Enhancing Teacher’s Understanding of How to Develop Students’ Thinking

Paper presented at the 17th ICOT, International Conference on Thinking 2015, 30th June, in Bilbao, Spain.

Read the paper: Enhancing Teachers Pihlgren

See the slide show: Pihlgren Enhancing Teachers


Schools around the world are trying to cope with rapid societal changes – fast progress of technical development, the globalization of communication, markets, and ideas, and the demand for equal education for different groups in society. If these challenges are to be met, for the benefit of mankind, it calls for good educational practice in every classroom, focused not only on teaching thinking to students, but also on their abilities to make productive choices, and to take responsibility for societal development in the future.

This paper is part of a larger study including a thorough investigation and analysis of current research literature on how education can meet the demands for cognitive development of students, compared with results from observations and teacher interviews, recorded at 125 lessons in classrooms with students from grade K-12, and 60 sessions in afterschool with students from grade K-6. The questions guiding this particular part of the study concern how (if at all) the teachers’ ways to plan and carry out classroom activities changed after having participated in development programs, and what methods seem to be more effective than others when changing teachers’ classroom behavior. Twelve units in eight schools K-12 and afterschools K-6 participated.

The ‘thinking classroom’ presupposes that the teacher plans, assesses, chooses activities and tools, and arranges the setting, with strong focus on fostering students’ habits of mind, rather than fixating on factual knowledge or covering of certain knowledge areas. The contextual and communicational interactions play a vital part of support in a thinking environment. The development programs focused on these issues. Before teachers participated in the programs, observations showed little evidence of the anticipated criteria in the classrooms (Pihlgren 2013a, 2014). Though most teachers showed an understanding of what would develop the students’ cognitive skills, they lacked the understanding of how to translate their theoretical knowledge into practice.

Some of the elements used in the development programs proved to be more effective, especially when combined: The impact on teachers’ behavior in the classroom increased when the teacher was required to try out different ways to act, when they were required to present their experiences and get feedback from colleagues, researcher and leaders on what they had done and how, when the teacher read theoretical texts connected to what was tested and lectured on and the texts were discussed with colleagues, and when the principal or vice principal took active part during the program. An ‘ideal type’, a model of how a successful development program would look like was constructed and can be used for designing or evaluating teacher development programs, where the aim is to change teaching practice to address higher cognitive outcomes.