Friday, March 21, 2014

What Exactly Is the Thinking Curriculum?

What exactly is the thinking we need to teach?

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy
It's not just the cognitive processes categorized within Bloom's Revised Taxonomy students are expected to demonstrate.  Those cognitive processes define the knowledge and skills students need to know, understand, and be able to do.
Webb's Depth of Knowledge

It also goes beyond the levels in Webb's of Depth of Knowledge that students are expected to communicate.  That determines how deeply students need to know, understand, and be aware of a concept, idea, subject, or topic in order to answer a question, address a problem, or accomplish a task.

It's also not the postsecondary ready (read this to understand why we don't use "college and career ready" in this blog) standards - be it the Common Core or those developed independently by those states who have not adopted the CCSS - that we need to address in our instruction.  Those designate the performance objectives our students must meet or exceed in order to achieve and attain grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics.

Students also need to demonstrate and communicate domain or subject-specific deeper knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness - thinking, action, and knowledge that is specific to a particular content area.  

In English language arts and literature, we're not just teaching students how to read, write, speak, and listen fluently with basic comprehension.  We need to teach students to think deeply about how text - which can be print, audio, visual, or technical - is presented, why it is presented that way, and what effect the presentation has on the reader, viewer, audience.

In mathematics, we're not just teaching students  mathematical content, concepts, facts, practices, and procedures they need to reproduce and apply to answer questions, address problems, and accomplish tasks correctly and successfully.  We need to teach students to think deeply about how the procedures they followed led them to attain their answer, solution, or result; why a specific answer, solution, or result is correct or valid; how many different ways questions can be answers, problems address, and tasks accomplished; and how mathematics extends beyond numbers, algorithms, and formulas into the real world.

In history and social studies, we're not just teaching important dates, events, ideas, information, names, and people.  We need to teach the causes and reasons behind these events; why historical figures accomplished what they did; what was the situation or the thinking during a given time that influenced a person or an event; and what impact events throughout history had not only during the time in which it occurred but also on current events and perspectives in modern society.

In science we're not just teaching scientific facts, ideas, and theories.  We're teaching students research, investigate, and experiment with science in order to validate or refute existing theories, test their own ideas, draw their own conclusions, and even design new procedures and products that could improve - or even control - a particular scientific phenomena.

Such teaching and learning can be provided by implementing a thinking curriculum that addresses demonstrating and communicating knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness in the core academic disciplines in what we define as The Thinking Curriculum.

The Thinking Curriculum
The Thinking Curriculum is for us educators what Bloom's and Webb's are for our students - a specific framework that informs teachers specifically of what we should be addressing in the  instruction, assessment, and evaluation we plan and provide our students in the core academic disciplines.   Where Bloom's and Webb's details the level of knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness our students need to demonstrate and communicate in their learning, the Thinking Curriculum informs us teachers what we're supposed to address in designing and developing our subject-specific lessons, units, and assessments.

The Thinking Curriculum consists of four areas:
  • Literary Thinking: Literary thinking focuses on teaching students how to recognize what a text says, what a text does, and what a text means by analyzing choices of content, language, and structure.   Instruction focuses on non-critical reading (understand the text ), critical reading (understand the patterns and style of the text), and critical thinking (understand the meaning) (Kurland, 2000).   The foundation of literary thinking is learning to read and write, where the student learns how to hear and recognize sounds, gains experience with and exposure to text, hear what good reading sounds like, and have opportunities to read and write at their developmental level.  As students develop phonemic awareness and fluency, they should also be taught to engage in critical reading and thinking by restating in their own words what the text says (restatement); describing what type of text they are reading or viewing, what it is discussing, and what it is doing or its purpose (description); and also what the text means or its underlying message (interpretation).  Students should also be taught to learn how to analyze and evaluate the text for the ideas its infers or suggests (inference), the elements the author includes within the text to support its meaning or message (choices), and consider such elements when developing and producing their own text.   Students should also be taught how to read and write different text that present a specific message or purpose (ways to read).  Teaching and learning grammar are also a key component of literary thinking not only to know, understand, and apply the conventions of grammar and usage but also build fluency, develop a deeper understanding of how authors and their text use language to convey a particular tone and create a desired or unintentional effect on the reader, and use conventions of writing to develop a desired tone or effect on the reader or viewer.
  • Mathematical Thinking: Mathematical thinking address how mathematical ideas interconnect and build on one another and can be connected to contexts and phenomena outside mathematics (connections); making and investigating mathematical theories and developing and evaluating mathematical arguments and proofs (reasoning and proofing); expressing mathematical thinking clearly and coherently and analyzing and evaluating the mathematical thinking and strategies of others (communication); create and use representations to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas and  to model and interpret physical, social, and mathematical phenomena (representation); and build new mathematical knowledge by solving problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts (problem solving) (NCTM, 2000).  Mathematical thinking goes beyond knowing, understanding, and doing math - or, more specifically, reproducing and applying procedures to attain the correct answer.  Mathematical thinking challenges and engages students to think about the mathematical concepts and practices they are learning, how answers are attained or how they attained their answers, explain their thinking process, and develop and demonstrate analytical and creative problem solving skills that will not only help them in math but also in every aspect of their lives.
  • Historical Thinking: Historical thinking goes beyond knowing historical dates, events, facts, ideas, information, and names, which remain a key component of teaching history and social studies.  Historical thinking challenges and engages students to develop a deeper understanding of what and when events occurred as well as recognize, analyze, and evaluate patterns of historical duration (length of time) and succession (relationship between and sequence of events) (chronological thinking); understand the intentions and difficulties of various cultures, people, regimes, and societies encountered and the complex world in which such historical figures actually lived (historical comprehension); recognize and realize the differences in the various opinions and perspectives of educators, experts, eyewitnesses, how they convey ideas and information; distinguish between fact and opinion, and determine the credibility of sources (historical analysis and interpretation); conduct in-depth research and investigations to discover the facts, reasoning, and truth behind historical events, facts, ideas, information, and people and draw their own conclusions, opinions, or perspectives supported by evidence (historical research capabilities); examine and explore past and current controversial issues, problems, and situations deeply, develop arguments, claims, conclusions and provide solutions; and analyze and evaluate their impact on subsequent or current actions and decisions (historical issues). (NCHS/UCLA, 1996). 
  • Scientific Thinking: The core idea behind scientific thinking is evidentiary thinking - thinking that requires proof to support arguments, choices, claims, and conclusions.  In science, students demonstrate and communicate evidentiary thinking in three ways: inquiry (asking questions), investigations (conducting examinations and research), and experimentation (testing and validating ideas).  There are two processes students can be taught to demonstrate and communicate their thinking: the scientific method in which students generate and test a hypothesis about an observation or phenomena and engineering design, which involves inventing a new plan or product or innovating an existing procedure or product to solve a problem (Kuhn, 2010).
For teachers, the Thinking Curriculum is our Bloom's Revised Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge - the framework that tells us what and how we need to plan and provide our instruction, assessment, and evaluation.   In order to do this, we need to go beyond the textbook, the classroom, and even beyond ourselves to provide that deeper teaching and learning experience.

