Moving From What to What If? : Teaching Critical Thinking with Authentic Inquiry and Assessments book cover
1st Edition

Moving From What to What If?
Teaching Critical Thinking with Authentic Inquiry and Assessments

ISBN 9781138998612
Published March 10, 2016 by Routledge
230 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This practical book outlines how you can challenge students to grapple with complex problems and engage more meaningfully with information across the content areas, rather than rely solely on rote memorization and standardized testing to measure academic success. Author John Barell shares vignettes from effective middle and high school teachers around the country, analyzes what works and what doesn’t when encouraging students to dig deeper, and offers practical strategies that you can try in your own classroom.

Topics include:

  • Guiding students to hone their skills in abstract reasoning, inquiry, creative problem solving, and critical thinking;
  • Designing your lessons and units for authentic achievement, to prepare students for success in their future careers and academic pursuits;
  • Using rigorous benchmark assessments to analyze students’ progress in meaningful ways; and
  • Encouraging students to set learning goals and drive their own achievement.

Aligned with the Common Core and other standards, this book will help you teach students to become inquisitive, engaged citizens who wonder about the universe, stretch their imaginations, and solve problems by asking, What If?

Table of Contents

Meet the Author


Chapter 1: Teachers as Argonauts of Change

Chapter 2: Curricular Framework for Authentic Learning and Assessment

Chapter 3: Developing Abstract Reasoning

Chapter 4: Directing Goals Toward Achievement

Chapter 5: Enhancing Inquiry—The Essence of Life

Chapter 6: Modeling—How We All Learn

Chapter 7: Nurturing Imaginative Behavior


Chapter 8: Any Citizen Can Make a Change

Chapter 9: Playgrounds of the Mind

Chapter 10: Critical Thinking about Social Issues

Chapter 11: Reasoning About Nature

Chapter 12: Independent Study

Chapter 13: Rude Awakening for Professional Development

Final Words



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John Barell is Professor Emeritus of Curriculum and Teaching at Montclair State University, and a former public school teacher in New York City.


"I’ve known John Barell as an incisive observer of teachers and students in my school. Now I see the remarkable outcome of his research. His book melds theory, analysis of student work, and sharp-eyed observations of expert teachers into a compelling narrative of what teaching ought to be. He provides thought-provoking examples of teachers who focus on building authentic assessments that cultivate student inquiry and imagination. Barell makes a forceful case for moving away from standardized testing and toward the type of rich project-based learning that the many teachers he depicts have already shown to be effective." --David Sherrin, Teacher, Harvest Collegiate High School, New York City, and Author of The Classes They Remember: Using Role-Plays to Bring Social Studies and English to Life

"John Barell has observed master teachers in action across a variety of disciplines and extracts the common threads that make their classes engaging and thought-provoking. Barell watched the students in their classrooms grow, and brings to light the experiences that spurred tha growth. From small teacher-student exchanges and questioning techniques, to overarching frameworks and long-term projects, Barell shares it all." --Frank Noschese, Physics Teacher, John Jay High School, Cross River, New York

"In Moving from What to What If? John Barell offers compelling guidance for all educators to prepare students for college, careers, and life in the 21st century. Each chapter includes helpful, specific examples of how critical thinking is taught, learned, and assessed in core academic subjects. Data on students' growth as well as district change strategies are offered as well. Barell's contribution is timely and vital reading." --Valerie Greenhill, M.A., M.Ed., Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer, EdLeader21

"Moving from What to What If? will not only help teachers in the area of pushing their students' critical and creative thinking, but it will also inspire teachers to revitalize their instructional repertoire. The book is a refreshing look at how we can take back our classrooms and offer students motivating real-world connections." -- Leslie Snyder, Curriculum Enrichment Teacher/Professional Development Leader of the Gifted Cohort, Casa Grande Elementary School District, Arizona

“John Barell's latest guide to classroom learning is a book of voices: teacher and student stories of thoughtful engagement, and especially the author's own voice – warm, clear, and committed to a broad and deep vision of education.” –David N. Perkins, Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr. Research Professor of Teaching and Learning, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“In Moving from What to What If?, John Barell offers compelling examples of classrooms that invite students to question and to work collaboratively with each other and their teachers on meaningful problems and towards meaningful learning goals. This is a terrific resource across subject areas for nurturing students' authentic intellectual work.” –M. Bruce King, PhD., Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"How refreshing. Moving From What to What If? reveals how teachers can significantly increase rigor in the work they give students.  By including the experiences of students and the breakthroughs of teachers willing to take risks to improve their own practice, the book shares compelling examples of how to transform student learning and performance. It provides evidence that rich adult and student learning results when teachers dare to move beyond tasks that require simple regurgitation of facts to lessons that engage students in applying their learning to figure out real problems.  In particular, the story of the Pike County Schools professional learning journey inspired me.” –Gale Hulme, CEO/Executive Director, The Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement (GLISI), Lawrenceville, GA

“John Barell draws on his observations of exceptional educators, careful analysis of student work, ideas from history’s greatest thinkers, and his own experiences to make a compelling case for ‘authentic work’ and ‘problem based learning.’ Moving from What to What If? provides a range of practical strategies to engage student intellect and promote wonder, possibility thinking, and problem solving.” –Rachel French, Director of Professional Learning International, Frankfurt, Germany