Home > Leadership and Management > The features of a thinking classroom

The features of a thinking classroom

By G. Balasubramanian

“Learning without thinking is labor lost; Thinking without learning is perilous,” said Confucius. The basic objective of a classroom is to enable, empower and educate the learner to think meaningfully, constructively on the subject matter one is dealing with. Unfortunately, the last few decades have ushered in an educational system, where the faculty of thinking is marginalized to deal with the quantum of data and information more for their repetition. In pursuit of this objective, the content of the curriculum and its related pedagogy are articulated to serve the lower purposes and objectives of an educational process. This is further scaffolded by an assessment system which encourages more of recapitulation and reproduction of facts, thus giving little scope for assessment of the higher faculties of a functional brain. The need for a thinking classroom has often been reiterated in educational policies repeatedly with no meaningful follow up actions. The overload of the content in the curricula further inhibits the opportunities for a thinking classroom with teachers often complaining inadequacy of time and resources for their own preparation or administering the relevant pedagogical strategies in the classroom

A Research study using neuro-imaging by Southern California ‘s Laboratory estimated that the average person has around seventy thousand discreet thoughts per day. With abundant thoughts pouring in from various sources as inputs, the human mind has indeed a continuous flow of traffic requiring to deal with each of them to the extent they deserve attention. However, how many of these thoughts result into action, become productive and engaging, and how many of them manifest and emerge with desirable quality is indeed a matter of further research. It is in this context, the deliberations of a classroom gain relevance and importance to develop a culture of thinking which enhances purpose, focus, quality, and productivity.

A good classroom should therefore have features that not only promote thinking, but also the quality of thinking. The argument by many that the design of the curriculum, its end objectives, the assessment patterns inhibit such exercises is only partially convincing. A well-prepared teacher designs and incorporates elements and strategies that would help learners to think effectively and constructively.

Here are some of the features of a thinking classroom:

1. Fear free environment

A classroom that encourages thinking should be founded on a fear free environment. Oftentimes, the learners who have developed fear for the teacher, fear for the learning environment, fear of peer impressions, fear for authority and the like, flee from opportunities for thinking. They tend to hide into their own articulated conceptual shells and hibernate for extended periods with questions of ‘do’s- and don’ts.” They tend to stick to the routine practices and want to live in ‘comfort zones’ which are protective and avoid issues relating to risks of being mistaken or misinterpreted. Even when opportunities knock at their door for healthy and vibrant thinking, they keep away to avoid futuristic risks. Teachers would do well to identify such students and engage with them with a positive intent to facilitate them to be participants in active learning and helping them to diffuse their misconceptions.

2. Stress free environment

Apart from fear, there are several other concerns that cause stress to the learners in the classroom, some of them may be due to socio-cultural factors, poor financial infrastructures from which they come, language related issues, health concerns and other types of learning stress. Often these types of stress result in poor communication, withdrawal from frontline performances, thus inhibiting them to be actively engaged in free thinking or in questioning for further learning. Students belonging to this category tend to exhibit neurosis, low self-esteem, and self-pity. All that they would is to help them to break these barriers by a mature hand that helps to walk and forge ahead. Boosting their confidence profile would help them to improve their levels of interaction and expand their domains of thinking without the above challenges. Many of these students have latent talents to question, evaluate and re-engineer the knowledge. Adequate steps need to be taken by the teachers to design their classroom pedagogy appropriately.

3. Freedom to question

“A prudent question is one half of wisdom” said Sir Francis Bacon. The ability to question is both directly and indirectly suggestive of the fact that the person who asks the question is indeed thinking. Even if the question is not really focused, even if it could solicit multiple answers or relate to different perceptions, it does serve the objective of expressing a concern, a doubt, a misgiving, an underlying issue or the inadequacy or incompleteness of a concept under consideration. In some of the routine classrooms, the teachers feel challenged when a question is raised by a learner. The teacher’s inability either to give a perfect meaningful reply or their lack of awareness about the issue raised in the question forces them to silence the child as they tend to move towards a safe-guard mode. In a few cases teachers tend to silence the questioning child through psychologically demotivating statements. However, a good classroom is a place where questions are encouraged, entertained and attempts are made to seek answers either directly or through collective methods. The freedom to question is a fundamental right the learner should have in the classroom not only to scaffold one’s learning, but to focus the direction of learning to a few other domains which have either not been considered or lost sight of.

4. Scope for thinking pathways

It is said that the human brain has a fascination for pattern making. It tends to fall into a pattern often as a convenient strategy. However, the brain is also blessed with the capacity of creating, using, and working with multiple pathways about the same subject of study. Following different pathways of thinking leads to multiple styles of thinking – lateral, analytical, parallel and others. In a classroom where children breathe adequate freedom, the mind opens to multiple considerations about the ideas, themes or concepts and develops a contextual unique strategy within a few seconds. This requires a strategic decision-making methodology. Pursuits of multiple pathways of thinking helps the learner with multiple styles of thinking. The learner chooses the best option unique to him. The classroom should provide formal and informal opportunities for this dimension and help the learner to express one’s own thoughts and ideas, without any reservation or suppression. Apart from its utilitarian value, this would help the learners to choose one’s own approach to problem solving after examining other available pathways./p>

5. Encouraging Disruptive Thinking

“A mind that is full of conclusions is a dead mind, it is not a living mind. A living mind is a free mind, learning, never concluding “says J. Krishnamurti, the internationally celebrated scholar. Disruptive thinking is an expression of an active, engaging, and conscious mind. Disruptive thinking often questions the credibility and validity of existing thoughts and ideas. It paves way for creative thinking through critical appreciation of the existing structures and processes. Often expressions of disruptive thinking are considered as violations of established norms or disciplines; and hence learners who think disruptively are treated with contempt until the reality pops out. A thinking classroom should indeed welcome disruptive thoughts so that the foundations of existing thought architectures could be re-examined with a penetrating eye and the relationships could be reengineered.

6. Encouraging critical appreciation

Critical review and critical appreciation of ideas, thoughts, concepts, perceptions, practices, and procedures is a vital to a thinking classroom. Giving space and opportunity for them will help learners to celebrate their self-esteem without any reservation and come forth with dynamic and powerful suggestions both for critical analysis and creative enterprises. In normal classrooms, teachers tend to see some of these actions as counter-productive, non-linear and derailment of the purpose and focus of their journey towards completion of the curriculum. One of the reasons for such attitudes is consideration of learning as a scheduled journey from one destination to another rejecting the joy of learning. Zone of proximal development in cognitive domains is marginalized in achieving some set goals for learning. Hence, teachers would do well to provide opportunities for critical review and appreciation.

Thinking classrooms are vibrant platforms for participative learning through collaborative and constructivist approaches and to celebrate ‘learning to learn.’