The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 206 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, Host

GONZALEZ: This episode was supposed to be just for math teachers. I was going to share an instructional approach that, as dramatic as this sounds, has taken the math world by storm. The methodology is called Thinking Classrooms, and now that I have gotten a closer look at it, I can see that it could work in just about any content area. Built on 14 key practices, it’s a way of teaching that gets students up on their feet, collaborating and thinking through challenging problems on a daily basis. When I first saw a video of this strategy in action, I was immediately captivated, and the more I learned about it, the better it got. Thousands of math teachers are already using this approach, and it’s spreading to other subject areas as well. So if you’re a math teacher, you’ll definitely want to stick around for this. And if you teach something besides math, I feel pretty confident that this is something you’re going to want to learn about, too. 

My guest today is Peter Liljedahl, professor of mathematics education at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, the creator of the Thinking Classrooms method, and the author of the book, Building Thinking Classrooms. In this episode Peter describes how a Thinking Classroom is different from one that uses more traditional teaching methods, explains the how and the why behind a handful of the method’s 14 practices, and offers advice for teachers who want to get started.

Before we get started I’d like to thank Listenwise for sponsoring this episode. Listenwise provides short, high-quality, age-appropriate podcasts for grades 2-12. Save time with pre-made lessons designed to build students’ background knowledge and academic vocabulary. Keep students on grade-level with scaffolding and differentiation. It’s great practice for meeting listening & speaking standards!  With Listenwise Premium, you get comprehension tools like quizzes, interactive transcripts, a text-to-speech toolbar with Spanish translations, graphic organizers, and more. It’s perfect for English language learners! Learn more and sign up for free at

Support also comes from Wipebook. Having a whiteboard in your classroom is incredibly useful. But sometimes there isn’t enough room for everyone to participate. That’s where Wipebook steps in with their reusable Flipcharts, an eco-friendly, affordable extension to whiteboards, which come with 10 double-sided sheets. Each sheet is 2 x 3 feet and detachable, so you can hang it anywhere. With one blank side and the other gridded, they are perfect to work on solving math problems. With the free Wipebook Scan app, you can save your work directly to the cloud, then wipe the page clean and start again. That creates an unlimited non-permanent surface! And now if you go to you can enter their weekly giveaway to win a free Wipebook Flipchart pack! The giveaway resets every week, and the winners are announced on Twitter @Wipebook! So follow them on Twitter to stay updated, and take a look at all their other amazing reusable products at

Now here’s my conversation with Peter Liljedahl about Thinking Classrooms.

GONZALEZ: Thank you for taking the time to do this. 

LILJEDAHL: Oh, my pleasure. 

GONZALEZ: The first thing I’d like to know is, you know, we’re trying to introduce this idea of Thinking Classrooms to maybe more math teachers that have not heard about it. And the more I hear about it, really, and I’m sure I’m not the first person that’s ever said this to you, but I would love to see this approach working in other disciplines. But let’s just start by telling, telling the listeners, if you’re to walk into a classroom that is using the Thinking Classrooms approach, how does it look different? Because we’re going to get into some of the specific practices and the theory behind it. But if I walk into a room, kind of like when I saw this video a few weeks ago and I thought, what on earth? How does it look different? What’s going on that’s completely different from a normal math class? 

LILJEDAHL: Okay. So let’s, I can answer that question from a couple of different perspectives. Let’s say you walk in 10 minutes into the lesson, okay. Which is, which is a really sort of interesting time to walk into a Thinking Classroom. The thing that you’re going to notice right away is that nobody’s sitting in their desks. Everyone is standing in groups at whiteboards or some sort of a vertical, erasable surface. Maybe some are working on windows, some are working on some sort of an aftermarket product that approximates a whiteboard. Maybe some are working on chalkboards. But everyone is standing in groups of three, working on some sort of a task. There’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of interaction within groups. There’s a lot of interaction between groups. You may actually have trouble identifying where the boundaries between groups are.

