Practice it. What makes you say that? It will only become routine if you practice it, and it takes two weeks for any new practice to become a habit, right?
This is the principle on which the book Making Thinking Visible (Ron Ritchart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison, 2011) is based. As educators, we can make thinking visible by incorporating some routines in our class instruction that call attention to thinking processes. The book is the result of research and observations from a five-year study at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education called Harvard Project Zero.
The authors present 22 routines to highlight thinking, divided into three categories defined by purpose: Introducing and Exploring Ideas, Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas, and Digging Deeper into Ideas. None of the routines is complicated or difficult, but practicing them could be a challenge. “Practicing” implies that a new activity might be less than perfect at the outset; the key is to keep at it until it becomes natural. Because these routines can be useful with any subject matter, I can practice them with any of my six courses.
Some of the routines that I’m most eager to try this fall are:
- “See-Think-Wonder.” This one is a new take on the old KWL worksheet, and will be useful when introducing a concept through images or video.
- “Chalk Talk” can help introduce a topic that can be condensed into a statement or question.
- “Headlines.” I already use this concept somewhat in my monthly Journal Club in science classes, but I can ramp it up using this routine. Synthesizing and summarizing are notoriously difficult tasks for early high-schoolers, so I’m eager to help them improve these skills.
- “CSI: Color, Symbol, Image.” While I’m more word-oriented, I recognize many students are not. This routine may help those visual learners who can express themselves artistically. Words are symbols, after all.
- “What Makes You Say That?” This may be a simple, open-ended question, but it has the potential for producing very enlightening discussion. If I gain nothing else from this book, I am determined to use this question daily, if not hourly to help identify what students’ thoughts are based on. What better way is there to “see” them think?
- “Claim-Support-Question.” This will help my students better support their claims. If used at the end of a unit, I can assess how well they’re able to explain the concepts we’ve just learned. One of the key elements of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards is skills in supporting claims with evidence. I think I’ll use this one often.
Each of the routines presented by the authors is described in step-by-step format with a case study so you can see it in action in a classroom. There are also suggestions for assessing and varying the routine to fit your needs. While the book can be dense in spots, I do credit the authors for presenting their evidence thoroughly (their thinking is very visible). The routines are well defined as well.
This book reinforces my ongoing interest in the study of neuroscience and thinking. Critical thinking is the single most important skill a student can develop to become a successful learner, in my opinion. One way to help them develop this skill is to help them recognize their thinking processes.
As I’ve written in this blog before, I tend to avoid thinking about everyday activities—I prefer to operate on autopilot—but some of the greatest rewards I’ve gained in life have been the result of thinking critically and deeply about a subject. The reason I write this blog, for instance, is to order my thinking. As E. M. Forster once said in the Art of Thought, “How can I tell what I think, until I see what I say?” Translating my thoughts into the written word helps me understand what I think. I believe my students will also benefit from expressing their thoughts through words or images.
Repeat after me: What makes you say that?