Looking closely and exploring complexity…

A fan, a mobile phone, an umbrella, a computer monitor, a toaster… We ask the kids to engage in the Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine.

Examine the object carefully and record the following:

What are its parts? What are its various pieces or components?

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What are its purposes? What are the purposes for each of these parts?

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What are its complexities? How is it complex in its parts and purposes, the relationship between the two, or in other ways?

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Now take apart your object and record further parts, purposes and complexities that you discover…

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There is total engagement, excitement and a sense of purpose. Groups form naturally based on curiosity and everyone works collaboratively and inclusively. And it’s fun!

Their reflections are insightful:

“Everything around me is fascinating in its own way and is made in order to achieve its own goal”

“All parts are really important and small parts can be really important. We didn’t realise till we took it apart that one little screw was holding the entire umbrella together. We have to look deeper to discover amazing things”

“There are so many more parts than just what you see. This activity kind of reflects people. We can see a lot on the outside but the parts on the inside make us function. There is always more on the inside..”

“This tells me things are not as simple as they seem and not to accept information about something, look deep see what else is part of this object or person.”

“This shows I can always dig deeper and go further in my learning. I wonder if everything in my inquiry is useful”

“This helps us with problem solving and helps us create. If you can visualise how something is made and how it works, you can make it.”

“I realise now that everything has a purpose and there might be more than you can see from the outside… it makes me feel more curious about things and appreciative of many little parts inside one object.”

And that’s why I make my mistake…

Because their reflections seem so insightful, I make the assumption that they will readily be able apply this to abstract contexts. I ask them to think about an object, an idea or a system in their current inquiries and use the thinking routine to look more closely and explore the complexities.

I miss the point entirely, which is to get them to SLOW DOWN their thinking. Next time I will go all the way back and take one step at a time. We need to start from here:

Examine the system or idea carefully and record the following:

What are its parts? What are its various pieces or components?

Do you waste learning time?

I used to think… Now I think‘ is one of the most powerful thinking tools (Visible Thinking routines). It allows you to grow, without having to have been wrong. It allows me to develop my ideas, change my practice, increase my understanding, deepen my thinking… and change my mind.

I used to think that the more tightly I kept control, the more efficiently time would be used in the classroom so that more learning could take place.

Now I think that the more I let go, the less time will be wasted on management, control, delivery and work… and the more time there will be for learning.

Here’s an example:
Scenario 1
The class sits in a circle to discuss an interesting issue. students raise their hands when they have something to share or ask. The teacher ensures everyone has an opportunity to speak. He often rephrases what students say in order to clarify or validate contributions. Many students spend long periods of time listening passively (or not listening at all) while they wait for an opportunity to engage. the teacher spends a fair bit of time asking people to be quiet, pay attention, stop fiddling, raise their hands, not talk while someone else is talking…

Scenario 2
The same discussion takes place in small groups and the teacher moves between groups, listening, occasionally asking a key question, listening, requesting clarification or justification, listening. Students practice effective communication by listening and speaking one at a time, but in a natural conversational style, without raising their hands. All the students are more actively involved in the conversation. They are not expected to share details with the whole class, although they might be asked to share only the most interesting or the most contentious point that was raised.

There are so many routines and procedures that happen in classrooms, just because that’s the way they have ‘always’ been done.

How often do kids stand in line waiting for their turn with the teacher?
How often does the whole class sit passively (or not!) while the teacher explains something half of the students already know?
How often does the teacher expect everyone to wait will she checks who’s done their homework?

Do you ever stop to think about how productively class time is being used for every student’s learning?

Are you ready to change something you do?

Generating ideas about thinking…

I’m lucky to work at a school where most (but not all) of the teachers love to learn and will voluntarily turn up for a bit of professional learning before school or during their lunchtime.

Almost the whole staff at our small  K-2 campus participate in today’s lunchtime session, bringing along sandwiches and bowls of soup. It’s a Year 2 room, so the teachers are sitting on small chairs around tables designed for little learners, but this is their learning environment and they are comfortable in it.

We have 40 minutes to think about thinking, explore one of the Visible Thinking routines and consider how it might be applied in the classroom. It’s one in a series of such gatherings where we work collaboratively on creating a culture of thinking. They have yet to read the book Making Thinking Visible and I hope to explore it with them in our coming sessions.

I’ve chosen the routine ‘Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate‘ partly because it’s a new one for them, but also because I know they will initially think it’s not suitable for younger learners*. I’m keen to show them the video below of 4 year olds engaging with this routine and hear their reflections! Here’s a variation of the same routine in a high school class, if that’s more your area.

