Dr David Whitehead Development Day

Here I am on the last Friday of my school holidays at Brightwater School and I thought I would have a go at live blogging from the venue. If we move too fast then I will give up and write by hand. David has show notes as well and Janice has links that will go up on our cluster web site later. Image

David is into language literacy and thinking tools. He seems like a nice bloke but as he might find this blog I had better say that. LOL. So here goes…

David believes we need future focussed, literate thinkers. As a nation we need people who know how to cut through the spin and get to the truth. We need critical, creative thinkers so we can survive the challenges of the 21st century.

NZ teachers are sensitive observers of children’s learning and thinking we should celebrate that and be aware of the dangers of spending our time trying to assess thinking skills.

We then looked at seven selection criteria for thinking tools. I have just tended to grab a thinking tool but David helped us see a sensible pattern and a criteria for selecting which particular thinking tool that you might use for a particular reason.

  1. Teaching and Learning linked – helping children learn.
  2. Smart Tools – not just reading but also writing, not only listening but also speaking.
  3. Subject specific – some tools best suit themselves to one subject eg using a time line best suits historical texts and narrative sequences.
  4. Text linked – if a tool evokes the same type of thinking as the tools then that’s the one you should use for example a T-chart is best suited to being a basis of argument or persuasive writing.
  5. Thought linked- memory, creative, critical, caring, reflective…
  6. Brain Friendly- aligned with how the brain learns naturally- visual imagery.
  7. Developmentally appropriate- some tools are best suited to particular age groups.

During morning tea with yummy muffins we made this concept map. The thing that impressed me with all of these thinking tImageools was that the same tool is being used across all age groups but with an extra component added at each level to develop the thinking. For example at the beginning level children simply record the have, are, can and give examples. They can then turn this into a text report with a simple definition, text body and an ending.

At the next step up level children can add group attributes and their report text may have an engaging opening (a hook), parts and more uses for the topic. Their text report then would have an interesting opening sentence, a definition, the body of the text which may include more detailed part description of and uses for the topic followed by a satisfying closing sentence.

Now David adds…

“When teachers use texts to engage students with different types of thinking, they operate on the brain as assuredly as neurosurgeons. The neural fabric in the brain is re-structured or pruned during every lesson taught. In this sense, the very structure of our brain – the relative size of different regions, the strength of connections between them, even their functions – reflect the lives we have lead. Like sand on the beach, the brain bears the footprints of the decisions we have made, the tools we have learned, the actions we have taImageken.”

You can see from David’s quote why he is so sought after. That paragraph is the most elequent on this blog so far! It resonates with a blog I read somewhere where a father was talking with his son about what he had learnt at school that day. The son said he had been building muscles for his brain. How cool is that?

Paul Wilkinson joined us virtually from Christchurch for a time and listened via Skype. With Call Recorder I was able to capture this sound bite from David about knowledge and knowing. This again wove itself into my thinking about creating learning in the classroom- content is only a context for learning and metacognition (there we are- the first time I have used that word in context).

David’s Sound Bite 2.5MB 2 minutes

This is the first time that I have tried to add audio to this blog and I will be very impressed with myself if it works. It did- I hope David doesn’t mind!


The other text type that I found particularly interesting and useful was the narrative. The narrative lends itself to sequenced timeline. In the past we would have constructed timelines, patted oursleves on the back and moved on. David suggested that a time line is not an end in itself but a process on the way to learning. We need to take it a couple of steps further for children to develop narrative plot structures in their writing. Simply to do that children construct a time line with different colours of text signifying prior and new knowledge. Then take one event on the timeline and expand it with who, where, what, how, why questions. Image

Seeing I was the only participant from my school I worked with Brightwater staff as they developed their more advanced timeline about their winning breakfast with Olympic triathlete, Hamish Carter, as a reward for 100% participation in the walk to school promotion.David suggests also we complete an events analysis…

  • Was it OK that this event happened?
  • Was the event really needed?
  • Did the event achieve its purpose?
  • What can we learn from what happened?
  • What could you change from what happened?

And then ask what can we learn about life from reading this text. This made the link in my mind to the Lighting the Literacy Fire post I wrote earlier about making text-to-self connections.

The day was well spent and there is lots more for me to ruminate on. I would like to participate in one of David’s study groups as it sounds really interesting.

Another highlight of the day were the contributions made by Paul Harrington in Wales and Paul Wilkinson in Christchurch. If you read the comments on this post you will see the conversation going on in there as the day progressed as well.

Paul has directed us to a useful Freeville Thinking Tools wiki that he is working on with templates for thinking tools and David’s shownotes will be available to us soon via Centre4 I presume.

