Beyond the Engaging Conversation; Getting Kids to Think

As teachers we thrive on that really great conversation with a class of students.  It doesn’t matter whether they are 6 or 16 it is fun to see them passionate about a story you’ve read together, a sudden discovery they’ve made in science, or a connection they’ve made in math. It is so rewarding to see them excited when they have learned something new.  It can be a comfortable place for us to sit and bask in the good feeling.  It is also pleasant for the students.  They are engaged, but have we really stretched their thinking. I don’t think the Zone of Proximal Development is a familiar or comfortable place, but rather new and awkward.

Those really great discussions should be a starting point not an end; a crack in their simplistic understanding that needs a teacher to exploit and move toward greater complexity. When they are already engaged, we can use that to ask them to do the next hard thing, to think.  We must mediate;  ask them why, ask them to provide evidence, ask them to explain their thinking, and ask them to take a step back from that really engaging text and look at Reasoning Patterns.  

Michael Walsh, our tutor from Let’s Think in English, has provided us with 5 reasoning patterns to explore with children in discussion of literature:  Classification, Frames of Reference, Symbolic Representation, Intention and Consequences and Narrative Sequencing.  This will not happen organically, but must be planned for and opportunities exploited, by intentioned mediation.

Feuerstein et al.(2006) make it clear that the “mediating agent (the teacher) is guided by intention”  “The central feature which makes an interaction mediational is the mediator has an intention to transcend the immediate needs or concerns of the recipient of mediation by going beyond the here and now, in space and time.”

The interesting thing is, that when I have tried this with students it doesn’t diminish their engagement, instead they transfer that enthusiasm from the interesting story to the new cognitively demanding challenge.  They are actually engaged by the challenge, by pushing through the new and awkward, by engaging with that new way of thinking until it becomes less awkward and becomes their own.

I said in my last post that my mantra question while teaching is “What is my student really learning from the choice I make?”  If I want them to learn to think deeply and complexly I must make the decision that will push us both out of our comfort zone and into that unfamiliar and awkward ZPD.


Feuerstein, al. (2006) Creating and Enhancing Cognitive Modifiability: The Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment Program

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