Literary Thinking with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
(CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.2, 3.3)
If you're going to teach a novel such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, don't only teach how to read the story but ask students to consider how Dahl satirizes - or, if working with younger children, brings attention to - how children behave and how parents do not attempt to adjust their improper behavior.  Have students analyze and evaluate how Dahl describes each of the characters and how their appearance, words, and actions  define or reflect their character.

Literary Thinking with Genre Study
If you're going to teach a genre study such as science fiction, don't just have your students read and view text from the genre, identify the main idea, describe the characters, and analyze the themes.  Teach students the motifs of science fiction and have students analyze and evaluate how these stories address and incorporate these motifs.  Have students consider whether science fiction influence scientific fact or vice versa. Challenge students to create their own science fiction tales that have deep, resonating themes about the future, space, time, machines, monsters, and society. 

If you're going to challenge students to interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, don't just have them work with numbers, algorithms, and formulas.  Have them explain the reasoning behind their conclusions, choices, and decisions.  Provide them a real world situation in which they would have to use multiplicative comparisons such as express in a number sentence the difference between the average size and weight of a porpoise (5 ft., 121 lbs.) to a dolphin, which is double or triple the size and approximately nine times heavier.

If you're going to have students learn about seminal historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the articles of the U.S. Constitution, or The Gettysburg Address, don't just talk about or even read these documents.  Have students analyze and evaluate the the style in which these documents were written; why these documents were written; how they reflect the thinking of the individual, period, or situation they address; and the impact these documents had not only during the time in which it was written but also its impact on modern society and culture.  Have students analyze how and evaluate why Thomas Jefferson carefully worded The Declaration of Independence to convey the colonies' conflict and concerns were with King George, not the people of England.  Have students analyze and evaluate the reasons behind the amendments of the U.S. Constitution and whether those reasons remain practical or pertinent.  Have them analyze and evaluate why Abraham Lincoln said what he did in The Gettysburg Address and the effect he hoped to have on his listeners.

Scientific Thinking with Natural Disasters
4-ESS2-2. MS-ESS2-2, HS-ESS2-1-3) 
If you're going to have students learn about natural disasters, don't just have them identify what natural disasters are and what causes them.  Have them research natural disasters throughout history, analyze and evaluate the impact of different kinds of natural disasters, why people continue to live in areas prone to natural disasters, how human interference and man-made disasters can cause natural disasters, predict the possibility of a historical natural disaster occurring again, and design a plan to protect people from or even prevent natural disasters.

Not only will lessons and units such as these encourage students to develop, demonstrate, and communicate deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of what they are being taught and learned but also make learning interesting and relevant for them - and perhaps, even you as the teacher.

Stay tuned to this blog for entries in which we delve deeper into the four core content areas of the Thinking Curriculum.

- E.M.F.



  1. Excellent article, Erik. I would also add that in science we teach about the impact of scientific discoveries. We can use guided inquiry to teach this aspect of science by asking students to describe our current environment if the discovery had never been discovered. A short essay is sometimes a good vehicle for this type of activity.

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  3. thanks mr erik iam from indonesia

  4. Excellent article,Mr Erick Iam very happy and make easy how to Teach by your article and make interisted and make some class Fun thank see u

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