The Hats We Wear: Teaching Critical Thinking (w/ Free Printable)

DeBono's Thinking Hats

“Learn the 10 Amendments to the Constitution by Friday.  There will be a quiz worth 20 points,” the teacher says after she teaches her students a pneumonic device to memorize the amendments.

While it is certainly imperative that students know the Bill of Rights, what good is it, really, if they can’t think critically about why they were added to the Constitution in the first place?  With state testing placing extra pressure on teachers to spend much of their time “teaching to the test,” teaching critical thinking skills often falls by the wayside in classrooms.  But how can we call ourselves good teachers if we haven’t taught our students how to think so that they can apply these strategies to the myriad situations and circumstances they will encounter in their futures?

Teaching critical thinking skills sounds nice, but also seems amorphous.  How exactly does one go about it?  Teachers who are determined not only to address the state standards, but also to teach their students the essential skill of thinking critically may find psychologist Edward De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats strategy helpful.

The Thinking Hats strategy is a simple way for students to approach problems and ideas from different points of view and encourages them to think below the surface.  Each hat requires the thinker or group of thinkers to contemplate an issue from a different perspective: Continue reading

First Day Back to School: What do I do!?

back-to-school_clock-2Summer is always the perfect time for teachers to reflect back on their past experiences, evaluate personal and professional growth, and set some goals for the upcoming year.  As I reflect back on my first few years of teaching, one of the things that comes to mind immediately is my first few “first days” of school.

My first year of teaching, I taught 7th grade math and science.  Since my class periods were only 50 minutes long, it was not difficult to decide what to do on the first day of school: introduce myself, teach class rules and expectations, give an overview of what we would be learning this year, and if time allowed do some kind of an icebreaker.

After teaching seventh grade for one year, I was fortunate to find a position in the grade that I had had my heart set on since making the decision to become a teacher: fifth grade.  As the new school year approached, I was excited to be teaching the age group and curriculum I felt were best suited to me given my strengths as a teacher.  But as the first day of school approached, a new thought occurred to me: What am I going to do with these kids all day long on the first day of school? I knew jumping into curriculum immediately was not wise.  I knew that I needed to establish some ground rules, set expectations, and begin teaching procedures.  I knew I needed to spend significant time getting to know the students, letting them get to know me, and letting them get to know each other.  But what would this look like?  Hadn’t I done it all the year before in only 50 minutes?  What was I going to do with a full day’s worth of time? Continue reading

Congratulations! You’re a Certified Awesome Teacher!


While I was in school working toward earning my teaching credential, I took a class called “Philosophy of Education.”  During this course, we read an article originally published in 1990 by the California Department of Education.1  The article included a graph entitled “Phases of first-year attitudes toward teaching.”  (See below)


The article described each phase a new teacher typically encounters at various points during the school year.  She starts off on an emotional high, anticipating a great year of teaching her rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed, motivated students.  By mid-September, however, her attitude toward teaching begins to take a nosedive, as she enters the survival stage.  She realizes that she and her students aren’t quite living up to the unrealistic expectations she had at the beginning of the school year.  She is simply doing her best to survive the challenges her students present and make sure she has lesson plans done at least one day ahead of time.  She begins to wonder why everything is taking so long and she has to stay up until 2 AM just to be prepared for the next day.
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Math Puzzles and Immediate Feedback


The Problem.  During my first year of teaching, I had very few additional math resources to use to supplement the basic curriculum the school provided.  Usually, after my mini-lesson and small group instruction, I would assign practice problems from the textbook or from a worksheet I found online for homework/independent practice.  The textbook problems and worksheets had adequate practice problems, but it was not terribly uncommon for a student to complete a homework assignment completely incorrectly and have no idea.  Well-meaning students would turn in 2 pages worth of work, making the same error over and over again, never having any feedback to let them know their work was incorrect.  Once I noticed this pattern, I did my best to prevent these problems through visual checks for understanding, checking answers to guided practice problems, and aiding those students who were clearly struggling.  Still, sometimes students would perform adequately in class, but when they went home to complete their homework assignments, they would make errors without realizing it.
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The OHIO Principle: Great for Students and Teachers

How many minutes per year do you suppose you spend looking for something you know you had only days, hours or even minutes before?  Students and teachers are both notorious for misplacing papers.  Students lose their papers in disheveled desks and backpacks and teachers lose the copied math worksheets they made during prep period just as quickly.

A great strategy for managing those pesky papers is to follow what is known as the “OHIO Principle.”  Ohio stands for Only Handle It Once.   This principle recognizes that papers are often lost when the recipient receives them and places them somewhere (in a disorganized folder, on the desk amidst a sea of other papers), thinking that he’ll put them in the proper place later when he has more time. Under the OHIO principle, upon receipt of the paper (whether it be students receiving handouts or teachers receiving completed work), the recipient will “only handle it once” by immediately placing the paper(s) in the proper place. Continue reading