaps we encourage students to write notes entitled "A letter to my future dumber self" (or otherwise known as thoughtful notes).

So here it goes...

A letter to my future dumber self,

It wasn't too long ago that you saw the acronym #VNPS and thought really?, isn't that just a whiteboard? A gentle reminder to dig deeper before forming an opinion. Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces represent a shift in the learning environment that directly impacts the student experience. The name means something because it provokes thinking about the role. Remember when others looked with skeptical eyes as you removed all furniture from your room on the first day of school and build it with the students? Hmmm. Peter tried something different with the environment and because of that students were different. Enter VNPS. It's about re-negotiating the non-negotiated norms.

Consider moments where teaching is planned based on the assumption that students cannot think or will not think. Learned helplessness is just that - learned! Who should be carrying the cognitive load in the classroom? Why the excuses? Making things easier on students isn't what they really want or need. And it's not about adding something on to the workload of already burdened educators, but redistributing the effort where it's most fruitful. Build the thinking classroom and they will come. 

Remember what it felt like to be totally engrossed in the telling of a story. While you are no Peter Liljedahl, embrace your inner storyteller because that is how you build relationships. Put down the whiteboard pen, remove the fancy graphics from the background, and be present in the learning conversation.

When entering a thinking classroom wear proper footwear. While your new heels looked great, and you enjoyed getting your steps in, a neat little pair of sneakers would have made for a more comfortable day.

Remember what it felt like when you found your card partners, approached the VNPS and began tackling your first problem. After a few seconds your group was off to the races. Your inner introvert was slightly uncomfortable at first, but the task and the environment created an approachable experience. Relate this to all those hesitant hand-raisers you've taught throughout the years. This would help, right?

And last of all, don't forget the teaching truths from Peter:
- You are never the smartest person in the room
- The person thinking is the person learning


A few connections:

I'm reading Principles to Actions by NCTM and this quotation jumped out at me even before attending the Building Thinking Classrooms session:

"Over time, the cumulative effect of the use of mathematics tasks is students' implicit development of ideas about the nature of mathematics - about whether mathematics is something that they personally can make sense of and how long and how hard they should have to work to solve any mathematical task" (NCTM, 2014, p. 20).

This quotation resonated with me as so many students I've crossed paths with have a fixed notion of what math class is and their role (or lack of role) in it. What experiences might alter this perception?
Consider how many of the practices depicted below mesh with this. I would highly recommend reading through some of Peter Liljedahl's research on this as well.
(On a side note thanks @wheeler_laura for this awesome sketchnote!)  

Also, during his keynote address for Laurier's Faculty of Education 10th anniversary, our Deputy Minister Bruce Rodrigues said that we need to consider moving from a textbook narrative to a student narrative. This weaves beautifully into my belief that the process of learning (and the reflection on this process) is where the deep learning happens. Urgency and engagement matter. 
How perfectly this fits with building thinking classrooms!
I'd love to connect with educators interested in Peter's work or already beginning to incorporate these practices into their classroom.


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