What do thinking and learning look like, and under what conditions do they thrive? What is understanding and how does it develop?

These and similar questions about the nature of human cognition have animated our inquires for several years.

We learn through experience. At the center of that belief is The Learning Tree’s commitment to a Curriculum that emphasizes cognition, thinking and understanding, which allows students to drive the process of their own academic growth. From Pre-Nursery through 11th grade, students become active participants in their learning experience. They discover their passions. They uncover questions. They propose answers. And in doing so, they turn information into understanding.

This forward-thinking approach allows students to apply their learning, absorb it and then demonstrate what they have learned, both inside the classroom and out.

Metacognition and reflection is at the heart of everything we do at TLT. It is our guiding philosophy that comprises the five core “Minds of the Future” as espoused by Howard Gardiner

The pre school and junior school focuses on Elements, the building blocks needed to learn. From pre-Nursery through 6th grade, students learn by doing, uncovering answers through their individual and collective curiosities. They also learn through meaningful play, which strengthens their curiosity and wonder as they discover formal learning.


In the Senior School, students begin Foundations, a phase that begins in 7th grade and continues through 11th grade – a time in which learning becomes more focused and complex, building upon the most critical and earliest lessons learned in Junior School. The senior school curriculum is a thoughtful balance between traditional and progressive instruction. Students are not just taught math, science, economics or English, for instance – they are taught to think like mathematicians, scientists, economists and critical readers and creative writers. Not only that, they continue to acquire a set of ethical standards upon which they can make decisions as well as articulate how and why.

Why has The Learning Tree adopted such a progressive approach to their curriculum?

Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences. Our skilled teachers adopt a student-centered approach to instruction which increases opportunities for student engagement, which then helps everyone more successfully achieve the course’s learning objectives.

Come See What takes Place In and Outside of the Classroom

1. Skills are not sufficient; we must also have the disposition to use them.

    Possessing thinking skills and abilities alone is insufficient for good thinking. One must also have the disposition to use those abilities. This means we must develop students’ inclination to think and awareness of occasions for thinking as well as their thinking skills and abilities. Having a disposition toward thinking enhances the likelihood that one can effectively use one’s abilities in new situations.

2. The development of thinking and understanding is fundamentally a social endeavor,

     taking place in a cultural context and occurring within the constant interplay between the group and the individual. Social situations that provide experience in communicating one’s own thinking as well as opportunities to understand others’ thinking enhance individual thinking.

3. The culture of the classroom teaches.

     It not only sets a tone for learning, but also determines what gets learned. The messages sent through the culture of the classroom communicate to students what it means to think and learn well. These messages are a curriculum in themselves, teaching students how to learn and ways of thinking.

4. As educators, we strive to make students thinking visible.

     It is only by making thinking visible that we can begin to understand both what and how our students are learning. Under normal conditions, a student’s thinking is invisible to other students, the teacher, and even to him/herself, because people often think with little awareness of how they think. By using structures, routines, probing questions, and documentation we can make students’ thinking more visible toward fostering better thinking and learning.

5. Good thinking utilizes a variety of resources and is facilitated by the use of external tools to “download” or “distribute” one’s thinking.

     Papers, logs, computers, conversation, and various means of recording and keeping track of ideas and thoughts free the mind up to engage in new and deeper thinking and help ensure that our thinking doesn’t get lost.

6. For classrooms to be cultures of thinking for students, The Learning Tree must adopt cultures of thinking for teachers.

     The development of a professional community in which deep and rich discussions of teaching, learning, and thinking are a fundamental part of teachers’ ongoing experience provides the foundation for nurturing students’ thinking and learning.


Take a look at the image below of the Understanding Map:

Sourced from: The Cultures of Thinking project at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education.