Imagine you are in a waiting room for two hours. You forgot your phone at home, there are no magazines or books nearby, and there is no television in sight. You sit and are alone in your thoughts. Two hours slowly start to tick by. You begin to listen to the humming of the fluorescent lights above you and the tapping of a foot nearby. For two hours, you wait, alone to your thoughts.
We are often never left alone to our thoughts. We have access to multitudes of entertainment that we start to forget about the benefits of being without intentional distraction.
During a pandemic, a student was sent away from his university and completed independent study. This time away from school led him to reflect and explore scientific principles. His time spent reflecting with original thought led him to make discoveries for the law of gravitation. If we picture Isaac Newton as a student in our classroom, what would we see?
I believe Mr. Newton would be the gifted student, scoring exceptionally high on almost every assessment. Had Isaac not had time to create original thought, how much longer would it have taken him to make remarkable discoveries about scientific phenomenon? Original thinking is the ability to produce or expand upon content that can provide deeper insight, solutions, or a new perspective. Original thinking is not restating what the teacher said or forming an expected response. Original thought is beyond standard mastery and could even create the possibility of a new standard being written.
Keeping Isaac in mind, how often do we provide time for original thought in the classroom? We teach to our standards, ensure that students show mastery, provide extension or support activities, but when are students alone in their thoughts to expand on principles? Suppose Isaac Newton spent a day with bell-to-bell instruction, assignments, soccer practice, dinner, and review. When will he be given the opportunity not to recite and regurgitate but rather reflect on the content and expand with his own ideas or considerations?
What does original thought look like in the classroom?
In an art class, students may be asked what the title of this painting is, who the painter was, what year it was created, or where it currently resides. How often do we ask students questions that do not require a convergent response? Such as,
Considering the style of the artist, if the painting were to have a backside, what would it look like?
If this painting could continue off of the frame, what would we see?
In a Math class, students may memorize the number system. They complete number operations within the system to get a sense of how different types of numbers are used in the real world. They may even discuss where the system came from. But, when will students have the opportunity to wonder,
If we did not use this number system, what should be used instead?
The purpose of original thought is not to have a convergent response. While divergent thinking can make many people uncomfortable because there are so many different possibilities and solutions, it is an opportunity for students to transition from “remember and memorize” to “create and expand.”
What barriers are in the way of students from producing original thought?
Time is precious, especially in an educational setting. With bell-to-bell instruction, teachers have an expectation to cover a list of standards before the end of the year. In addition, with the tight scheduling of lessons, one could argue that it is hard to fit in time for students to reflect on their thinking.
From a teacher’s perspective, how are we ensuring that students spend time in reflection and original thinking instead of sitting there doing nothing? The need to see immediate productivity is a barrier to original thought.
After our students show mastery of content, how are we able to expand their knowledge? For example, if Mr. Newton scores a 100% on our Chemistry quiz, what resources can we offer him to continue deeper into Chemistry?
What supports can students have to encourage original thinking?
Pre-assessing where students are can be an indicator of standard mastery. If a student shows mastery of the standards required, they could have more time allocated for original thinking upon the standard.
Protected Time to Wonder
By creating protected time for all students to expand on learning, we are providing opportunities for sparking original thought in the classroom. All students deserve this time to develop ideas or solutions, gifted or not.
The power of a question asked can lead to original thought, but the power of a question answered could lead to discoveries that will uproot principles and consider alternative methods to advancing our society.