Then you’ll notice that students are moving on. There’ll be a question that they’re working on that they’re now done, and then they’ll be somehow in some way, they’ve grabbed another task that they’re working on. You may not know where that task came from, but there certainly isn’t a list of questions that the students are holding onto or a posted list of questions on a projector screen or somewhere. But they’ve grabbed another task, and they’re working on it. You may start to notice that not every group is working on the same task, but if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that they’re working on the same sequence of tasks. It’ll be loud. It’ll be busy. You’ll notice the teacher’s moving around. But given all the chaos, you’ll notice that the teacher is surprisingly calm, and they’re spending their time sort of interacting with groups, checking in to make sure they understand what they’re doing, supporting the ones who need some help, challenging the ones who, who need to be challenged. And that’s sort of what you’re noticing is going to be if you walk in 10 minutes in.

Now some of the things you wouldn’t have noticed that you would have noticed if you were there for the launch is that at the beginning of the lesson, the teacher would have immediately gotten the students all on their feet and called them over to some location in the room where they would have given the task to the students verbally, maybe with some representations on the board, maybe with some modeling, certainly with a lot of hand gestures. But they would have given the task to the students verbally. Then there would have been a process by which the teacher grouped the students into these groups of three, and they would have, you would have noticed that it was a random grouping mechanism. Maybe they used cards or popsicle sticks or some sort of a little randomizer. And off they would go.

So there is this sort of noticing that you make at the launch, but there’s this really powerful noticing that happens in, in, once the class is up and running. Now, if it’s not your first time in a Thinking Classroom and you walk in, because the first time you’re going to notice those things I mentioned. Those are the sort of big things that jump out at you. If it’s not your first time, and you’re more attuned to these big ideas, you may start to notice some of the nuances. You’ll start to notice that the students are actually stealing the next question from groups around them. You’ll start to notice that the teacher is very careful with how they answer questions. You’ll notice that the sequence of tasks that the students are doing is not arbitrary. It’s very carefully constructed, whereby the tasks are getting incrementally more challenging and are being given to students as their abilities are incrementally developing. So there’s a whole bunch of these really subtle things that are happening in there as well. You may, if you stay around long enough, you may notice the teacher doing a consolidation whereby they are, they have previously identified certain work in the room that they want to showcase, and they do so in the form of a gallery walk, but it’s a guided gallery walk, not a freeform just walk around and look at stuff. You may notice a teacher directing students explicitly to attend to whatever groups are doing and so on and so forth. There’s a lot of things to notice, but what you’re going to notice depends on what your familiarity with it is. 

GONZALEZ: Got it, got it. So you call this approach the Thinking Classrooms approach to teaching, right now it’s mathematics. 


GONZALEZ: And so, thank you for sort of painting that picture because it’s, it’s that visual, I think, that for me anyway, is what grabbed me initially because I thought, this looks fantastic. And hopefully more people will keep learning and trying this. So we’re going to get into, in a little while, the, you’ve built this around 14 macro practices, is that what it is? 


GONZALEZ: And then there are a lot of micro practices that feed into that, so we’re going to, I’m going to ask you to sort of share a couple of those macro practices in a little while. But let’s rewind now, a little bit, and just talk a bit about the origin story of this. And I’ve heard versions of this, so I know there’s a lot of different pieces of it. But how did you go from somebody who taught math in a traditional way to someone who is now sharing this practice around your country, our country — you’re in Canada — 


GONZALEZ: And now hopefully around the world. 

LILJEDAHL: Definitely around the world. The book is being translated into 13 different languages as we speak. So how did it start? So I had this really unique privilege, and I won’t get into the details of that, but I had this unique privilege to stitch together a journey through 40 different classrooms in 40 different schools, where I could just sit and observe students. Without having to be concerned about the teaching and the announcements and the permission slips and all of the social dynamic stuff that was happening in a classroom. I could just be a fly on the wall and watch how students engage in mathematics in the classroom, in whatever setting the teacher had constructed for them.

