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Thinking Schools

In this section you will find a wide variety of documents, research, and chapters from professional books related to a thinking process foundation for schools. There are also several reports and school studies on the Thinking Schools International ( approach to catalyze and support schools transformational processes.

Learning and Leading with Habits of the Mind
Arthur l. Costa and Bena Kallick, Editors. 2008

Chapter 9: Thinking Maps: Visual Tools for Activating Habits of Mind

David Hyerle

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This chapter from Costa and Kallick's book presents a comprehensive investigation of how thinking Maps®, Habits of Mind, and essential questions may be unified in classroom practice. The three major pathways for Building Thinking Schools--cognitive processes, dispositions and enquiry/questioning--are shown to be foundations for explicit, long term development of all childrens' thinking abilities. 

Pathways to Thinking Schools
David Hyerle and Larry Alper coeditors. Corwin Press, Second Edition, April 2014

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Chapter 1: Catalyst

David Hyerle

Some leaders across different fields and many educators believe that the direct facilitation of thinking draws the focus away from “hard” content learning into an unmanageable (read “untestable”) morass of “soft” learning-to-learn processes. A central premise of this book, as evidenced by the work of the gifted edu- cators who have contributed chapters, is that we have proven that we can, in fact, accomplish both goals simultaneously. The recurring themes throughout this book crystallize to these three key points:

  1. The dramatically changing world requires changing the educational paradigm toward a focus on applied thinking, problem solving, and col- laborative decision making by students in classrooms, not after they leave schools.

  2. New technologies and access to information not only have had many benefits, but also have a downside by overwhelming students and teachers without offering them the requisite tools for dealing with the overload.

  3. Teaching for, of, and about thinking—and teaching for content—are not antithetical but are deeply complementary when unified in classroom practice.

The Thinking Schools International approach is based on three guiding principles, as described in this video clip excerpted from the online guide Growing Thinking Students in Thinking Schools. (Edivate, 2014)

Report on the Evaluation of the Impact of the Thinking School Approach
A report carried out by Thinking Schools International and the University of Exeter evaluating the impact of the Thinking School Approach, U.K. 2012

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Background: The ‘Thinking School Approach’ is defined by the late Emeritus Professor Bob Burden as ‘‘an educational community in which all members share a common commitment to giving regular careful thought to everything that takes place. This will involve both students and staff learning how to think reflectively, critically and creatively, and to employing these skills and techniques in the co-construction of a meaningful curriculum and associated activities. Successful outcomes will be reflected in student’s across a wide range of abilities demonstrating independent and co- operative learning skills, high levels of achievement and both enjoyment and satisfaction in learning.... ‘(Burden, 2006). Since 2005, fifty five schools in the UK have gained ‘Thinking School’ accreditation from the University of Exeter by adopting a whole school approach to the teaching of thinking, embedding thinking in the heart of the school and its curriculum. A further hundred plus schools in the UK have joined the Thinking Schools network, often facilitated and trained by consultants from Thinking Schools International. In most cases, the journey to accreditation has taken at least three years to achieve. In September 2012, the University of Exeter and Thinking Schools International jointly funded a survey to evaluate the impact of the ‘Thinking School’ approach, as adopted by these ‘Thinking Schools’. This is a preliminary survey, identifying areas for further research and evaluation.

A Summary Report of the Regio Comenius funded ‘Developing a Thinking School: Norway to Northern Ireland Project and the NEELB Creating a Thinking School Pilot Project

A  two-year Regio Comenius project, led by the North Eastern Education and Library Board’s Curriculum Advisory and Support Service (NEELB) and Oslo Education Authority (UDE), focused on shared exploration of the concept of a Thinking School. The project involved Kestrel Consultancy (the UK arm of TSI) and University of Oslo, as external partners, and also included participation by staff of six Northern Irish primary schools and four Norwegian schools.  The project was completed at the end of 2012 and final report for the project was submitted  in June 2013. 

