John Steinbeck writes in East of Eden:

This I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.

Would you fight for the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes? A free, exploring mind is a defining characteristic of our humanity. One reason we love being educators is that our work prompts us to think – there is magic in wrestling with a challenge, working through a problem, inventing something that has never existed before, or creating something that is beautiful, meaningful, or true.  We are born to think, and thinking makes us happy.

And thinking makes children happy, too.  Give kids a problem and a chance to reflect, imagine, create, or problem solve and you’ll find that you can’t stop them.  One way to do this – many others will be described in future postings on this blog – is to use thinking prompts in the classroom.  A thinking prompt is any provocative object you present to students that … makes them think!  A thinking prompt might be a video clip, a painting, a poem, a cartoon, even a single word that you use as a catalyst for learning. You can download a free manual about thinking devices at the Big Four Ning.

Another way to encourage thinking is simply to watch students and ask yourself a few questions about what you see. Are they thinking?  Are they engaged in the lesson?  If not, what can I do to help?

These ideas are just the beginning. We can fight for our students’ free minds every day, every class, every moment we teach.  And we should.