And through this opportunity, I started to notice, first slowly and then sort of like a flood, that by and large students spend most of their class time not thinking. And, and at least not in ways we know they need to think in order to continue to be successful in mathematics. And this realization that they’re not thinking coupled with two other things: The realization that thinking is a necessary precursor to learning. Right? If they’re not thinking, they’re not learning. And the realization that everywhere I go classrooms look more alike than they look different. That teaching and learning in math classrooms adheres to a set of normative structures that upon further investigation actually date back to the dawn of public education over 170 years ago. These sort of normative structures coupled with the fact that they’re not thinking, coupled with the fact that thinking is a necessary precursor to learning. So these three things coming together, creating a realization that if we want students to really start to learn mathematics, we’re going to have to get them to think. And if we’re going to have to, if we’re going to want to get them to think, we’re going to have to break through some of these normative structures because these normative structures are actually creating environments that are not conducive to thinking.

And thus started this 15-year process of doing research into how do we break down these institutionally normative structures that are holding non-thinking in place? And hence, things like students are standing. They’re working on whiteboards. They’re in random groups. They’re working on a sequence of tasks that’s asynchronous for every group. They are, the teacher’s acting in a very particular way. Ideas are moving around the room rather than being siloed in individual students or individual groups. All of these things are the result of interrogating normative structures in the classroom, breaking them down and asking ourselves, can we build them up in a different way that is more conducive to thinking? And then doing that, empirically, and investigating which of these ways of enacting teaching actually produce the most thinking. And that resulted in the micro-practices, and then there was all these little micro-practices that support this, as you said. Like, for example, we want the students working on a vertical whiteboard in groups of three. But, and that’s a macro-practice, it’s actually two macro practices — random groups and vertical surfaces — and micro-practices are that the randomization has to be visible to the student so that they believe it’s random and every group only gets one marker. 


LILJEDAHL: Because if they each have a marker, then they now, actually never form that really cohesive group dynamic that we need to happen. 

GONZALEZ: They’re forced to collaborate because only one person can write. 


GONZALEZ: So everyone has to feed into that. 

LILJEDAHL: It’s, it’s a type of forcing function. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. And, and so you have developed these through a lot of trial and error. I heard your interview somewhere else where you were sort of talking about “let’s just do the opposite” and it reminded me of George Costanza on “Seinfeld” when he decided his life wasn’t going well. So he was just going to do, he was going to order tea instead of coffee, he was going to order chicken salad instead of tuna salad and just see how it went. And that’s exactly what I thought of when I heard that. 

LILJEDAHL: And to be honest, it’s ironic that you say that because there was a group of teachers I was working with at one point that said to me, “This is George Costanza teaching.” 

GONZALEZ: Just do the opposite. 

LILJEDAHL: That was our starting point. 


LILJEDAHL: That was our starting point. And often because part of this interrogation and investigation started with looking at, well, how’s it going right now? Right? Like, we have students writing notes in a very sort of normative structure. Well, how’s that going? Let’s interrogate that. Let’s investigate. How many students are actually cognitively present? Are they aware of what they’re writing? Are they referring back to these notes or are we, is this just a huge time-suck? You interrogate that. You realize that, oh my goodness, this is a dumpster fire. 


LILJEDAHL: What’s our first move? Let’s do the exact opposite. 

GONZALEZ: Right. And so let’s get into some of these practices. So we’ve got the vertical nonpermanent surfaces. And, you know, sometimes I think teachers will hear about an idea, and they’ll say, oh, I sort of do that already because I have my students working in groups at tables so that should be fine. So why is it so important for them to actually be standing and for it to be a vertical surface? 

LILJEDAHL: Okay. So first of all, we didn’t know why. So one of the things about my research that is sort of atypical is that I work from a perspective of what I call results first. So let’s just do a whole bunch of different things, figure out what is the most effective practice, empirically, and then try to understand why. So we had the result that vertical nonpermanent surfaces, vertical whiteboards were way superior to having students work on horizontal whiteboards, which was also, in turn, far superior to having students work on flip chart paper, whether it was horizontal or vertical. And in turn, which was more effective than working, having students work in their notebooks.

