Concept driven learning…

Some ‘big ideas’ about concept driven learning:

(From this week’s little #pypchat on Twitter)

  • The world is changing. Knowledge is changing. The ability to view the world with a more flexible mind is invaluable. (Steve)
  • Concept based learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place, situation. (Ed)
  • Content just focuses on facts while concept focuses on making sense of those facts and the world around us (Christianne)
  • Content based teaching may not get beyond information transmission/superficial learning (Gillian)
  • Concepts are a way to organize and make sense of learning. Connect disciplinary knowledge.  (Miranda)
  • We can’t possibly teach everything that is important, but we can teach the big ideas. (Alexandra)
  • Concept based learning is a framework to study everything. So much information. Content can change, concepts stay the same. (Mega)
  • Information is useless unless you can do something with it. (Lynne Erickson)
Big Ideas in the classroom.

Since I no longer have my own class, I relish opportunities to get into classrooms. This week I’m team teaching in Year 5 with Rubi… and team learning. We bounce ideas before class, observe and listen to the kids and change the plan as the learning unfolds. The ‘topic’ is energy, but it’s inquiry learning and it’s concept driven. 

The first provocation is a video showing the effects of an electricity blackout. The students’ questions are quite specific to the incident, and we realize we need to change the plan already. We ask the kids to revisit their questions and ‘grow’ them, this time considering big ideas, transferable through time and place. It only takes one example from a different context to get the idea and they are away! This round of questions is about electricity and alternative power sources, not just the blackout they saw.

Rubi introduces a second provocation to further develop their thinking. She puts on music and asks the kids to dance and jump around. There is lots of noise and energetic movement, kids remove their sweaters as they warm up and a good time is had by all (except the class next door.)  We ask the kids to discuss in groups how this activity connects to the first provocation and then come up with further questions.  This round of questions is about different forms of energy, where they come from and how they are used.

Sorting Questions.

With each question on an individual sticky note, the groups sort the questions in any way they like. Before they start I ask them what they see as the purpose this activity. Mia says it will make them read everyone’s questions and think about them. Liam says it will help them organize their thoughts. Amanda says it will  help them check their understanding. Josh says they will have to justify their thinking.

Some groups sort the questions by topic, others by big ideas. One sorts them according to the PYP key concepts. Some groups sort and re-sort in different ways. Some sort them into deep and shallow questions, open and closed questions. I’ve seen Rubi encourage this this kind of thinking by having kids analyse questions through the question quadrant. They use the language: ‘That’s a closed question,’ ‘You could just google that,’ ‘ That’s too narrow, how do we make it a bigger idea’? ‘That’s just about facts, it’s not deep enough.’  We gather the questions, type the whole lot and cut them up, ready for sorting the next day.

To sum up the lesson, we ask students to give it a title. I ask what a title does and they tell me ‘It sums up what’s important,’ ‘It tells you the main idea’, ‘It tells you what it’s all about’. ‘It makes you want to know more’. Their titles fit the bill!

A conceptual central idea.

We introduce the central idea: ‘Our use of energy has an impact on the planet.’

Each group now gets the whole class’s questions and the task is to sort the pile into two groups… Those that relate to the central idea (the overarching conceptual understanding.) and those that don’t. The students are totally engaged as we move between groups and listen to the rich conversation. There is much debate and it doesn’t take long before they decide they need three groups or even four, because it isn’t as simple as that! Through the process, questions are further developed and refined.

Key concepts.

The key concepts which will be our lens for the inquiry are function ( how does it work?) and responsibility. We ask the students to get the laptops and create a quick cartoon using Toondoo to show their understanding of one of the two concepts in a clever way. Some create cartoons that connect to our central idea, others show examples that connect to their personal lives. The choice is theirs – the results are creative and thought-provoking! Back in groups, the students now pick out questions relating to each of these  key concepts….

Big ideas about the learning:

Officially, there has been no teaching yet. A few video clips, some ideas on the class blog to think about and the time described above spent provoking and developing thinking.

Yet, already…

  • Students have risen above the facts and are thinking on a conceptual level.
  • They are making connections with prior knowledge and constructing meaning for themselves.
  • They are asking and answering questions, organizing ideas and justifying their thinking.
  • The so-called ’21st century skills’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration are all evident.
  • A host of other trans-disciplinary skills are being practised.
  • Curiosity has been sparked and there is excitement about taking the learning further.
  • Every single one of our school’s learning principles is evident.
Images: Responsibility by Amelia, Function by Gabi

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!

10 reasons students should blog…

… and they all come from 12 year olds!

1. I think the blog has turned me into a global learner, who loves to share their learning and opinion. The disadvantage is that sometimes the blog deletes your post. The advantages are endless. You can share a video, picture and writing. I think my learning has improved from the blog because it has made me a enthusiastic learner. Its great that anyone in the world can access and comment on OUR blog. I hope to create my own blog sometime in the future. (Emily)

2.  I have learnt a huge amount of information from looking at others’ thinking and asking questions. You can post videos, texts, images, google maps, any embed things and links. One thing that really gave me information about the world was a voice thread that I set up about education around the world and after a few days comments were just flying in. I got comments from nearly every continent. This shows that the blog is wide open which is great. (Leor)

3. I think that the blog is great because we get to be a big community of learners and share with people from around the world and it’s like exchanging learning. We learn from people and people learn from us. The advantages were sharing learning with the class more… and we could have a conversation about learning. (Ieva)