We start by getting into groups and collaboratively generating ideas about thinking in the classroom. It’s easiest to do this on sticky notes, as they can be readily moved and sorted for the next part of the routine. It’s interesting that each group generates different ideas and sorts them in different ways. The ensuing conversation reveals not only how these teachers think about thinking,  but how productive such an activity could be in getting students to justify and explain their thinking.

Predictably, someone asks whether this routine is suitable for younger learners* and it’s time to watch part of this clip of Silvana and her little learners exploring ways to look after our planet, via the ‘Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate’ routine. (Don’t turn off before the little pouter at 5:44!)

 

There follows a great conversation about the picture of practice we have just seen, how the teacher engages the children, how the children respond, the process of the routine, the potential for application and some possible problems and solutions. In a flash, lunchtime is over and the teachers need to return to class, even though we haven’t actually completed the thinking routine ourselves. In fact, elaborating on and further developing the ideas generated about thinking today will be the goal of our future sessions.

I have never taught K-2 classes and the teachers invite me to come and team teach with them to experience the reality of their learning context. I can’t wait!

Making Thinking Visible: Chapter Two

Cross-posted (almost) from Inquire Within, a blog about inquiry.

We’re laughing as we shift the tables to include the screen in our circle. Someone has offered to give her chair to the expected guest, forgetting momentarily that he is actually in Tennessee, USA and will be joining us via Skype!

This group loves to learn together and we’re meeting for breakfast an hour before school again today to continue our discussion of Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Morrison and Church. I highly recommend the book, the website and the principles of visible thinking for all inquiry teachers.

Our virtual guests Philip and Beth take some time to adjust their sound and then a bit longer to adjust to our accents, but are soon participating in the discussion. Philip is a 6th grade teacher who recently did a course at Harvard’s Project Zero and blogs here about his further exploration into Visible Thinking. Beth is a 2nd Grade teacher who incorporatesthese beliefs and strategies in her class too. They saw our reading group mentioned on my blog and asked if they could join, undeterred by the fact that we are in Australia!

We use the 4 C’s thinking routine as a guide for today’s discussion. It’s a great routine for synthesising and organising ideas.

Concepts: What are the big ideas?

Connections: How does it connect to what we already know?

Challenges: What do we find challenging?

Changes: How have our actions and attitudes changed as a result?

Today’s chapter focuses not just on the power of good questioning, but on how to listen carefully to what students say (and don’t say).  You can read my response to the chapter in an earlier post ‘Great questions have legs‘.

I’ve heard Ritchhart tell the story in person of how he observed great teaching and learning in classrooms then wondered why, although he carefully asked precisely the same questions as they had, the lessons did not go as well and he wasn’t able to create the same kind of thinking culture. It was only when he learned the value of attentive and responsive listening, that he was able to create that culture in his own classes. How many teachers have a desired answer in their heads and stop listening as soon as they hear it? 

The chapter also stresses the importance of documenting thinking. Most of the group agrees that this part is the most challenging. People talk about using sticky notes, which are easy to display, and journals, which are easier to keep. We consider whether one of the most effective ways of documenting and recording student thinking might be via a class blog. The question is what do you do with that documentation? We’ve started spending time in groups analysing students questions, discussing both what they reveal about each student and how they shape the direction of future teaching and learning. (but that’s for another post!)

The conversation, as always in this group, reflects passion for and commitment to learning… our own and that of our students. We conclude by reflecting on how our thinking has changed over time since we first began exploring Visible Thinking and Inquiry Learning. For the ‘exit card’ we use another thinking routine ‘I used to think… Now I think’. Even Philip is ready with his sticky note!

I used to think PD was something by experts that took place a few days a year. Now I think powerful professional learning comes from creating a community of learners and developing  a culture of thinking within your own school. And inviting the world in.

Making thinking visible…

A recent tweet of mine kept reappearing over a period of days as it was picked up by others.  Someone had asked for tips for the new year and this was mine:

Reading Ron Ritchhart’s latest book (co-authored by Karin Morrison and Mark Church)  ‘Making Thinking Visible’ on a recent flight, I made many connections and was reminded yet again of his powerful influence on my approach to teaching and learning.

I first participated in a reading group some years ago, discussing extracts from his earlier book  ‘Intellectual Character’ and experimenting with Project Zero’s Visible Thinking routines.  Many of our teachers have since attended his workshops.  Most found the idea of a  ‘culture of thinking’ as transformative as I did.

One of my most visited posts, ’10 Ways to Create a Culture of Thinking’  a year ago, was influenced by Ritchhart and I have blogged about many of the Project Zero  ‘thinking routines’ over time.

Unpacking Thinking…

The first chapter of ‘Making Thinking Visible’ unpacks thinking. This initial list of  ‘thinking moves that are integral to understanding’ really resonates for me:

1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
2. Building explanations and interpretations
3. Reasoning with evidence
4  Making connections
5. Considering different perspectives
6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
7. Wondering and questioning
8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

This is what meaningful learning is about.

