Do you have a teaching mascot? What symbolises your teaching philosophy? My mascot and company logo is Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ sculpture. I also celebrate ‘light bulb’ moments in learning!
Here’s my story of how I went from an ordinary ‘Pavlovian’ graduate history teacher, to passionate teacher, and then educational consultant and author
These days, I live and breathe higher-order thinking skills when I teach as a consultant in classrooms, staff rooms and workshops around Australia and New Zealand. But I wasn’t always so switched on to the education of ‘thinking’. My company logo is Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ statue. Here’s my story of how my teaching style has evolved for the better over many years.
I hope this story inspires you to dig deep and find your personal teaching style. I hope this article also challenges you to be a lifelong and voracious learner by educating and extending yourself through professional development to be a better teacher. I believe it is through continual professional development and self-awareness that you begin to unearth your unique values and carve your own path to create your thinking classroom. The wonderful results are that you begin to feel more confident and fulfilled as a teacher and you inspire your students, colleagues and school parents to love the process of thinking in learning.
In my first few years as a history teacher in the 1970s, I must confess that my teaching style was…predictable. Quite simply, I would feed my students a narrative of the history which I was teaching and expect them to listen and learn. After three years in the classroom, I went back to university, this time in Pietermaritzburg, in South Africa, to complete an Honours in history. This is where I was introduced to critical thinking and was taught to question everything. What a light bulb moment!
My teaching style immediately took a positive and more interesting tangent. I began to encourage debate and to challenge my students to think for themselves. I also began creating some healthy cynicism in my classes where I would tell ‘untruths’ to see if my students would challenge me. If they had not picked up this ‘lie’ by the end of the lesson I would point out that I had told an untruth and encourage them to spot the next one. In this way, my students began actively listening and questioning everything they learnt. I began to realise that teaching should be a two-way street.
However, I soon realised that although I was encouraging my students to do some thinking, I was still doing most of the thinking and, with Pavlovian obedience, my students were repeating my thinking ideas. I knew my teaching style needed to evolve further.
Towards the end of the 1970s, I was invited to attend a two-day workshop on Gifted and Talented Education, led by Belle Wallace from the UK. I loved those two days and, again, my teaching style developed. It was all about asking higher-order questions but what was missing for me was a road map or a framework and also thinking tools to scaffold the higher-order thinking.
In 1985, I was teaching at Port Shepstone High School in Southern KwaZulu-Natal and was invited to the University of Port Elizabeth. There, I spent a week learning more about gifted and talented education and was introduced to some of the CoRT thinking tools from Edward de Bono to encourage creative, critical and constructive thinking. Thinking tools such as PMI, CAF, OPV and many others excited me as I now had a simple HOW. It changed my teaching and especially the way I designed assessment tasks.
As a deputy principal, I also incorporated some of these tools into our staff meetings. I even began using these thinking tools in my personal life. In 1986, my wife, Terri and I completed a PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) thinking tool and – based on that analysis – we made the painful yet exciting decision to emigrate from South Africa with our three daughters, leaving family and friends behind.
Upon migrating to Australia in 1987, I started teaching at Rockhampton High School where I began teaching some of these thinking tools. In 1989 I was appointed Gifted and Talented Education Consultant by Education Queensland for the region of Central Queensland. With nine other consultants around the state, we embarked on this exciting new initiative to challenge and inspire talented students. (A side note: Of course, this was rewarding work, however I believe that all students are talented – we just need to provide them with the thinking framework, thinking tools and encouragement to be confident, vibrant and independent thinkers.)
I had always enjoyed tinkering with Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain and I then started to apply the thinking tools from de Bono and many others to create the Thinking Skills Framework, which I still use as the base for all my teaching. This Framework is so powerful because it brings everything together to achieve foundational and higher-order thinking as well as cooperative and collaborative learning. Take a closer look at the Framework and you’ll see it is a guide for the teaching of thinking, involving task verbs, Bloom’s six thinking levels, thinking tools, sentence starters, and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Model.
In 1995, I decided to become a real-life risk-taker by leaving a school where I had taught for the past two years to form my own educational consultancy. I could think of nothing more appropriate than the name, Rodin Educational Consultancy. The figure of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ statue became my company logo and the symbol for my passion to promote thinking in learning.
Terri and I recently visited the Rodin Museum and gardens in Paris where The Thinker is the final statue on the tour through the magnificent grounds. As we stood staring at this incredible artwork surrounded by fragrant rose gardens and perfectly manicured lawn, I felt a sense of awe and appreciation for this symbol of thinking, which has influenced my life so richly.
So, what’s your teaching symbol? If you don’t know your ‘mascot’ yet, I encourage you to explore this concept and see if this clarity helps guide your teaching practice and professional development journey.
BY Eric Frangenheim