The Thinking Tree


In 2013 the “Thinking Tree” began as an extended metaphor to help 5th and 6th grade students learn the power of their own thinking. Before this, Ms. Syed had only worked with middle and high school students.

The first post-it on the huge tree in the classroom was by a shy 5th grader who asked, “What does the Thinking Tree mean?” By the end of the year, the students, primarily English Language Learners in a rural setting in southern California, had not only asked some fantastic questions but their simple musings led to a whole new teaching and learning experience. This led to a variety of new teaching strategies, inspired by the works of Frank Smith, John S. Mayher, Peter Elbow, Tom Romano, Louise Rosenblatt, Grant Wiggins, Vicki Vinton, Kelly Gallagher, and Dr. Kathy Rowlands, director of the Writing Project at Cal State Northridge.

In February of 2015, Ms. Syed, the creator of the Thinking tree, was invited to present at the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) conference in San Jose.  Her presentation was titled, “Write to Think”.

She was allotted the last slot of the last day to present at the conference because she was a newbie. Therefore she was told not to expect a lot of teachers to show up, but the opposite happened. The room was full and the presentation received a standing ovation.

Subsequent inquires about the slides and the strategies created a demand for a virtual space–this website–where the teaching strategies will slowly be archived and new ones might be added.

Ms. Syed is a storyteller at heart. She believes, in the words of Frank Smith, “Thought flows in terms of stories — stories about events, stories about people, and stories about intentions and achievements. The best teachers are the best storytellers. We learn in the form of stories.”

Therefore, this is also a space for students, current and past, but especially those she taught in California from 2013-2015, to remain connected with Ms. Syed so they can continue sharing their remarkable stories, perspectives and thoughts about their learning experiences.


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