Three Ways Garfield Gini-Newman Has Helped Me Re-Think My Teaching

Monday, December 10, 2018

The best thing that I learned at Garfield Gini-Newman’s Creating Thinking Classrooms workshop is that I don’t have to throw out everything I am already doing to create a community of critical thinkers in the classroom. This was a huge relief to a new teacher in the “create-as-I-go” stage of my career, and who has worked hard to amass the few resources that I do have. Rather, Mr. Gini-Newman suggests tweaking what is already happening in classrooms to foster environments that encourage both critical thinking and creativity. Simple changes in what I am doing that will lead to big changes in my students’ learning? Sounds like an idea I can get behind! Here are my top three takeaways from Garfield Gini-Newman’s two recent Manitoba ASCD events.

Problematize Everything

I was struck by how easy it is to implement Mr. Gini-Newman’s ideas. He argues that we should create problems as learning experiences in our classrooms to get students thinking. Isn’t the best kind of PD the one you can take back to your classroom on Monday morning? To create problems in everything students do in the classroom, I simply need to shift my planning mindset. For students to think critically, there needs to be a problem for them to solve. Seems simple, right? As I move forward planning the rest of the school year, I am trying to find the clarity of where my students are and where they should be going. Once I accomplish this, I can make thoughtful choices to provide my students with a problem that will become the vehicle for a unit of study. I must always consider the learning that I am trying to advance.

It's The Adjective That Matters

Launch Learning with Meaningful and Authentic Challenges

Okay, so now I have my problems and I’m ready for my students to solve them, but if I am not piquing my students’ interest from day one with something meaningful and authentic, how will they be invested in solving these thoughtfully created problems? Mr. Gini-Newman argues that to have a thinking classroom, thinking needs to be happening every day. I can’t plan on going into the classroom and teaching for a week, and then once I am finished expecting students to magically start thinking. By changing the order of my unit, I can engage students from the very beginning with thoughtfully created problems. These problems will serve as anchors for how content is delivered and provide opportunities for daily thinking.

Classrooms Need to be Set Up for Thinking and Creativity

In our grade five classroom, my students and myself spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year setting up routines and expectations. We use these throughout the year and we revisit them when things need tweaking. Why am I not considering the need for thinking and creativity as we co-construct our expectations? If I am changing the way that I approach teaching, I need to also consider how the classroom runs. Am I cultivating a safe space where students know it is okay to take risks, fail and persevere? Am I encouraging student curiosity and giving students the freedom to solve problems in their own ways? This third takeaway has resonated with me the most. I still have more questions than answers, but if I can expect daily thinking even in the most minute of ways, I think I am on the right track. My hope is to create an environment where students are curious and are not afraid to take risks. In this case, students will be allowed to fail early and will hopefully come to see failures as learning experiences.

Six Forms Of Critical Thinking Tasks

Potential Classroom Plans

Mr. Gini-Newman says, “a thinking classroom is a classroom where students think to learn and learn to think. It is a classroom where students are invited to think critically, creatively, and collaboratively.” I think with a little work, I can start to create a thinking classroom. Of course, I couldn’t help but leave both sessions with my mind buzzing with ideas. Here are two ways that I think I can get more critical and creative thinking happening in my classroom.

Overhaul the Design Process

I love Grade 5 science. We learn about neat topics and have so many opportunities for hands-on authentic learning experiences. Why have I been saving the design process for the end of units? Instead of having my students evaluate food products and decide which ones to bring for a healthy lunch at the END of learning about nutrition, I plan on giving them the choice from day one. Once they make their initial choices using prior knowledge, they can continually re-evaluate and change those choices as they learn more about different nutrients and healthy eating habits.


One form that creative thinking can take is curation. In this task, students gather together sections of works - poems, paintings, artifacts etc. To complete this task, one must understand what makes a specific type of work “good” and worthy of the collection. In the new year, I want to have my students curate different French texts. Sometimes, I find that teaching in a second language can limit a student’s ability to express their creativity. Vocabulary and syntax place constraints – has anyone ever mentioned how difficult French is to master? On the other hand, if students can recognize what a great French text looks like and justify their choices, they think critically about French texts, understand the criteria and components, and then have the opportunity to demonstrate those skills in a creative way.

Finally, as I head off with all my big ideas, I still have so many questions. What about my kids who are “good” at school? If I cease to give them a right answer, will they be uncomfortable for possibly the first time in their school career? This is excellent but definitely overwhelming. How do I help them change their mindset and stay engaged? And as always, the age old new teacher question. How? How do I make sure they actually learn? What if I have great problems and ideas, but fail to guide my students appropriately? How do I deliver content in critical ways? I have my big ideas and questions, but now how do I tackle day to day thinking? I want to make sure that I am teaching the necessary content in ways that encourage critical thinking, but I’m still stuck on the “how”.

I feel very strongly that teaching should be a collaborative effort and invite you along on my journey. Do you have answers to my questions? New ideas or questions that I haven’t even considered? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on how to incorporate critical and creative thinking into our classrooms. 

Meghan BurnsAbout the Author

Meghan Burns is a second year Grade 5 French Immersion Teacher at École Charleswood School. She is passionate about collaboration, dedicated to continued growth as an educator and is always looking for ways to get students hooked on learning! You can find her on twitter @madameburns

Posted by Meghan Burns at 12:53 PM

Currently, 4 Comments

This is such an insightful and inspiring blog post, Meghan. I hope some other educators have some answers to your questions. Thank you for such a thoughtful reflection.

December 10, 2018 at 9:39 PM by Cheryl Chaban

I like the idea of teaching being a collaborative effort. Why not open your classroom up to a teacher you trust to be honest with you about your practice and ask them for some feedback? Working together, collaboratively inquiring into these questions of practice may help to grow in really powerful ways.

December 12, 2018 at 7:24 AM by Brenda

Thanks Meghan for posting your reflective thoughts and inspiring educators to think beyond the traditional classroom. I teach English to high school kids and I implement many of Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle’s ideas from their lastest book 180 Days. Having students read and reflect on current topics in today’s world provokes meaningful discussion.

December 15, 2018 at 2:25 PM by Margaret Murray

I am sharing your blog post with staff in my school through our weekly PD - "Flipped Fridays" (I send a description of a short learning opportunity to staff and if they are interested, they sign up, read or view, and discuss with any others who have done the same). I appreciate your interest in collaboration and as I went to follow you on twitter, I realized I already do! Follow me back @hlkwells. Also - check out #observeme on twitter if you haven't already!

January 8, 2019 at 9:39 AM by Heather

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