So we had the empirical result, and it was a reproducible result. Having students stand and work on vertical whiteboards was, by far, the most effective space for them to work, to generate thinking. Now why? So now the, now it comes to quest for the why. There was some obvious things that emerged right away. So for example, when students working vertically rather than horizontally, everyone is oriented towards working the same direction. Right? Like, when it’s horizontal, some are looking at the work sideways and upside down. Someone’s always looking, has the privileged position. 


LILJEDAHL: When it goes vertical, everyone has the same orientation to the work. When it’s vertical, they can see each other’s work, which promotes knowledge mobility and gives greater access to more ideas. When it’s vertical, I feel like a better teacher. I can see everything. I don’t have to wait for that quiz next Friday to see if the students understood it. I can see right now, and then I can intervene right now. I can’t do that if they’re horizontal. So these are all really powerful explanations for why vertical is better. But they were all eclipsed by one interesting piece of data that took, it took a year and a half for this to emerge, largely because I was interviewing teenagers. They’re not very verbose. And it felt like I was interrogating, like, in a crime drama, because like one person would say something, and then I would use that to pry open a little more information out of another student and so on and so forth.

But once I started to sort of open up this door and started to see and started to be able to ask students directly about it, it became really, really clear that it’s not that standing is so good, it’s that sitting is so bad. It turns out that when students are sitting, they feel anonymous. And the further they sit from the teacher, the more anonymous they feel. And when students feel anonymous, they disengage. And that is the, that’s both the conscious and the subconscious act, and the more anonymous they feel, the more likely they are to disengage. And what standing up did was took away their anonymity, not in this sort of outing “I feel vulnerable” way, because everyone was up. It just made students not feel invisible, and then, and then they didn’t disengage. They, they would keep grinding away and working, and we could then be more responsive if disengagement was starting to happen. We could react to that and so on, but it was, it was really taking away their anonymity. 

GONZALEZ: Do you, do you encounter resistance from kids? Because I’m thinking there is a lot of safety in that sitting and that anonymity. And so I’m thinking if a teacher’s starting to introduce this idea, you’re going to get some kids that are like, no, I’m comfortable hiding back here. 

LILJEDAHL: Yeah. And, and you know, like, we say that’s, the further a student sits from a teacher, the more anonymous they feel. Some students are actually placing themselves in that position. 


LILJEDAHL: Because they want to be invisible or because they want to disengage. Yeah, there can be resistance. And more so if you try to soft sell this and come in slowly and have a conversation with them about why we’re doing this. But if they walked in the room and you hand them a card and send them to a board and get them doing a fun task, it sort of disarms them. They don’t really have a chance to build up a resistance to it before they realize that this is actually pretty good. Now you’ll still have some students who resist, and there’s reasons for it. But you work on that. 

GONZALEZ: Let’s, let’s talk about the nonpermanent piece too, because that, again, you have mentioned flip charts and so we want to make sure that teachers who try this are not trying to do it on paper. Even if it’s standing and we’re vertical. 


GONZALEZ: Why is that such an important distinction? 

LILJEDAHL: So again, we didn’t know why. It just emerged. So it turns out that risk is a barrier to thinking. When students feel at risk, they don’t want to think. And putting them on permanent surfaces, like one of the big differences was if we compared a group working on a whiteboard versus a group working on flip chart paper, the group working on the whiteboards, they’ll start within 20 seconds. They’ll start making notations on the board. They’ll try anything and everything because they feel like they can just erase it if it’s wrong. 


LILJEDAHL: The students who are tasked with working on flip chart paper, they will, they will not make a single notation for, for upwards of three minutes. Because this is not erasable. What I put here has to be, has to be perfect. So there’s a lot of agonizing, and that hesitation leads to a, a lower form of thinking, all right. 


LILJEDAHL: And I think you just have, for those of you who are listening, just think back to the last time you were at a staff meeting and the principal says, okay, and they gave out flip chart paper, and says okay, we’re going to make a mind map or something. Everyone at the table is like, well I’m not good at, at drawing. Here, you be the, everyone is sort of like, this marker is now like a hot potato, right? 


