Dean of Learning

Dean of Learning

Can a student still be an original thinker and meet the requirements of good academic practice? This is a question which we are unlikely to get an answer to in a newsletter article, though it is useful to ponder the relationship between learning and creative/original thinking, and good academic practice. 

Wharton Professor, Adam Grant,  presented a TED talk in February 2016 on “The surprising habits of Original Thinkers”.  I recommend this TED talk to put on your to do list.  In the context of student learning there are a number of valuable concepts which may be of use. 

Firstly, Grant specifically addresses the characteristics of pre-crastinators and pro-crastinators. That is, comparing those who quickly jump into a task and move on to the next task and those who leave it to the last minute – if they get to the task at all. His research indicates the original and creative thinkers are in the middle.  They start the task, park it for a while to let the ideas consciously and sub-consciously permeate their thinking so that they creatively approach the issue.

Teachers and parents may find this idea particularly useful when dealing with students/children who race into tasks to those who leave everything to the last minute. So the best practice might be to support an approach which starts an activity, let it rest for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes and hopefully a more original way to approach the issue.

Secondly, Grant argues that the research indicates original and creative thinkers have doubts and fears. This too is a useful notion to ponder for learning.  Doubts and fears in students about learning usually comes from not understanding what needs to be done and not having the knowledge to make an informed decision.  It is normal to have doubts and fears and still be an original thinker and creative.  Our role as parents and teachers is to recognise these doubts and fears and work the students through a strategy to manage these feelings so their learning can be maximised. 

Thirdly, Grant’s research suggests you can never have too many ideas to be creative and original. The more ideas you generate, the more options you have.  In the context of learning I would add that there is a point at which a student needs to suspend ideas, pick a couple and act on them in the context of the task or issue at hand. 

With these ideas in the background to our thinking I would like to explore in detail the idea of developing good academic practices in student writing. Good academic practice is ensuring that what a student writes is reflective of their ideas and that where they use other sources that they are properly attributed.  The buzz words around this statement are academic integrity and plagiarism.

Recently, Year 10 in Integrated were required to write a 300 word reflection based on the following research question:  “Should Rio host the Olympics?” Our goal was to create an environment where they could be creative and original in their thinking. We created the framework in which creative/original thinking could germinate and grow. The teachers carried out the research, modelled analysis through their writing and presented their thoughts on the issues as a launch pad for the students to generate their responses.    

With the research taken care of and examples of analysis students were in a position and had time to think and write clearly on their viewpoint(s). The students found it to be a challenging task to restrict their responses to 300 words. To assist them we suggested the following approach which may be of use when you are supporting your daughter with other pieces of writing.

Firstly, the girls needed to determine the 3-4 key points of analysis they wished to make. For example, a student could investigate the economic, political, social and health issues in relation to the Rio games and how these could be used to make an informed decision as about whether to host the games.

Secondly, they needed to identify the 3-4 key facts or examples to use to support these viewpoints. This could be in the form of statistics, a quote from a reliable authority, a graph or a flow chart.  

Thirdly, the girls needed to think of a few higher order statements to support to their viewpoint.  For example, are there positive and negative impacts to consider? Can they be ranked?  Are some sports more likely to be affected than others?

Finally, at some stage the students usually find they have too many words. Now the students need strategies to reduce the number of words. For example, reduce the number of points and examples or look at each sentence written and rework the wording while still maintaining the integrity of the argument and the examples used.  This is a personal choice of the students.   

We believe that in preparation for learning tasks the practice of answering questions within the framework of a restricted number of words is a crucial skill for Loreto girls to develop. As the girls do this they will develop confidence in using their own ideas, generate original and creative responses to issues which should enhance their understanding and hopefully their learning.

Can a student still be an original thinker and meet the requirements of good academic practice?  Yes, with some structured guidance and support from teachers, parents and peers.


Mr Martin Pluss

Dean of Learning