No wonder I am not a fan of such things as worksheets, over-planned units, prescriptive programs, teacher-centered instruction, content based curriculum and  standardised testing.

I want to SEE my students thinking…

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10 ways to encourage good questions…

According to my wise 11 year old students, there are no good questions.

When I asked, some of them pointed out the difference between ‘skinny’ and ‘fat’ questions, others said the best questions are those that lead to other questions. But the majority informed me that whether a question is ‘good’ or not simply depends on your perspective! I was informed that ‘Whatever you want to ask is a good question to you, it doesn’t matter what others think’ and ‘Your perspective on what makes a good question might depend on your intelligence or your interests’.

I asked them to think about what conditions encourage them to ask questions.  They said that you need to be interested in something to want to ask questions about it. Some said you need to see something that makes you curious. Several said that the more you know about something, the more questions you have about it. Others said the less you know, the more there is to wonder about!

10 ways to encourage good questions… if there are such things…

1. Ask good questions.

Model good questioning. Ask open ended questions with multiple answers. Be open to all responses. Encourage more questions, rather than just waiting for answers which close off the conversation.

2. Ignite curiosity.

Provide powerful stimuli. Use picture books, photographs, artifacts and works of art. Show video clips that touch the heart while conveying information. Read a provocative text. Play a simulation game. Challenge conventional thinking.

3. Use thinking routines.

Explore the Project Zero Visible Thinking website. Many routines provide a scaffold for good questions. eg Connect, extend,challenge helps students start by connecting to what they know, then consider how their thinking has been extended and only then ask questions about what they find challenging. (More routines here.)

4. Unpack questions.

Grow questions from other questions. Help students see where they might lead. Find the questions within the questions.  If you can’t, it’s a ‘skinny’ question… (teach the difference between a ‘skinny’ question with limited answers and a broad open-ended one).

5. Focus on questions not answers.

Show that you value questioning for its own sake. You don’t always have to know the answer. Unanswerable questions are valuable too. Collect questions. Play with questions. Display questions. Record, revisit and rethink questions.

6. Create a question brainstorm.

Use bubbl.us or any mind-mapping tool to brainstorm questions about a topic, concept or idea.  Questions grow from other questions. Create a web of questions. Build questions based on other questions. Don’t look for answers (yet). See where it takes you.

7.  Allow plenty of thinking time.

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 questions down before you call on anyone. Give time to discuss their thoughts with a partner or group before sharing with the class.

8. Create a culture of inquiry.

Encourage exploration, wondering and questioning. Set meaningful, real-life problems. Encourage students to take and defend a position, make predictions, articulate and test theories, make connections with prior knowledge.

9. Focus on concepts.

Questions about facts tends to be closed. Facts are locked in time, place or situation, while concepts are transferable. Explore the big ideas behind the topics.

10. Talk less, step back

Don’t talk at your students. Have a strong provocation, stimulus or hook to get them thinking, wondering, questioning. Then step back. Have students challenge, question and respond to each other, not through the teacher.

Note: This post includes input from my colleagues: Jocelyn, Rubi, Layla, Hailey and Monica. They respond to my questions, sometimes with further questions, and push my thinking!

10 ways series:

10 ways to get students to own their learning

10 ways to foster a love of learning

10 ways to create a culture of thinking

10 ways to grow as an educator

10 ways my thinking has changed

10 ways to think about your learning space

10 ways to help students develop a PLN

10 ways to attract readers to your blog

10 things teachers should unlearn

10 ways to get your students’ respect

10 ways to assess learning without tests


 

10 ways to create a culture of thinking…

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)

Series of posts on ’10 Ways to…’ #3

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning

10 ways to foster a love of learning

 

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning…

1. Don’t make all the decisions

Allow choice. Encourage students to make decisions about how they learn best. Create opportunities for them to pursue their own interests and practise skills in a variety of ways.  Cater for different learning styles. Don’t expect everyone to respond in the same way. Integrate technology to encourage creative expression of learning.

2. Don’t play guess what’s in my head

Ask open-ended questions, with plenty of possible answers which lead to further questions.   Acknowledge all responses equally. Use Thinking Routines to provide a framework for students to engage with new learning by making connections, thinking critically and exploring possibilities.

3. Talk less

Minimise standing out front and talking at them.  Don’t have rows of learners facing the front of the class.  Arrange the seats so that students can communicate, think together, share ideas and construct meaning by discussing and collaborating. Every exchange doesn’t need to go through the teacher or get the teacher’s approval, encourage students to respond directly to each other.