LILJEDAHL: Right? Until finally someone, usually from the language department, picks it up and says, oh, well, here. Let’s start. Because they seem to be more comfortable with this territory. 


LILJEDAHL: But it’s like, yeah. The permanence is just not conducive to that sort of “let’s try something.”

GONZALEZ: Right. Right, right. So one thing that we actually haven’t talked about, which I think is a really key piece. We’ve talked about sort of the physical structure of all this, but what are they actually doing? So what is the task? 

LILJEDAHL: Yeah. So to begin with, the first four, four to six times you do this, the task is what we call a non-curricular task. It’s, it’s clearly mathematical, but not mapped to a curriculum. So it could be a fun puzzle. It could be something that’s intriguing and interesting. But it doesn’t have that feel of mathematics in the sense that we’re adding fractions or multiplying binomials or completing the square or graphic parabolas. Like, it doesn’t have that feel. Now it’s still mathematics, which means it might map to some curriculum somewhere but usually not the curriculum of the group that you’re teaching right now. 

There has to be a feeling of playfulness, low stakes playfulness to begin with. And that’s very disarming. It allows students to get comfortable within this environment when the stakes are low. It also turns out that the stakes are very low for the teacher in this setting, right. I’m not trying to hit a standard or an outcome. I can just, I can just be in this space and play with these students. After that point, we transition to curriculum. And some of the videos you may have seen, those students are doing straight up curriculum, and not some fancy dressed up version of curriculum where we’ve brought in a hot dog stand and we have a, a sale or whatever. It’s just straight-up curriculum, whatever your resources give you, right? If the resources give you these tasks, those are the tasks we’re doing, except we’re carefully sequencing them, as I mentioned earlier. But it is, they’re doing curriculum. Ninety-five percent of the time in a Thinking Classroom they’re doing straight-up curriculum. The difference is they’re tearing through it. When students are not thinking, everything we teach is difficult. But when they start to think, they become voracious consumers of content, right. And we have so much evidence where, and it depends on the topic, but we’re sometimes tearing through seven, eight lessons worth of content in a single lesson. The kids are just devouring it.

GONZALEZ: So a teacher that’s, might have a concern that they won’t pace through the curriculum as, as they are now, that once they actually have done this preparation and built the culture, then it moves very rapidly? 

LILJEDAHL: Yeah. And it goes faster and faster and faster as the year goes on. 


LILJEDAHL: You got to go slow to go fast. 


LILJEDAHL: And I know that’s a big investment because we have a lot of stuff to get through. But teachers sometimes ask me, ugh, I have so much stuff to get through. I don’t have time to do this. And my answer is always, you have so much stuff to get through. You don’t have time not to do this. 

GONZALEZ: Right. You’re saying they’re just doing curriculum but from, from looking at your stuff and listening to you on other podcasts, I know that there is also a big difference in that unlike a traditional sequence in a classroom, you are not presenting the topic for students and showing them how to do it, and then having them practice problems, which is the normal sequence in a traditional math classroom. A lot of times, they are being given what is the application piece, normally at the end, at the beginning. And so talk a little bit about that. 

LILJEDAHL: So what they’re doing is they’re figuring it out, right. One of the things that I’m becoming more and more and more convinced about is that the optimal learning space is actually students trying to make meaning of something together with other students who are trying to make meaning of it. So there’s more subtlety to it. Like when we, in a traditional classroom, we show the students how to do it, then they, then we do one together, then they practice it on their own, the classic “I do, we do, you do.” Which promotes, whether you want it or not, a form of behavior called mimicking. So these students are just going to mimic their way through. In a Thinking Classroom, in order to get students to think rather than mimic, we have to remove the “I do.” 