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During a visit to a school in Mérida, Mexico, Dr. David Hyerle, co-director of Thinking Schools International, had the opportunity to talk with the principal and students about the implications for whole school focus on cognitive education.

Student Successes With Thinking Maps®
David Hyerle and Larry Alper coeditors Corwin Press, Second Edition, January 2011, Thousand Oaks, California

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Chapter 13: Embracing Change: The Evolution of Thinking in a K–12 School
Gill Hubble, M.A.

Over 10 years ago our school began an evolutionary process that finally envisioned a community of learners who could move beyond “tacit use” of thinking skills. Through research, practice, personal discoveries, and many rich conversations, we made a multiyear commitment to integrating the thinking maps language into our community. Over the past four years we believe that our school achieved “reflective use” of these tools—a sophisticated metacognitive use involving reflection and evaluation (Swartz & Perkins, 1989). We came to believe that if our students functioned as reflective users of thinking maps, that this would increase their thinking skills repertoire and encourage autonomy of thinking and collaboration, certainly important if not essential outcomes for every school in a democratic society.

The Craftsmanship of Critical Thinking
By Karie Lin Olson, Argosy University, Washington, United States.  2010

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The focus of this research project is to investigate how Thinking Maps® can be used as a reflective tool. Thinking Maps® were used to assist students and researcher in clarifying and communicating their understanding of key academic content. Other visual tools and uses of these tools may be employed by teacher and students but they will not be the focus of this research project and data will not be collected on any other visual tool or other use of a visual tool.


The purposes of this study are:

- Use Thinking Maps® as a visual tool to record thinking and enhance Metacognition by making thought focused, explicit, and intentional.
- Identify how Thinking Maps® affects critical thinking when used as a review and reflection tool.
- Determine if the changes in thinking connected to Thinking Maps® become Habits of Mind.
- Identify further evidence of connections between Thinking Maps®, critical thinking, Habits of Mind, and academic performance.

Validation of the effectiveness of visual tools, specific instruction in academic behavior, increased awareness of thinking patterns and their effects are significant benefits to both students and educators. The greatest impact on student learning was the development of a personal metacognitive frame through reflection. Students began to show academic growth as they became more aware of their own thinking and began to test their interpretations. The teacher researcher used both Habits of Mind and Thinking Maps® as a scaffold to assist students in the development of a metacognitive frame.

Pathways to Thinking Schools
David Hyerle and Larry Alper coeditors. Corwin Press, Second Edition, April 2014

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Chapter 4: Criteria

Bob Burden

Bob’s extensive international work has informed his respect for the cultural contexts that frame individual growth, classroom practice, and whole school change. Bob’s deep understanding of the practice and theory of a range of dimen- sions of thinking and practical classroom approaches to thinking give us the grounding for com- prehensive definition of and criteria for Thinking Schools. Few have the experience to attempt, to even risk defining that which seems so diffuse. Bob offers an explicit answer to the question: What constitutes a Thinking School? The 14 criteria that Bob has developed for use by any school around the world is used as a reflective framework—not a template or checklist—for schools that want to map out their own vision. Schools may also engage in the collaborative process of becom- ing accredited as a Thinking School. Does this sound odd? Not really, because Bob also conveys that the process of accreditation is a journey that proceeds forward with continuous development, and not an end point.

Thinking Maps® and School Effectiveness A Study of a UK Comprehensive School Report

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The results of our lesson observations demonstrate that the use of Thinking Maps® facilitate a greater percentage of time spent on activities that promote higher order thinking. Although 16 lessons constitute a relatively small sample, these results are encouraging and suggest that where Thinking Maps® are being used, students have more consistent access to higher order thinking skills.

Staff evaluations of previous and current teaching methodologies demonstrated that existing effective pedagogical practices remain integral to the lesson. However, staff indicated that the implementation of Thinking Maps® has enhanced their effectiveness by developing: a common thinking tool used for purpose; students’ access to a more effective planning tool; the sharing and visualisation of thinking. As previously concluded, staff indicate that the use of Thinking Maps® facilitate higher order thinking skills.