Hopefully this blog post will become an interesting focal point for the on-going discussion of the thinking tools that we learnt today. If you are going to blog about it how about adding DrDavidWhitehead (no spaces) to your tags so that we can find your blog and link together.


One last thing before I go out and enjoy the sunshine…

During the day David put up a chart on the non-interactive whiteboard showing the links between the text type and the thinking tool that best suits it. This is what managed to get from my hand-written bird scratchings. I know I have missed some tools and probably got some wrong. Please help me edit the linking chart by adding your comments either in this blog or on Flickr directly and I will change it.

I enjoyed the day and learnt a lot that I can practically use in my classroom next week. Thank you David and Brightwater School for hosting us.

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12 thoughts on “Dr David Whitehead Development Day

  1. Hi David here taking a break fron teaching with these very difficult teacher LOL
    I think the world needs more future focussed literate thinkers. Our survival depends on it. This means breaking down the subject fortresses, silo mentalities of tradiotional curriculum. Thinking provides the adhesive for interdisciplinary learning – it is the super set (sorry for that aweful pun) of learning.

    Must have a coffee and separate this umbilical link with Allanah.

  2. Ask him what he thinks of David Hyerle’s Thinking Maps.


    David Hyerle claims (with some research backing) that they enable you to graphically represent all the ways we think about the world. Suitable for all ages and across curricula. I heard him speak a couple of years ago and thought it was the most amazing, practical learning idea I had come across in a long time. Enjoy the day.

  3. Love them. Like to think (joke) that we might use maps that align with different text forms and types of thinking. We then (as teachers) need to decide the types of thinking (and therefore map we choose to use) that we as a society value. Are all maps equal? Are all types of thinking equal, or are we in a position to select those types that meet the real and present dangers we face as a species. Whatya think?


  4. Oh Great questions. I love questions that challenge my thinking.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the question, Are all types of thinking equal? Do you mean of equal value, utility, power for change? It all depends on your purpose. A lot of deBono’s references to thinking are related to problem solving. Lateral thinking for example is most often discussed in terms of solving problems. 6Hat thinking is almost always represented in the light of solving problems. David Hyerle’s Thinking maps I think are more about describing or categorising the world. My understanding is they are designed as tools to describe thinking in a certain way. The tools might then be used to help solve problems, tell stories, generate new ideas etc etc. Yes definitely I think we need as many tools as we can to help us make sense of the world and to help us meet the challenges we face. It is a significant challenge to understand the tools well enough and have them so ingrained that we pull them out at the most appropriate times. This is where I am all in favour of specific explicit teaching of thinking as a skill.

  5. I’ll have to take a photo of one of the displays in my room. It is all about building your learning muscles. Based on the work of Guy Claxton. The kids are starting to get the idea that there are things they can do to help them become better learners. Great stuff.

  6. It sounds as if I missed much of the discussion due to the time difference – I really hat the 11 hour difference between Wales and New Zealand – someone will have to come up with a way to solve it!!!!! Great discussion and I very much enjoyed the snippet of David speaking – saying all of the things that we know and understand about the ‘new world’ post industrial revolution model… thanks again for the invite.

  7. Hi Paul, Paul and Allanah
    I am interested to read your comments on Heryle’s thinking maps. I too heard him a couple of years ago and was so impressed with the maps as tools for helpng our children think that we have spent some staff time developing our knowledge of them and using them in pur literacy and inquiry Learning programmes. The double bubble maps are excellent. Flow maps have been excellent for supporting writing, circle maps are great fro brainstorming and sometimes we use cause and effect maps for children who are having soime disagreements int he palyground…helps them to try and see what actually happened rather then listening to emotional blamimg! I have david heryle’s book about the Thuinking maps and find it an excellent resource.

  8. Thanks for your comment Janice. Hope you had a good first day back at the chalkface. Please remember you were going to lend me David’s book when others aren’t using it. I had a close look at Paul W’s links and found those templates to be useful. It’s a pity though that they are as pdf’s which make them difficult to personalise. I like a nice title and graphic to make my organisers look pretty!!!

    Maybe if anyone does make a template in WORD or something editable then we could share that on the wiki as well.

  9. A great report about a very worthwhile day Allanah. I enjoyed Davids presentation and the fact that he had slides prepared to suit each teaching level represented by all the seminar participants.I took away several ideas that I am already able to relate to what I am presently doing. Some ideas we are already using successfully, so it was heartwarming to affirm we are on the right track. I also really liked the links from thinking tools to text type- very useful for planning.
    Keep up the good work. We can assess that you are able to stay on task all day. (Gold star for you!)

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