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March 19, 2021

Elements of Thinking: How Do Your Students Think?


How do your students think?

Time after time, evidence from international examinations such as PISA suggest American students are falling behind globally in their ability to problem solve, work in groups or think critically.

But when we think about our jobs as teachers, is that what first comes to mind?  You probably find yourself asking, do I have a lesson plan, an exit ticket, extra copies, backup pencils, discipline referral forms, an up-to-date makeup work folder and so on. Asking those questions on a daily basis allows us to survive and live to fight another day.

But when the day is done, can we say we taught our kids how to think?

If you’re having a hard time answering yes to that question, it’s okay.  We all prioritize our time based on the most immediate needs and often, staying on top of best practice teaching gets lost in the shuffle.  Fortunately, there’s a way to stay on the cutting edge and make your day to day both more enjoyable and impactful for your students.

The key to making all that a reality is the Critical Thinking Continuum.  The CTC was developed by Steve Ramirez and Wendy Chalk of Life Long Learning & Associates. Simply put, critical thinking is a mindset, or a combination of skills, that allow people to make reasoned, evidence based decisions.  The training helps teachers incorporate Bloom’s lower and higher order thinking, complex reasoning, and performance tasks into their classrooms.

Examples range from inductive reasoning and Socratic seminars to comparison matrices and complex performance tasks.  One of my personal favorites is the elements of thinking form.  This document helps students follow a logical thought progression that mirrors what good thinkers do while analyzing a resource.  Ultimately, these techniques assist teachers in creating independent, critical thinkers who are prepared to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century.  And as an added bonus, those classrooms are well managed because students are fully engaged and excited to be challenged in new ways.

If you’re ready to provide your kids with the critical thinking skills they need and to make your job more gratifying, look into conducting Socratic Seminars or using tools like the comparison matrix which is linked above. If you teach social studies, I would recommend joining the DBQ group on TchAUSL which is packed with these kinds of resources. If you’re not a social studies teacher but still want access to the resources and in-house training, be sure to connect with Katie Lyons, AUSL’s Director for Professional Learning.

And keep me posted about the impact of using these tools.


–Ryan Leonard


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