Establishing a culture of thinking…

Ron Ritchhart, in his book Intellectual Character, talks about teaching children to think and the importance of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom.  His work with David Perkins, Howard Gardner and others at Harvard University on Project Zero and Visible Thinking is well worth exploring.

He describes eight ‘cultural forces’ that define a thinking classroom. These forces foster thinking, and hence deeper understanding and more meaningful learning:

Time for thinking
Expectations for thinking and learning
Opportunities for engaging in thinking
Routines & Structures that scaffold thinking and learning
Language & Conversations that name, notice, and highlight thinking
Modeling of thinking
Interactions & Relationships that show respect for students’ thinking
Physical Environment in which the process of thinking is made visible

I’ll start with the easiest one.  Time for thinking.  It’s easy to talk about.. not always so easy to ensure in the classroom.

How often do teachers ask a question, then rephrase it if no-one answers in the first few seconds?
It’s easy to call on the same child who always raises his hand, yet again, if no-one else volunteers.
Do you ever answer the question yourself if no-one else seems ready to?

Sometimes it’s difficult to allow waiting time, if there’s no response right away, but we need to allow time for thinking if we want our students to think!  One possibility  is to give students time to think and to write down their thoughts, before calling on anyone to respond. That way, everyone has enough time to formulate thoughtful responses and there is much greater participation.  Another is to allow time for students to share their thinking in pairs or groups, before calling on individuals to answer.
Time for thinking’ also implies time for in depth exploration of topics.  The PYP encourages higher order thinking and engagement with conceptual ideas through units of inquiry.  We have definitely seen a difference in the way our students think, since our school introduced the PYP  a few years ago!

Cultural forces in a thinking classroom: Part 1: Time

6 thoughts on “Establishing a culture of thinking…

  1. Hi,
    This is very much like what we in Alberta mean when we talk about Critical Thinking, or criterial thinking. We are teaching students to think about their thinking and learning. As educators, our role is crucial in helping students develop these thinking, evaluative skills. Thanks for your post. It affirms that the move towards a more mindful approach to teaching and learning extends beyond the realm of technology and what it can do for us.


  2. Hi Edna,
    I was lucky enough to work with Ron Ritchhart when I worked at the International School of Amsterdam and when I did Harvard Project Zero some years ago – he is a wonderful person and his workshops have certainly changed the way I teach. You are absolutely right when you say that most of the time we don’t give all students the time they need to think. We get impatient, we rephrase, we answer the question ourselves. I’m definitely guilty of this myself. I like the Think-Pair-Share routine and I’m trying to slow down a bit and allow all students thinking time before calling on anyone to answer a question. Thanks for this post, which reminded me, again, of the need to take my time when asking questions.


  3. I taught at a school that had PYP a few years ago. We had an inservice that discussed thinking time and were shown stats where teachers only waited a few seconds each time for students to answer questions. That really made me rethink what I did and although pauses and silence are kind of unusual for lots of classrooms, you have to make room for thoughts to be formed and then verbalised.

    An excellent post.


  4. Wait time is HARD for me. I am one who never wants the uncomfortable silence and tends to fill it if no one else is going to. Wait time is something I have really had to be purposeful about. The more I practice it, the more comfortable I am getting with it. It is important to give students ample time to think, and formulate the answer. Otherwise, it will be the same 4 students who are always answering and participating.
    There should be whole classes in university dedicated to practicing wait time!


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