Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, as well as his work with Visible Thinking through Harvard’s Project Zero, describes the forces that comprise a ‘culture of thinking‘ in the classroom. Here’s my take…
10 ways to create a culture of thinking…
1. Model thinking.
Talk about your own thinking. Make your thinking explicit. Share ideas. Wonder aloud. Explore possibilities with your students. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers.
2. Allow thinking time.
Don’t expect answers as soon as you have asked a question. Don’t repeat or rephrase the question if there isn’t an immediate response. Get used to the silence. Give students time to formulate their thinking. Don’t call on the first kids to have their hands up. Sometimes, get every student to write their thoughts down before you call on anyone. Give time to discuss their thoughts with a partner or group before sharing with the class.
3. Provide opportunities for thinking.
Pose problems. Encourage exploration and inquiry. Set meaningful, real-life problems. Encourage students to take and defend a position, make predictions, support their ideas with evidence, articulate and test theories, make connections with prior knowledge.
4. Create a physical environment conducive to thinking.
Don’t have seats facing the front. Arrange the seats in groups so that kids can collaborate and construct meaning together. Allow movement for interacting with different people. Display student thinking on the walls. Put up a series of sticky notes showing development of thinking over a unit.
5. Introduce thinking routines.
In the same way that classes have routines for management and organization, students get used to thinking when it becomes routine. Routines need to be short, clear and easy to remember and repeated often. Thinking routines provide a scaffold and structure for thinking. They give students guidelines within which to think and a direction to head towards in their thinking.
6. Show that you value thinking.
Name and notice thinking. Avoid praise for individual thinking. Acknowledge every contribution. Make it clear that all thinking is acceptable. Respond respectfully to all students. Ask for clarification and development of ideas. Encourage students to build on each others’ thinking.
7. Give them something worth thinking about!
Make sure your stimulus is always something worth thinking about. Create tension and cognitive disonance. Create strong provocations that will invite students into the topic. Ask powerful questions. Think laterally, it isn’t always something obvious. Use art. Use music. Use artifacts.
8. Let go.
A thinking culture works best when the teacher isn’t in charge. Sit at the back sometimes, don’t always stand in front. Don’t paraphrase student’s thinking into what you think they mean. Every response does not have to go through the teacher. Don’t be the filter.
9. Focus on big ideas.
Don’t teach only facts and content. Look at big ideas, rather than just topics. Explore events and ideas through one or more conceptual lenses for deeper learning. Facts are locked in time, place or situation, while concepts are transferable. Encourage transfer of learning to other contexts.
10. Focus on learning, not work
Make sure you and your students know the reason for every learning experience. Don’t give ‘busy work’. Avoid worksheets where possible. Don’t start by planning activities, start with the ‘why‘ and then develop learning experiences which will encourage higher order thinking.
11. Your suggestion… (leave a comment)