LILJEDAHL: Now, most of the time that’s entirely possible but every once in a while, we encounter a topic that they just, there’s no way they can proceed unless we give them some little nugget of information. Well good. You got five minutes. The research clearly says that you have five minutes. You have, you talk at them for more than five minutes, the amount of thinking they’re going to give you starts to decrease rapidly. So you’ve got five minutes. So what are you going to say in five minutes rather than the 35 minutes you’re used to taking? So one of the ways that I help teachers understand that is in a typical lecture, we talk until the students have been prepared to do the last question on the homework. In a Thinking Classroom, if we need to say something, if we need to give them something, what is the minimum amount I need to give them to be able to do the first question in the sequence that I’m going to give them, from which they will learn something that’ll help them do the second question, and so on and so forth. So that there is this sort of slow reveal as they’re, they’re figuring things out. Now sometimes we have to step in and say more. A group gets stuck, we have to say more. We can always say more. But we can’t unsay something once you’ve done it, right? So yeah, they’re working, they’re figuring it out. In many cases, they’re figuring it out completely. They’re moving through that sort of okay, I understand how this works into applications questions and so on, but the key thing is we have to remove the “I do,” otherwise the students just mimic. They’re not doing practice at the boards. 


LILJEDAHL: They’re figuring it out at the boards. 

GONZALEZ: Right. So when they walk into the classroom, some days they’re just going straight over. Do they sit down at their desks, or do they immediately huddle and get a presentation of some sort? 

LILJEDAHL: So this turns out to actually, I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter much, but sometimes the environmental limitations create variations on this. So it can look like a bunch of different things. One, the teacher greets his students at the door with a card, they pick a card. That card tells them where they’re sitting. Again, they’ve got to put their stuff somewhere, and then it tells them where they’re going when they’re going to work on the vertical whiteboard. Other teachers have more stable table groups. Often because of the sort of space restrictions in the room that they have tables, the table’s too big to have two groups of three and too small to have or it’s too small to have two groups of three but too big to have just a group of three, so maybe they have table groups of four or five. These are more stable. They change them less frequently. But then they randomize for when they head to the whiteboards. There’s lots of different structures that are at play here, but all of them have the thing in common that the students get on their feet for the introduction of the first task, and then the, and then they get to work. 

GONZALEZ: Are they at the whiteboards the whole class period or do, is there then a next step after that? What happens after they’re working through these problems? 

LILJEDAHL: So it depends on the length of the class, but there is a next step. 


LILJEDAHL: And it depends on how engaged they are. Like, we’ve been in classrooms where for 75 minutes the kids are at the whiteboards the whole time because they are, they are just so engaged. We’ve also been in classrooms where they’re at the board for 35 minutes, and then they transition to other things. There is, the next step is this. It turns out that there’s a difference between what we call collective knowing and doing and individual knowing and doing. So working collectively at the whiteboards and working individually are actually not just variations on a theme. They’re actually very different modalities, and there’s a lot of detail to that, and I don’t understand all of the pieces yet. But there needs to be some sort of a transfer from collective knowing and doing to individual knowing and doing.

And that transfer moves through a series of practices that have been shown to facilitate this and mediate this transfer in more effective ways, and those four practices are, we’re going to do a consolidation. So the consolidation through that gallery walk I mentioned earlier helps to turn the unstructured, informal work that the students have been doing at the boards into more structured and formal ways of thinking. It helps us students organize their thoughts from the activity. Then they’re going to move into a practice called note making rather than note taking. So they’re going to construct their own meaningful notes. And there’s, there are graphic organizers that can help with that if necessary, but it’s about, it’s about them sitting down and being cognitively present as they take their learning from the day and find a way to represent that in such a way that they can in part have a record but more importantly go through that process of reification it’s called where they are, they’re taking these ideas that started very informal and unstructured, became more formal and structured through the consolidation and now become even more formal and structured through their, their note making activity. After that, they’re going to do something called check your understanding questions, which is a form of self-assessment, which would, you used to call homework, right, or we all used to call homework. 


LILJEDAHL: Except it’s not homework. It’s rebranded. It serves different purposes. It starts in the classroom. The students have choice as to what it is they want to do. It’s self-evaluation. It’s really to see if, can they do individually what they were able to do collectively on the boards?


