Creative Thinking for Intellectual Stretch

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This week our partnership (six primary schools and a high school) had a professional development day together, learning about stretching children’s thinking and promoting creative problem solving skills. My brain was s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d after the day! I spent the afternoon in an early years session focussed on supporting children’s executive function skills, which I’ll share more about in another post. Today I’m focussing on creative thinking for intellectual stretch.

So What? 

My brain needs the ‘so what?’ answered to connect with and retain learning. Guess what? So do the students in my class! They need purpose to make learning meaningful. I’m starting to make my learning meaningful by writing this blog post. Here are my take aways from the session with Dr Martin Westwell:

Who’s doing the thinking? 

If you as an educator are doing all the thinking, while the students follow the bouncing ball, that ain’t gonna deliver the goods when it comes to student learning.

Collaboration is key

Student collaboration during learning enables sharing of ideas, building of collaboration skills and deeper learning and understanding. We experienced this in our session when we were handed a perimeter worksheet vs a piece of string and challenged to find the perimeter of our hand in small groups. Which was more interesting? Which required more thinking? Which required more collaboration? Which one resulted in more transferrable knowledge? Yep, the active, collaborative task.

Create multiple entry points 

If a learning task enables all students to jump in with both feet, then you’re on the right track. If the same task also enables all students to take their thinking as far as they can, then you’ve got a winner. Could all students jump in and have a go at finding the perimeter of their hand with a piece of string? For sure. Could some students experiment with ‘what if’ and ‘it depends’ during their investigation? Definitely. Winner, winner!

Help students own their knowledge

If students create their own knowledge, then they own the knowledge and it becomes much more transferable to other learning situations. Or even (gasp!) real life!

Make it un-google-able

If the learning opportunities you offer your students can easily be completed using Google, then it’s not going to give them the problem solving, knowledge building, collaborative, knowledge owning experience they need to develop deeper understandings. It’s also probs gonna be pretty boring.

Make the thinking visible

Making Thinking Visible

What have students learned? How can you see their learning? Think about how to make their thinking visible. Our school has been using thinking routines for a year or so. It’s something that I’ll always be learning more about!

Find the ‘what if’ and the ‘it depends’

Prison for the human spirit - Bertrand Russell

Move learning from ‘knowing’ to ‘suggesting’ and you enable students to switch between convergent (what if) and divergent (it depends) thinking: thinking about our thinking. Meta cognition FTW! Do this again, and again, and again and you’ve got some seriously deep learning opportunities. Learning opportunities like this will develop students who know what to do when they don’t know what to do. How powerful is that?!

Stop and Think

Slow it down – encourage students to Stop and Think. Does this make sense? Check for meaning. Teach children to be noticers. Ask them, what do you notice? what do you think about what you notice? what do you wonder about what you notice? Watch the stop and think in action here and it will all make sense (zoom forward to 3:15 if you’re in a hurry, but I recommend slowing down to support deeper understanding, of course).


Get good at productive failure. The growth mindset research is your go-to for this. I’m currently listening to the audio book of Dr Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset’ and highly recommend it for EVERYONE. It’s for parents, educators, sports people, business people. Everyone can learn from this awesome research. As Dr Westwell said, when students expect to fail, again and again, they move closer and closer to understanding. It’s not just about the failing it’s about what you do next.

So, now what?

Are you sold? On message? Me too. I get it. I’m ready to do it. I think, in a lot of ways, I already do it. I’m not a worksheet teacher. BUT there are learning opportunities that I am ready to transform with this new knowledge. I look forward to sharing my classroom experiences with you in future posts. I’m no expert. I’m a learner. Watch me learn.

More intellectual stretch goodies:

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