The Big Book of Independent Thinking

Jul 17, 2010

Category: Words    Tags: , , ,

Sounds like the start to a rather complicated joke, right?

Matt Gray, Nina Jackson and Jim Roberson (the Theatre Director, Music Teacher and ex-American Footballer respectively) provide three of the eight chapters of The Big Book of Independent Thinking (hereafter known as TBBoIT!) Interestingly, a stand-up comedian is responsible for Chapter 1!

These contrasting individuals are associates of Independent Thinking Ltd, an organisation who ‘work to bring the best out of young people and those that work with them’. They are responsible for teaching learners, motivating teachers and coming up with excellent resources like the ‘Thunks’ series.

Eight associates take a chapter of TBBoIT each (which, together with helpful introductions from founder Ian Gilbert, makes up the book). Emblazoned on the front cover is their motto — “do things no one does or do things everyone does in a way no one does.” And so, The Big Book of Independent Thinking tries to be a book about getting the best from your pupils unlike any other book about getting the best from your pupils. Happily, it succeeds.

The Big Book of Independent Thinking isn’t a book directly for your pupils. There are no photocopiables or ready-made lesson plans. Instead, TBBoIT takes a different approach. It provides eight essays that attack the very heart of your teaching, ensuring that each time you dip into them you’ll come away challenged. It’s then up to you to put what you learn into practice in your classroom. This is a book to change your mindset, not just your next lesson.

If we had to identify a thread that runs throughout TBBoIT, it would be motivation in your classroom — how to get the best from your pupils. Each chapter can be roughly summarised as follows…

Thought-provoking essays? Inspirational articles? However we frame the contents of The Big Book of Independent Thinking, it’s not going to be half as persuasive as a taster from each chapter. Here, then, are eight.

At the outset of a session with young people, I make it quite clear that I work only with geniuses. This remark is normally met with much hilarity and scoffing, as if to suggest I’ll be luck if there’s one in the room. But I was once told that expectation is everything, that everyone is born with the potential to be a genius, but that the world spends the first seven years ‘de-geniusing’ them.

from ‘On Love, Laughter and Learning’ by David Keeling (Chapter 1 of TBBoIT)

Those who don’t appreciate music think that it has no significance other than providing ephemeral pleasure. They often consider it a gloss upon the surface of life, a harmless indulgence rather than a necessity. … The idea that music is so powerful that it can actually affect both individuals and the state for good or ill has disappeared.

from ‘Music and the Mind’ by Nina Jackson (Chapter 2 of TBBoIT)
(Incidentally, in TBBoIT Nina Jackson provides several short catalogues of suggested music for ‘Learning and Focus’, ‘Relaxation and Calm’, ‘Learning to Learn’, ‘Personal Reflection and Realisation’ and to ‘Motivate, Stimulate and Energise’.)

…I sometimes wonder what behaving has to do with learning. Just because someone is behaving (for ‘behaving’ read ‘quiet’), does this necessarily mean they are learning? And, whose responsibility is their behaviour anyway?

from ‘The Disciplined Approach’ by Jim Roberson (Chapter 3 of TBBoIT)

Mistakes are the way we learn; failure is when learning stops; success is when the lessons of mistakes are first noticed, and, second, acted upon productively. I have yet to encounter the following scenario. Somebody crawls up to me on their hands and knees. I ask, ‘Why aren’t you standing up?’ They reply, ‘Well, when I was a baby I tried this walking “thing”. But I kept falling over…’

from ‘Lo Mejor es Enemigo de lo Bueno’ by Matt Gray (Chapter 4 of TBBoIT)

I’ve already hinted quite strongly at a concern that the ‘big screen’ is becoming the sole preserve of the teacher/expert/gang leader. The sad paradox is that it is often in the schools where the most money has been spent on ICT, where every room has a projector or whiteboard, that you see the very worst examples of e-chalking. The e-chalker… [spends their time] …either with their back to the class writing on the board, or playing a series of whizzbangpowwow media thingies they downloaded last night.

from ‘Peek! Copy! Do! The Creative Use of IT in the Classroom’ by Guy Shearer (Chapter 5 of TBBoIT)
(Chapter 5 is chock-full of ideas to avoid this ‘e-chalk and talk’ scenario).

You, as a teacher, have a huge responsibility in shaping the actual physical structure of the brains of the future of the world. It really is a case of your hands in their brains. In which case, you really do need to get your head around what Andrew Curran (the author of Ch.6) has to say, to help you understand better what you’re doing, wouldn’t you think? After all… …what’s the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath?

from Ian Gilbert’s introduction to ‘How the ‘Brian’ Works’ by Andrew Curran (Chapter 6 of TBBoIT)
(Chapter 6 is a tough, technical read, but one that most of us missed out on when teacher training and, therefore, vital)

…I want to focus on the person first and the job second. If we want to live a truly creative life, then the starting point has to be ourselves, and not our work.

from ‘Living a Creative Life’ by Roy Leighton (Chapter 7 of TBBoIT)

A teacher in a school in Devon said, ‘Ah, great idea, but not with the kids round here.’ He then told me in detail about the behaviour of the students that meant that team learning would fail. The problem may not be with the students who haven’t yet learned how to use teamwork to grow their success. It may be with the staff and schools where there is not enough trust in the capacity of young people to learn and in their desire to do something constructive and positive with that learning. If we don’t give trust, we don’t get it back.

from ‘Build the Emotionally Intelligent School’ by Michael Brearley (Chapter 8 of TBBoIT)

Hopefully, this has whetted your appetite for book two in our Six-Week Reads series. Ian Gilbert has put together a refreshing read that is both a challenge to our classroom status quo and an attractive manifesto for his Independent Thinking organisation.

The Big Book of Independent Thinking is not full of instant lesson plans. But if it doesn’t inform your teaching infinitely more than that tatty book of photocopiables on your desk, then you just haven’t been reading it properly.



Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom by Michael Brearley
The Little Book of Big Stuff About the Brain by Andrew Curran
The Magic of Metaphor by Nick Owen


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