LILJEDAHL: So there’s all these pieces, and sometimes those pieces all happen within one lesson, sometimes some of them happen, sometimes we have to put some of them in a second lesson. There’s a lot of variability there and a lot of flexibility. You really have to listen to the room, be present, and be able to sort of formatively assess what’s going on and what’s needed. Do we need to do a consolidation? Can we move straight into check your understanding questions? Do we just keep them at the boards right now? There’s a lot of signal reading that is going on. 

GONZALEZ: And so they, they get to this, this note-making, and they’re consolidating, and then is there at some point, because I know this is coming up in people’s minds, how am I grading them? How am I grading them as their teacher and writing down something? 

LILJEDAHL: So there is, of course we, actually I had no interest in investigating that when I first started the research. Like, who wants to do a bunch of research on assessment? But the teachers I was working with weren’t going to let me get away with that. So we delved into this, and on the grading part of things in particular, first of all, we don’t walk straight into grading. We walk through formative assessment. But formative assessment that informs a learner, so we walk in through that doorway. We’re going to have to make a philosophical shift into standards-based assessment. We have to get away from psychologically and philosophically, we have to transition from being a point gatherer to being a data gatherer. 

And once we’ve made that turn, philosophically, everything opens up and becomes possible, anything you want grading to do for you, you can now achieve. You want to do, you want to, you want to do testing? We still do testing. We still have tests, except tests are not seen as aggregated instruments or events anymore. It’s not that you got 17 out of 22 on this quiz. No. You got these questions right and these questions wrong. These are relevant to specific standards. Now you know what it is you keep, have to keep working on. I know which standards you’re achieving and which ones you’re not. So it’s a disaggregated experience rather than this aggregated event. We can still do, we can start to do group quizzes. We can start to do, have students working in partnership on things. We can observe students while they’re at the whiteboards and making notes about what they’re demonstrating. We can have conversations with them. There’s just so much more flexibility in how we want to gather the data so that we can allow the data to tell us what this student actually understands, as opposed to which events did they perform on? 


LILJEDAHL: So it’s, it’s a way deeper conversation than that. Like, that would be a separate podcast entirely. 


LILJEDAHL: But it’s, it’s fundamentally making this not just the mechanical aspect of doing standards-based grading or outcomes-based grading. It’s, you actually have to make the turn psychologically and physiologically or philosophically, I mean, sorry. 

GONZALEZ: Well, and I guess the, I guess the, the, my motivation for asking is sort of twofold, I guess. It’s partly the, the concern of, you know, am I still going to be able to sort of prove to my administrators, my state, the parents that they are learning the math, and assessment is one way that you get that. And I guess that also sort of, like, transitions us into my next question, which is as this movement has continued to grow and grow, what kind of results are teachers reporting back to you, I guess in two ways. In terms of are the kids getting the math and succeeding in the way that we sort of traditionally want them to, and is it influencing students’ math identities also and their enthusiasm for the math. So what, what are you hearing back from people? 

LILJEDAHL: Right. Okay. So those, I like that you separated those two questions. So from a purely performative way, which turns out to be a much harder question to investigate, what we hear is that student performance is improving, right. Teachers who are, who are working in settings where there are standardized assessments are reporting improvements in scores, improvement over time, specifically improvements in the, in the bottom two quartiles, you know. 


LILJEDAHL: Bringing up the floor a lot. 


LILJEDAHL: But more interesting things are things like teachers reporting that, “This is the first time in my 27-year career that I have no one failing by Christmas.” You know, things like that. 


LILJEDAHL: That, it, it’s transforming not just the average of the, of the score, you know, of the scores. 


LILJEDAHL: But it’s transforming these other indicators like failure rates and dropout rates. And then on the affective side, student identity, student self-efficacy, the way students have a relationship with mathematics. These things are changing as well. So yeah, it’s all positive, but these are not products. They’re byproducts. These are byproducts of constructing an environment where thinking is, is the thing that we’re working on. 

