High Intensity Practice Thinking at Avenues

High Intensity Practice Thinking at Avenues
Heitor Santos, HIP Thinking teacher

What if there was a class that was entirely dedicated to developing students’ ability to think outside the box?

Whenever we face a problem–in the classroom, or in life–we go through a process of thinking our way through the situation. First, we orient ourselves by examining what is happening in the situation; then, we ideate by considering the possible options for what to do; next, we choose to actually act on one of those options; and finally, some time after the fact, we reflect on our performance of that action, ideally hoping to learn from our behavior. We do this when we are taking a test, when we are starting a new job, when we read a news article, when we arrive at a party, when we encounter a troubling situation on the street, even when we go out on a first date or attend a job interview. Sometimes, the first two steps may last a mere few seconds and feel "instinctual," and sometimes they take longer to unfold; but whenever we make an action, we do so by following along these four simple steps: orient, ideate, perform, and reflect. In High Intensity Practice Thinking, we closely examine and take apart each stage of the process and teach students how to move through these four stages. 

High Intensity Practice Thinking is an approach to learning that is very unique to Avenues. The premise of HIP is that the frequent, intense practice of key thinking skills over a period of years—specifically, empathy, creativity, abstraction, metacognition, critical thinking, mental agility, reasoning, and planning—can equip students with the skills that they need in order to understand and tackle problems in their different forms. The HIP Thinking curriculum is based on recent research on educational psychology, which has increasingly pointed to the role of deliberate practice in developing students' working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control (Ericsson, Krampre & Tesch-Roemer, 1993; Zelazo, 2015; Pretz, Naples & Sternberg, 2003).

By practicing these problem-solving skills in an intentional, structured way, students increase their ability to think, which ultimately has an impact on their entire educational experience - and life. As students practice these skills, they receive constant, targeted feedback from their teachers, allowing them to cultivate a growth mindset. 

From 6th through 8th grade, HIP Thinking problems include:

  • Designing a house for a partner, which encourages students to practice Empathy through collaboration while also having to adapt their plan to the limitations of budget, space, and structure. 

  • Writing up diary entries and short stories from the perspective of endangered animals

  • Designing and conducting a survey, and deriving conclusions from large volumes of data

From 9th through 10th grade, students are encouraged to take these skills to real-life situations, using data to understand different perspectives on issues such as political events and controversial societal issues. Some High School themes include:

  • Understanding and unpacking the construction of fake news

  • Building and managing a stock portfolio

  • Writing up autobiographical narratives



Ericsson, Karl & Krampe, Ralf & Tesch-Roemer, Clemens. (1993). The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review. 100. 363-406. 10.1037//0033-295X.100.3.363. 

Pretz, J. E., Naples, A. J., & Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Recognizing, defining, and representing problems. In J. E. Davidson & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The psychology of problem solving (pp. 3-30). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.

Zelazo, P. D. (2015). Executive function: Reflection, iterative reprocessing, complexity, and the developing brain. Developmental Review, 38, 55-68.



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