Teach content or teach thought?

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to curriculum development and 21st century fluencies. How can I help students develop those essential literacy skills, or fluencies, that will help them succeed in today’s society? What balance do I need to establish between “crystallized intelligence” and “fluid intelligence”:

If our job is to teach skills, facts, and concepts–crystallized intelligence–then thinking is simply a tool, and our curriculum is content.

If our job is to teach critical thinking, design, and problem-solving–fluid intelligence–then thinking is our collective circumstance, and our curriculum becomes thought. – Terry Heick

An emphasis on the former has been the standard for generations of students and classrooms. This has been the default in our planning for teaching, too. I often tell colleagues that “We teach as we have been taught”; thus the persistence of this emphasis in schools. We need to be deliberate in our efforts to change.

What if we were more intentional to make critical thinking and 21st century fluencies the focus in our classrooms? How might this change the classroom? How might this impact the way that the curriculum is experienced by students? How will it change me as my students’ teacher and as the learning leader for the school?

I like how Heick explores this implication on teaching, teachers and the classroom environment:

To learn to think, students need powerful and inspiring models that reflect the design, citizenship, creativity, interdependence, affection, and self-awareness we claim to want them to have.

To teach careful, creative, and truly innovative thinking, students need creative spaces and tools, and frameworks to develop their own criteria for quality and success.

They need dynamic literacy skills [read: ‘fluencies’] that they practice and build upon endlessly.

Not projects that have creativity and design thinking added on, but projects that can’t function without them.

And they need control of it all.

I am reminded how I argued for a paradigm shift in how we “do school” when I first presented my ideas for a new school to the Board. It isn’t an easy challenge. It can be messy, too, Nevertheless, I still believe that the positive impact for students and their learning is worth the effort.


T. Heick – Are you teaching content or teaching thought?


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