Thoughtful Learning Blog

Insightful articles about 21st century skills, inquiry, project-based learning, media literacy, and education reform.

Unlocking Literacy Across the Curriculum

All teachers teach basic literacy: students learn any subject by reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These days, we also need to teach more advanced literacies, such as knowing how to use technology and manage information.

But how can we teach all of those literacies? Is there a simple approach that makes sense of literacy in science, history, art, literature, computers, math, drama, and media?

The Communication Situation

Yes. The communication situation is the key to unlocking any form of communication in any subject. Whenever someone uses a medium to express an idea to someone else, there is a communication situation.

Every communication situation has five components: sender, message, medium, receiver, and context.

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Teaching the Process of Learning

Teaching the Process of Learning

We can't accomplish much in a second. Blink. Breathe. Take a step forward. We can do 60 times as much in a minute, and 3,600 times as much in an hour. Our truly great accomplishments come from combining the little things we do in seconds into long, complex processes that take days or weeks or months.

Learning is one such process. None of us is born walking, but one of us became Usain Bolt. None of us is born writing, but one of us became J.K. Rowling. They learned how to do what they do through a long, involved process. Whether training for an Olympic 100m race or beginning work on a new novel, people who are doing something difficult follow a similar process called inquiry.

What are the steps in the inquiry process?

The inquiry process consists of six steps that can help any novice become an expert in any discipline.

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Developing Students' Social and Emotional Intelligence

Developing Students' Social and Emotional Intelligence

By Tom McSheehy MSW, LSW

Social and emotional intelligence allows us to negotiate our own and others’ emotions and feelings. No wonder it is vital to success in relationships, academics, jobs, sports, and other life activities. Employers, for example, have discovered that 67 percent of the skills they are looking for in new employees are directly related to social and emotional intelligence (Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence). Yet schools spend only 1.6 percent of the school week developing these skills in students.


Research highlights the importance of teaching students social and emotional learning (SEL) skills. Here are some interesting findings:

  1. Fear and anxiety interfere with learning, while safety and security support and facilitate learning.
  2. Emotion plays a major role in every intellectual process and affects the organization of children’s brains.
  3. Children who can learn by age 10 to delay gratification, control impulses, and modulate expression become healthier, wealthier, and more responsible (Terrie Moffitt of Duke University and a team of researchers who followed a group of 1,000 children for 32 years).
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Test Your Social and Emotional Intelligence

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Social and emotional intelligence refers to your ability to understand and manage your own emotions and recognize the emotions of others. A few free, quick online quizzes can give you a beginning insight into your social and emotional intelligence. The first two quizzes listed below connect to university research projects, and both measure your ability to recognize emotions and facial expressions. The latter two quizzes measure your understanding of emotions in everyday life and in your classroom.

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Teaching Innovation and Problem Solving

Business leaders are calling for workers who can solve problems and innovate solutions, but how can educators teach such abstract skills? After all, isn't every problem unique? Doesn't every solution differ? Yes. But the fundamental tools of problems solving are common to all situations, and they can be taught. The two most important mental tools are critical thinking and creative thinking.

Critical thinking is convergent. It focuses intently on a topic, paying careful attention to logic and rules. Critical thinking breaks a subject into its parts and investigates how the parts relate to each other: categorizing, sequencing, comparing, ranking. It is in-the-box thinking.

Creative thinking is divergent. It sees a topic as a whole and imagines it as an analogy for something else: envisioning, improvising, riffing, wondering. Creative thinking reaches out to explore possibilities and defies convention and rules. It is out-of-the-box thinking.

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Critical and Creative Thinking: Lessons from Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin's twisted take on traditional snowpeople shows his creative thinking.

When I write the first draft of a novel, I'm Calvin from the classic comic series Calvin and Hobbes. Brimming with imagination and life, I don't care what may be sensible, realistic, and conventional. I'm full of passion, flying in many different directions. Sure, there'll be plenty of mistakes, but at least they'll be big.

When I revise and edit a novel, I'm Calvin's parents. I have to look dispassionately and critically at what the child mind has created. I have to analyze and evaluate. Patience, persistence, and a kind of longsuffering skepticism must prevail.

To put it another way, the parents' job is to make the child's life safe, and the child's job is to make the parents' life dangerous.

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