The following is an edited and supplemented response I gave to a teacher who wrote me the question and comments that are in bold font.
> My question is this: I moved up to bilingual third grade this year,
and I'm trying desperately to
It is my view that they already know how to think logically, and have always done so. What school generally does, or what bad teachers or bad school practices do, is to make kids put their logic on the back burner and just memorize stuff even though it does not make sense.
So the first thing you should do is be aware, and learn better how to become aware, of what does not make sense to your kids (such as math place-value, most likely, and a bunch of other things, such as contrived grammatical constructions that do not necessarily have anything to do with clarity or understanding language) and try to get them to see it -- and the best way to do that is to make sure you understand the construction of the material yourself, and to ask your kids as you teach them to explain back what they think you mean, etc. It is also important to quiz them informally as you teach so you can see when they are not getting you. You should not grade that because it is your grade for clarity, not their grade for understanding that you are quizzing for.
> This is a pivotal year because they're making the transition to abstract thought
No. They already have abstract thought. What they don't have is the particular abstract thoughts or concepts you will be teaching them. Just like you have abstract thought but probably don't/can't understand quantum mechanics or thermodynamics or perhaps even some of the concepts on my philosophy page. You have to make sure you understand which abstractions are conventions and which things flow from the logic of conventions or first principles, so you can help them puzzle through things. (These sorts of ideas are explained throughout my essays but the explanation of conventions and their use and difficulties for students when they are not taught properly is perhaps best described in the paper "The Concept and Teaching of Place Value.")
And remember there are lots of things we take for granted, such as parts of speech, that really are quite contrived and that make no sense at all. I would bet you could not come up, for example, with a definition of "preposition" that will withstand scrutiny. Well, kids are scrutinizing those kinds of things until they just finally give up and figure they are not supposed to make sense of anything. The trick is not to discourage them, and to explain which things ought to make sense, and which things are just conventions or just rules or descriptions of general patterns, but that have no real necessary logic.
> and still have lots of enthusiasm.
The trick, and it is really difficult in this day and age of standardized tests and overly zealous state curriculum standards that require the force feeding of too many trivial, minute facts, is to give students enough intellectually challenging material along with all the factual things you have to teach. And it is important to let them express as reasonably as they can what they are thinking, without forcing them into expressing it in some arbitrary format that essentially forces them to hide their thoughts. Make them think rigorously but do not confuse rigorous intellectual exploration with rigorous busywork demands. Don't, for example, assign page lengths for anything they have to do; let them write or present what they feel is important, and if you have questions about things you think they may have left out, ask them about those things. Get them to see that those things are important to include, not because of an artificial and arbitrary page length requirement but because they are an important, integral aspect of the topic. Here you might want to look at the paper "Fighting for the Higher Self," particularly the section dealing with asking "genuine" or "real" questions, not "typical classroom type questions."
> Are there any resources you would recommend in this area?
Books, papers, sites, anything at
The best books for this are math and riddle books that have logical twists to them, what are often called "brain teasers"; collect as many brain teasers as you can and let them think about them.
The other thing is to have them paraphrase stuff and explain it, so you can see how they are misunderstanding anything and then help clear it up. Get into their minds at least as much as you are wanting them to get into your mind.
If you have any specific topic questions let me know, and I will give a more specific answer.