Development of the Teacher as a Metacognitive Agent
By Eleanor M. Papazoglou, Franklin Pierce University, New Hampshire. 2010

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Within teacher education programs and professional development there is a tenuous assumption that we all have the same understandings of reflection. Generic approaches to understanding reflection simply help teachers amass a repertoire of skills to apply in a relatively unvaried manner. Concerned about written reflections that focus on overly technical accounts of a mastery of methods and skills, this investigation inquires into understanding the metacognitive dimension of a reflective process and the development of the teacher as a metacognitive agent. This is a qualitative value driven study that attempts to reduce uncertainties and to clarify a particular stance on reflective thought in order to contribute to the development of theories and concepts that generate further investigations. Included in this study is a self-analysis of the researcher as a teacher educator exploring a transformative process with teachers-as-students. What do teachers say about what they do, and what can be learned from the language in their written and oral responses? From an analysis of data collected for this study, criteria emerged distinguishing the technical thinker from the metacognitive thinker.

The Metacognitive School: Creating a Community Where Children and Adults Reflect on Their Work
By Jeffrey M. Spiegel, Ed.D. Principal, Hanover Street School, Lebanon, New Hampshire, The New Hampshire Journal of Education, Volume II, 2003

“What happens when an entire school makes a fundamental shift in its thinking? This article describes the developmental experiences characterizing the school's evolution as a metacognitive school.”

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An Evaluation of the Thinking Maps Program in an Elementary School in Florida
By Susan Marie Horrisberger, Nova Southern University, Florida, United States. 2007

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Initial Research Questions

In order for the Thinking Maps program to be implemented consistently and pervasively in

the target school, teachers must own the strategies and speak the language. Students imitate what they see used in the classroom, therefore, it must become second nature for teachers to use Thinking Maps automatically in their daily instruction. Students imitate what they see modeled for them. Thus the following research questions will be addressed in this study:

  1. Are Thinking Maps being implemented effectively on a school-wide basis in terms of reaching students as intended and delivering activities?

  2. What are the most appropriate methods to ensure continued effectiveness of the program in terms of training and support for teachers so that they automatically use Thinking Maps in their instruction?

  3. What are the most appropriate methods to ensure continued effectiveness of the program so that students automatically use Thinking Maps inside and outside of the classroom?

Student Successes With Thinking Maps®
David Hyerle and Larry Alper coeditors Corwin Press, Second Edition, January 2011, Thousand Oaks, California

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Chapter 12: Feeder Patterns and Feeding the Flame at Blalack Middle School
Edward V. Chevalleir, Ed.D.

Thinking maps help students actively process information. The use of the maps creates immediate and specific questions. In a middle school classroom, the constant challenge is maximum engagement. Used in even their most limited form, thinking maps ensure eight “ready” questions—questions associated with each of the eight thinking skills.

Bifocal Assessment in the Cognitive Age: Thinking Maps for Assessing Content Learning and Cognitive Processes
By David Hyerle and Kimberly Williams, New Hampshire Journal,United States. 2010

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The most effective revolutionary tools are elegant in their simplicity, leading to complex applications. Thinking Maps®, as a fundamental language of cognitive patterns, have shown promise to become a model for transforming educational assessment. This set of visual tools allows us as teachers to see student content learning and thinking processes through the same bifocal lens—viewing the content at the surface and the cognition more in depth. our cognitive age requires that our assessment tools keep pace with our new understanding about how the brain learns and processes information. in this piece, we offer tools for educators and learners to determine not only “what” is learned but also “how” it is learned.

A Field Guide to Using Visual Tools

David Hyerle, Author. ASCD. 2000

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Chapter 7: Change Patterns

David Hyerle

This Field Guide could have started with the following story of a school that is in the process of becoming part of a larger community of learners through the support of visual tools. Change is hard, and this school has certainly struggled with the same demons that confront every school: forces within and outside the school who, for whatever reason, resist change. Jeffrey Spiegel, the school’s principal, offers this vision of his school, a school reflecting on its own process.

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