What Happens When We Let Our Kids Think

The terrifyingly amazing thing about teaching is that no one ever masters it.

You might even say that we are professional learners who get to share our tricks, trades and stories to a live audience each and every day.

But sometimes we forget that we are learners too.

Sometimes, teachers fall into a trap that is always lurking just in front of us each and every day. The I-Now-Know-Everything Trap. Sometimes we only trip near the edge, stumble, catch onto the ledge and pull ourselves out.

Sometimes we’ve been in it so long we’ve forgotten what it was like to be out of it.

Getting Stuck in a Hole
Annnnd there I go.

For the last couple of years I thought I had this thinking and learning stuff down pat.

The kid in front of you doesn’t understanding something?

Me: “Take some time and think about it.”

Or those students who are unsure how to start a story?

Me: “Think about something what could happen and use that.”

What about when that maths problem seems about bit tricky?

Me: “Have a think and then try.”

All valid responses, right?

But, what happens if the kid in front of us doesn’t know how to think the way we are asking them to?


Let’s jump back to those kids who aren’t sure how to start a story (or better yet, a blog post if you’re me during some weeks).

When we give them the usual advice to think about how to begin their story, what is it we are actually asking them to do in their head?

(I’ll give you a clue, it’s a myriad of conglomerately amalgamated skills and strategies).

When we are using the word think to that student, we are actually asking them to use some of the following strategies, skills and concepts:

Visualise a personal story

Bring a memory to life in your head

Consider all of your favourite storylines and characters

Recall great openings to movies and stories

Imagine different perspectives

Ask yourself “What’s a story I haven’t written before?”

Plan a sequence of interesting events

Suddenly, when we consider a student who is uncertain how to start a story, telling them to just think about something that could happen may not actually help them.

However, when we use different words to guide them in ways to think, they can produce some incredible insights that will blow your mind.

Case in point, this reflection an 8-year-old shared to explain their understandings and feelings of migration during a unit on social justice and asylum seekers:

I used to think migration was some word that only adults used. I didn’t really know what the word was, I used to picture animals moving. Now I picture people around the world moving and changing (like animals across Africa) but as families of people. Migration might happen because of so many different things, like war, study, bad treatment, new jobs or opportunities for families. People move for so many different reasons, but mainly to help themselves or their families get more out of life.

Yep, that’s a response from an 8-year-old.


Instead of asking students to tell me what they think about migration, the class and I broke that one statement into some questions to give them the opportunity to share their understandings:

What words did you use to say in your head when you heard the word ‘migration’?

What did you use to picture in your head when you heard the word ‘migration’?

What do you recall and picture in your head now?

Why might people migrate?

What feelings could you or others feel when hearing or saying the word migration?

There’s serious power in thinking about the words we use to describe thinking.

It’s not about overhauling everything you do. Not in the slightest.

Tomorrow, just stop and think about two different words you might use instead of the word think…then try it out during one lesson. (I even tell the kids I’m trying not to use the word think!).

Instead of using the word ‘think’, what words would you use?

Let’s tap into that amazing thinking that is happening within those heads right in front of us.

**Check out some amazing resources by Dr Ron Ritchart (a thinking guru) to deepen anyone’s thinking…you won’t regret it as you start to see the incredible thoughts sitting inside the heads of those kids in front of you.

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