GONZALEZ: So if a teacher is intrigued by this, and they want to get started, you have a book now, which I’m going to share links to so that they can go and find that, really goes into detail about the macro and the micro. But also, you have a website that outlines this stuff, and there are communities that have formed —


GONZALEZ: — of teachers that are trying this. Where can someone go to sort of find their people in this? 

LILJEDAHL: Right. So this is, I think this is probably my greatest pride is that, and it’s probably one of the most interesting outcomes, if we want to talk about outcomes that indicate success, is the, is the way these communities have sprung up. So if you go on to Facebook Groups and you search “Building Thinking Classrooms” you will find over 25 different groups. 


LILJEDAHL: So then, and I started none of these. The main group, Building Thinking Classrooms, has 37,000 teachers in it. 

GONZALEZ: Oh my gosh. 

LILJEDAHL: And, and then there’s all these other groups. There’s a K-2 one. There’s a CPM one. There’s ones that are specific to geographic locations. There are, there’s a language arts one, there’s a science on. There’s an AP calculus one. Like there’s, these highly specialized groups as well. There’s one in Danish, there’s one in Dutch, there’s one in French, right. There’s, there’s these Facebook groups that are springing up all over the world. And like I said, I didn’t start any of these. So teachers are continuously kind of finding these niches and creating groups to support themselves and support others. And they’re incredibly nurturing environments, right. And I know I’ve met some of the people that have started these groups, and it’s amazing to see how, how their goal is really to support and to spread the word, but really to support those teachers who are, who are starting to do this. There’s also a, there’s also a tremendous Twitter community under the hashtag #thinkingclassroom or tagging myself @pgliljedahl. But it’s, and that gets a lot of traffic constantly. 

GONZALEZ: That’s how I found out about it, that was, somebody just put it in front of me, and they posted a video, and I said, what on earth is this? And I don’t do nearly enough math content on my site, so I was like, this is it right here. And the enthusiasm that people had about it, they were like, I’ll answer any questions. I can introduce you to him. It’s just really fantastic, a lot of enthusiasm. 

LILJEDAHL: Yeah. Like I said, I think this is my greatest pride, that people other than me are carrying the word forward just tells me how, how, how people have come to rally around these ideas. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. Any last words before we wrap up in terms of, you know, this, this approach, or a teacher that’s kind of on the fence about trying it. Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement along those lines? 

LILJEDAHL: Well, a couple of things. No. 1, try it. Try it. The book gives you plenty of resources and ways to enact it in a way that’s almost guaranteed to have some early success so that you can see for yourself what this looks like, right. It’s, it’s, I always say that my book has stories and data in it, but those are my stories and my data. The real data, the real stories that are going to impact your practice, that are going to sustain your practice, are the story and the data that happen in your own classroom, right. Give it a try. See what happens. Notice that, see your students behave in a way that you maybe haven’t seen them behave before. See that one student who you thought was really, really strong struggle and see those other five students who you thought were really not strong in math excel. See these things. Live that experience. The other thing I would say is this. If you’re, if you’re not a math teacher, and you’re listening to this, these practices are being enacted in every curriculum now, language arts, social studies, science. There are slight variances to it, but fundamentally what changes is what constitutes a thinking task, which is Chapter 1 of the book, and what constitutes a sequence of thinking tasks, which is Chapter 9. Everything else more or less stays the same. 

GONZALEZ: That’s very exciting to hear. I was really hoping to hear that this was spreading to, to other, because the basic principles of it don’t really, are not math specific. 

LILJEDAHL: No. Those institutional norms don’t just exist in math. 


LILJEDAHL: They exist across the school, and the need to think, thinking is a necessary precursor to learning, is, is not not specific. That’s true of every subject. 

GONZALEZ: Thank you so much for, for sharing this with us, and hopefully I can get this in front of a few people left who haven’t heard about it yet. 

LILJEDAHL: I appreciate it. Thank you.

You can learn more from Dr. Liljedahl at For links to all the resources mentioned in this episode, including the book, Building Thinking Classrooms, and a video that shows a Thinking Classroom in action, visit, click Podcast, and choose episode 206. To get a bimonthly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.