Monday, August 26, 2013


I used to think that it was enough to do my best teaching.

I used to think if I reached every student, met each at their  respective levels, and stretched each one to new heights, then I had done my job

I used to think that my job was to bring the knowledge, dispense the information, and provide the facts about whatever we were studying.

I used to think that I was the one who decided what we would learn and how we would go about that learning.

But now I think that teaching is facilitating learning.  I  understand that I learn together with my students, as we engage in critical thinking,  as well as deeper reading and writing, and  as we undertake inquiry and research.

I understand, as did James Britton,  that our learning "floats on a sea of talk."

I now think conversations and discussions, debates and arguments, and new kinds of classroom discourse are crucial in our collaborative learning.

We  must engage in defining, refining, clarifying, challenging, accepting and adapting, as well as negating or rejecting ideas, concepts, and frameworks.  We must recognize and analyze embedded and hidden, or overt metaphors and paradigms.

We learn together.

I used to think that after dispensing the knowledge-the information that  I alone had to offer-- that my job was to ask questions to ascertain how much had been learned.

But now I understand that the best learning takes place when we each ask our own questions and determine our own paths of inquiry.  What will I learn?  What do I want to learn?  What must I learn to succeed at whatever task, goal or activity? What did I learn?  (See related blog on questions and inquiry, Wonderings,What-Ifs and Other Questions

I used to think that it was someone else's job to determine what my students needed to know and learn--that it was someone else's job to tell me what to teach.

But now I understand that as professional, I am the one who deliberately and intentionally recognizes and determines the needs of the particular learners in front of me.

I  now understand that teachers are intellectuals--I am an intellectual.   And in that capacity and role, I must gain and maintain knowledge of scholarly and professional literature, engage in action research, critically analyze any policies--classroom, district, state and federal--that affect education, my teaching, and, most importantly, my students. I construct my knowledge through dialogue with other educational professionals and colleagues, and must make a commitment to political and social action.

I used to think that there were some specific methods of teaching to which I needed to remain loyal and true.

I now think that there are many methods that work--the most important factor is the teacher, herself.  She makes the difference-- not the materials, the method, or the test.

I used to think.... and  now I think...

This language framework was used often in my classroom to monitor and record our learning and changes in our thinking.  We used this structure as we thought  and talked our way through literature, through social studies concepts, and through other aspects of our learning and our day.

So long have I used this structure (as well as a  handful of other simple language structures),  that I no longer remember where and how I first encountered it.

Recently, however, I was delighted to discover this structure used as the framework for an important book about our profession.  Like me, Richard F. Elmore used this structure frequently to ask learners "to reflect on how their thinking  had changed as a consequence of their work together."

 In the introduction to I Used to Think..and Now I Think..: Twenty Leading Educators Reflect on the Work of School Reform (Harvard Education Letter Impact Series) he describes his own use of this structure:

I began to conclude my course and professional development sessions with a simple protocol called I used to think... and now I think...It consists of asking students to complete a two-column exercise. One column  says "I used to think,'' which captures key ides and preconceptions they had when they entered the course or session, and another,"and now I think...," which captures their thoughts on the same subject after the course or session. We usually follow these individual reflections with a Quaker-style session in which people speak about their reflection when they choose to, with no obligation for anyone to speak.  This protocol originated with the very useful website Visible Thinking sponsored by Harvard Project Zero, which contains a number of ideas for how teacher can encourage students to talk about their learning and, in doing so, build more powerful disciplines of thought.
For more on Visible Thinking visit their website.and check out additional core routines.

In his book, Elmore has invited twenty leading educators to reflect on their work and thoughts about school reform.  Included among them are Sonia Nieto, Howard Gardner, and Deborah Meier, all of whom over the years have influenced my own personal I used to think...but now changes in thinking.

What did you used to think?
How has your thinking changed?
What do you think now?

Today's Deeper Writing Opportunities

Think about your own teaching ( or profession ).  How has your thinking changed about your work in general?   

Identify specific areas in which your thinking has particularly changed.

Write an essay using the structure I used to think....and ( or but ) now I think....


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