4. Model behaviors and attitudes that promote learning.

Talk about your own learning. Be an inquirer. Make your thinking process explicit. Be an active participant in the learning community. Model and encourage enthusiasm, open-mindedness, curiosity and reflection.  Show that you value initiative above compliance.

5. Ask for feedback

Get your students to write down what they learned, whether they enjoyed a particular learning experience, what helped their learning, what hindered their learning and what might help them next time. Use a Thinking Routine like ‘Connect, extend, challenge’. Take notice of what they write and build learning experiences based on it.

6. Test less

Record student thinking and track development over time. Provide opportunities for applying learning in a variety of ways. Create meaningful assessment tasks that  allow transfer of learning to other contexts. Have students publish expressions of their learning on the internet for an authentic audience. Place as much value on process and progress as on the final product.

7.  Encourage goal setting and reflection.

Help students to define goals for their learning. Provide opportunities for ongoing self-evaluation and reflection. Provide constructive, specific feedback.   Student blogs are great tools for reflecting on learning and responding to their peers.

8. Don’t over plan.

If you know exactly where the lesson is leading and what you want the kids to think, then you‘re controlling the learning. Plan a strong provocation that will ‘invite the students in’ and get them excited to explore the topic further. But don’t  plan in too much detail where it will go from there.

9.  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 support independent learning.  Include appropriate tech tools to support the learning.

10.  Organise student led conferences

Rather than reporting to parents about their children’s learning, have student led 3-way conferences, with teacher and parents. The student talks about her strengths and weaknesses, how her learning has progressed and areas for improvement. She can share the process and the product of her learning.

I  know there are lots more ways. Please add to the list!


It’s about the learning, not the tools…

Frankly I’m tired of tools.  Exhausted from experimenting. Weary of web 2.0 options popping up on a daily basis… Well not entirely 🙂

At one point, I was excited to keep trying out new tools, figure out how they work, share them with my colleagues and use them to support learning and engage my students.  I wrote a post a while ago  saying I would start a series sharing one new tool that I tried each week… but never continued the series.  I used to support Linda, our ICT coordinator in introducing a new tool at every session of our early morning tech sessions for teachers.  But, while I am still experimenting with new tools, learning and exploring new possibilities, I have decided to slow down.  It’s important for the learning to drive things, not the technology.

which tool?Most of our teachers are willing to have a go, but not yet entirely comfortable with technology.  They are still daunted by too many different tools, when and how to use them.  So, this week we started using our tech sessions in a different way.  Instead of introducing new tools, we will revisit the ones that teachers have already been shown and discuss further possible ways of using them to enhance learning.  And give teachers and students a bit more time to consolidate and become completely comfortable with each tool in their toolbox.

We started by revisiting Voicethread. If you’ve been with me since the start, you’ll know it’s one of my favourites. To start off with Michele from our junior campus showed us the fabulous connection our 5 year olds made with a school in the US  using Voicethread. (more about that next time.)

Everyone shared ideas for how Voicethread might be used.  As a way for students to respond to an image or video related to their units of inquiry. As a place to share their own inquiry findings and have other kids, teachers and parents comment.  As an opportunity for discussion, a way to collaborate with people in other places, an option for a text response, a way of practising skills of speaking, listening, reading, writing.  Claire liked the idea of setting up a Voicethread as one of her literacy rotations, where kids could respond to a text in an engaging way, without teacher supervision.  Des thought it would be great to upload a talk she had heard and have her class comment on it.  Or perhaps all the Year 4 classes could collaborate.  Rubi has a contact at a PYP school in Mumbai and hopes to connect with kids there for a unit on understanding other cultures.  Talila loves the idea of getting her students to engage in Hebrew conversation.

We talked about how to scaffold thinking so that students’ contributions to the Voicethread will be meaningful.  I remember reading a blog post last week concerning how to get kids to make more valuable blog comments. Whether they are commenting on a blog, adding to a discssion in Voicethread  or responding to their peers’ learning,  the use of a thinking routine will provide a structure for their thinking.  I have blogged extensively about Project Zero‘s thinking routines in the past and can’t stress enough the part they play in fostering higher order thinking. The ‘Connect Extend Challenge‘ routine for any kind of response in Voicethread (or anywhere else) seemed to us one of the most appropriate.  It enables students to make connections to what they already know, explain how their thinking has been extended and then pose a question about the topic/image/video/presentation which they find challenging. One of the teachers suggested simplifying it for the younger kids to ‘Get one,give one’  –  Say something you got out of it (or learned from it) and something new you can add or suggest.

We always come away from these sessions pleased to have reflected on our practice together, aware of how much we have learned and continue to learn from each other, enthused to have a go at applying new ideas… and I always think how lucky I am to be part of a true community of learners.


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