Takeaways from the recent Thinking Schools Conference in Cape Town

Submitted by Fiona Beal

I’ve always been interested in learning about thinking! For example, information on how the brain works, using concept maps in the classroom. study skills, making thinking visible and more.  I know that when kids have structure for thinking they learn better. What I didn’t know, though, is that that there is a whole movement in schools aimed at encouraging thinking in the classroom.


I stumbled on to this recently when I received an email inviting me to register for the Future Ready Roadshow in Cape Town. When I saw that James Saunders from the USA was to be the keynote speaker, that was enough for me – I lOVE his presentations.. This conference was hosted by the Thinking Schools Association of South Africa.


Here are my takeaways

Learning about Mindfulness – 16 habits of mind

I kept hearing references to the 16 habits of mind. I love the one that says, “Responding with Wonderment and Awe – finding the world awesome, mysterious and being intruiged with phenomena and beauty. The Habits of Mind are an identified set of 16 problem solving, life related skills, necessary to effectively operate in society and promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity an craftsmanship  (see downloaded image) They promote high levels of cognitive control, emotional regulation and self-awareness.  At the school where the conference was held, Grove Primary in Claremont, Cape Town, the 16 habits are displayed on one of the walls. Here is an image I found at http://goo.gl/t3d117 summarising the 16 habits of mind:


Edutopia has a great post called ‘Integrating the 16 Habits of Mind.  http://goo.gl/vLrMl showing how to integrate these habits into the classroom, in whatever you do.

The use of graphic organisers to promote thinking
The first session involved visiting a teacher who was teaching a class in a way that encourages thinking. It was a Saturday, but the classes doing demonstrations had come to school! I opted to go to a Grade 3 story-writing class. Before writing about that as a takeaway I want to mention the use of graphic organisers to promote thinking. The Grade 3 teacher had these thinking maps displayed on her wall.  She mentioned that she frequenty brought them into her lessons, all depending on what the lesson wanted to achieve.

Interesting wall displays inside the Grade 3 classroom

I always like looking around a classroom. This one some interesting wall displays. These are three that caught my eye

The Grade 3 story writing lesson

I loved observing the story writing lesson.  The teacher did this in three steps.

The first step was on the mat where the learners used the circle map to discuss their favourite books in the library.

After that the class set about their task which was to create a collaborative story based on the words written on a card. They each selected an envelope which contained a card (all the cards were different) and they set about writing their story. The second step of the task was for them to discuss and record ideas using the most suitable thinking chart.

The third step was for them to plan their story using the best chart for their purposes. The observers went around listening, noting which thinking map they had selected and watching the progress of the task. I loved watching the engagement in the groups, the use of dictionaries and the ideas that just flowed.

All too soon it was time to go to the next sesion so we couldn’t see the last steps of putting their ideas into story form. The teacher said that in the end they would each write their own final rendering of the story.  It was a great experience being in the class.

Looking around the host school

We were taken on a tour around the passages of Grove Primary. Wherever we went we saw children’s work using thinking maps displayed on the walls…every kind of thinking map imagineable from Grade 1 – 7. It was very impressive.

James Sander’s keynote
This was an incredible keynote. Do you know that James spoke for 1.5 hours but held us spellbounds! It felt like 5 minutes. He brought so much variety into his talk – videos, podcasts, music, quizzes, discussions, etc. It was just an incredibly motivating talk. The keynote  was titled ‘Chasing unicorns – everyone has a resume of failure’. He spoke about his various failures and how he had tackled them and in many cases they have led to incredible success. 

We talked about the importance of facing our biggest fears. We were encouraged to “take risks, reimagine, put yourself out there.” Using Socrative.com we shared our biggest professional goals, anonymously.

James has started many successful ventures with his creative thinking but the two I’ll mention are Breakout and Future Ready Schools.

Future Ready Schools (http://futureready.org/) He was one of the people selected to present to President Obama – he presented his Future Ready concept which was already popular. It was then endorsed by President Obama and in the USA along 26 million students are experiencing the future ready approach. Future Ready Schools helps district leaders plan and implement personalized, research-based digital learning strategies so all students can achieve their full potential.


Here is a video from their website http://futureready.org/

Students using Future Ready Schools in the USA

BreakoutEDU (http://www.breakoutedu.com/)

Breakout EDU is a revolutionary new product that brings gaming into the classroom in a meaningful way. Breakout EDU creates ultra-engaging learning games for people of all ages. Games (Breakouts) teach teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, and troubleshooting by presenting participants with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem-solve. Breakouts can be used to teach core academic subjects including math, science, history, language arts and have embedded standards that apply problem solving strategies within a real world OR collaborative context. All Breakout EDU games teach critical thinking, teamwork, complex problem solving, and can be used in all content areas. (some information from the website!)

Here is a video from the Breakout EDU site:

The speed date panel

We really enjoyed listening to the Speed dating panel. They each gave an overview of what was happening in their school and then they answered questions from the floor about how they manage ‘thinking routines’ in their classrooms.

There were many other interesting sessions that I haven’t mentioned – these were just six highlights of many! It was a great day of learning for me and I have certainly become more aware of the different ways of encouraging thinking in the classroom…and the importance of taking risks!

« Return to Latest News

SchoolNet South Africa is an incorporated Non Profit Company - Registration 2001/012244/08, NPO Number 030-817
and holds Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Status, in terms of Section 30 of the INcome Tax Act - POB Number 130003557.

Click here to support SchoolNet


For all official information and updates regarding COVID-19, visit sacoronavirus.co.za