Agile Thinking in the Language Classroom

Decisions, Decisions! In our fast-past and dynamic language classrooms, swift decision-making is a constant.  Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, who has extensively studied decision-making, speaks of an  intricate balance between two cognitive systems: System 1 and System 2. Kahneman describes System 1 as fast thinking—automatic and error-prone. In contrast, he describes System 2 as slower, deliberate thinking, less prone to error, demanding more time and often involving getting feedback for more accurate decision-making.

Agile Thinking in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

System 1 and System 2 Thinking

  1. System 1 Thinking (Fast, Automatic):
    • Intuitive and quick, System 1 thinking is the automatic thought process for everyday decisions.
    • Operating effortlessly, it relies on heuristics and past experiences.
    • Prone to biases, errors, and influenced by emotions, System 1 is efficient for routine tasks but may oversimplify complex situations.
  2. System 2 Thinking (Slow, Deliberate):
    • Deliberate and conscious, System 2 thinking involves careful analysis, seeking additional information, and considering various perspectives.
    • Less prone to biases, it provides a more accurate approach to decision-making.
    • While demanding more time and mental energy, System 2 is essential for navigating complex and nuanced decision-making scenarios.

The Agile Thinking Paradigm

Kahneman’s insights become particularly crucial for language teachers.  They suggest the consistent use of routines that focus System 2 thinking and decision making. This intentional shift ensures that decisions are not only reflective and deliberate but also less susceptible to bias and error. Deborah Ball, echoing Kahneman’s insights, challenges teachers to scrutinize our seemingly neutral habits harboring implicit biases. This would be the error-prone System 1 at work. Our teaching is influences by our biases.  Ball advocates creating a “repertoire” of teaching habits explicitly designed to counteract potential biases.  This is where System 2 comes in.

Deliberative decision-making, afforded by System 2, minimizes errors and biases. This intentional shift fosters an environment where instructional choices are thoughtful, nuanced, and conducive to student success. Agile Thinking, a dynamic integration of System 1 and System 2, is  a practical approach that goes beyond theory and empowers teachers to make decisions that respond to diverse student needs.

The Four-Step Framework for Agile Thinking and Decision-Making

Agile Thinking in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

  1. Perceive – (Self-Awareness):
    • Cultivate self-awareness: Understand personal biases and cultural perspectives.
    • Embrace cultural awareness: Recognize the diverse backgrounds of students, laying the foundation for agile decision-making.
  2. Analyze (Pedagogical Knowledge):
    • Engage in conscious deliberation: Draw on pedagogical knowledge to increase clarity, accessibility, relevance, and rigor in instruction.
    • Apply pedagogical insights: Consider various instructional approaches to meet the diverse needs of learners.
  3. Decide (Content Knowledge):
    • Implement agile thinking: Generate rapid, flexible, and culturally affirming mental models of teaching and learning.
    • Leverage content knowledge: Utilize subject expertise to adapt lessons for maximum impact.
  4. Reflect (Cultural Awareness):
    • Assess impact: Evaluate the consequences of instructional decisions on students.
    • Promote continuous improvement: Aligning with the self-awareness aspect, foster an environment of ongoing reflection and growth.

I like to make things as concrete as possible, especially when creating systems and routines in my classroom.  I put 3 words words with each step to make this idea of Agile Thinking directly applicable to my classroom language teaching.  These words serve as a check for myself.

Agile Thinking in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

Agile Thinking in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

Agile Thinking in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

Agile Thinking in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

This is what it looks like all together so that I have it all in one place.

Agile Thinking in the Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

Agile Thinking and Decision-Making in Your Classroom

I encourage you to embrace agile thinking. This mindset sets the stage for teachers to make decisions that not only enhance language proficiency but also foster confident communication in students. The journey begins with an awareness of decisions, transcends biases, and leads to a more inclusive and effective language education. Engage with the  four-step framework and you will be better equipped to navigate the complexities of teaching with agility, responsiveness, and being less prone to errors.

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