4. By being able to look at other people’s learning and learn from theirs… I am more clear on what I have to do sometimes and I can get ideas from others. I also enjoy the blog because I am able to get feedback on what I do from people all over the world and improve myself to make things perfect. (Cassie)

5. I think that it’s a great tool for learning and communicating! It has many advantages like you can access it from anywhere school, home etc. also people from other countries can comment on our learning and tell us their opinion and we can learn about their country by commenting back and asking about it. We can share our learning with each other, the rest of the school and anyone from any other country. (Alicia)

6.  As a learner I think the blog is great , you can put so much effort into something and not only your friends and family can see it but the world, you can learn so many new facts from the public. The blog is like a room with different people in it. I have created my own blog and I think its great because it’s what I have to say and people all over the world can help me discover more. (Justin)

7.  At the start of the year I wasn’t very sure about using the blog and I wasn’t quite sure how to write a good post. Since then I have learnt all the skills and techniques to make a good post/comment. I am now very confident with using the blog. Looking through all my blog posts it shows how far I have come and towards the end how much better all my blog posts are. (Lexie)

8. It helped me as a thinker because when you look at other people’s posts on sometimes the same thing, they could be very different and it could change your thinking too. Because you realize the other side of what you are thinking. My comments now are very different to the start of the year because now I am thinking as a learner, but before I was more thinking about being a worker at school. This helps a lot because you want to get something out of what you do – that is what a learner does, a worker does it to get it done. (Josh)

9. Using the blog as at tool, has extended my thinking is so many ways. It has helped me communicate with people all around the world and get to know about them a bit better. The advantages of being on the blog, is learning about different people and seeing what other people post on the blog to compare! (Amy)

10. Using the blog as a tool has really helped me with all my learning because people comment from all over the world and are able to see what we are learning about. When they comment we can use that information for our inquiry. The blog has helped me as a learner because you get everyone’s opinion from around the world and you learn a heap. (Jay)

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.

Letting go….

 There is every reason for a poor turnout for the reading group. New units are just getting underway. Teachers are busy writing reports. It’s less than two months till the end of the school year…

Yet more than half the teachers at our Year 4-6 campus turn up an hour before school to discuss the first chapter of Ron Ritchhart’s latest book, ‘Making Thinking Visible‘. It’s partly because we really value the ‘Visible Thinking’ ideas and material and the positive impact they have had on our teaching and learning. But it’s also because there is a core group of teachers who, over a period of several years, have developed into a real community of learners. We know that sessions like this push our thinking and keep us constantly reflecting on our practice. 

We ‘unpack thinking’ over breakfast. Those who haven’t managed to do the reading pick up the ideas from the others and are quickly involved too. (I’ve summed up some of the key points of the chapter in an earlier post here.) Among other things we talk about how creating a culture of thinking in our classrooms has shifted the focus from teaching to learning. It’s part of the process of students taking ownership of the learning.

In this reflection, one of the veteran teachers in the group makes her thinking visible…

Letting go….the more I do it, the better it gets! by Desiree Finestone

I am still learning.  The more I gradually release  control of my students’ learning and allow learning to happen where  they are given opportunities to naturally think, analyse, synthesise and internalise concepts and processes, the more I realise this is the way to go!

Providing tools and opportunities to make their thinking visible fosters engagement and discussion around the content. Post –it notes displayed around the room, blogging and thinking routines all support the thinking.  These tools allow students to share, listen to and build on each other’s ideas. 

It’s a great feeling to literally sit back, fold my arms and observe what is happening!  Each time I ‘see’ and feel their thinking and learning, I move up one rung on the ladder towards my next teaching goal. The more I teach, the more I realise how important it is to know how my students learn.

I so enjoy being involved in our Thinking Group.  It provides us teachers opportunities to make our thinking visible and learn from each other.

Image by HocusFocusClick

Great questions have legs…

Question...

I have some questions to ask you…

Do you ask questions to check for recall of information?
Or to help students clarify their thinking and construct meaning for themselves?

Do you play ‘guess what’s in my head’?
Or do you encourage learners to keep digging deeper?

Do you stop asking once you  get the answer you were  looking for?
Or do you ask questions you don’t already know the answer to?

Do you think answers are more important than questions?
Or are you excited when questions lead to even more questions?

And…

Do you hear the answers and move on to the next question?
Or do you listen really carefully so the responses can guide where to go next?

Do you praise students who give great answers?
Or do you push students further by asking them to explain, elaborate and justify?

Do you rephrase the question if you no one responds?
Or do you give learners time to think, discuss and make connections?

Is every question and answer directed through you?
Or do students respond directly to each others questions?

Great questions have legs. They propel the learning forward.

(‘Making Thinking Visible’ by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison)

(Reading the above. Some of my thinking made visible here!)

 

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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Thinking about thinking…

In a recent Huffington Post essay, Eric Maisels presented an argument for ‘adding thinking to the school day’ . I totally agree with this sentiment:

If your intention is to have students manifest their potential, you need to do more than stuff their heads with facts on the one hand, or provide them with unstructured freedom on the other. You need to provide students with appropriate guidance that motivates them to think and motivates them to create — an environment that supports their intellectual and creative efforts.

He talks about encouraging students to ‘think big’, which I agree is essential. But I do not agree with his suggestion to set aside 45 minutes each day for students to ponder big questions, write down their thoughts, and present them if they wish.

I don’t believe that thinking is something you can do for one period a day. If students are to develop the habit of thinking deeply, they will need to be exposed to big ideas and given opportunities to ponder big questions throughout the day. Ron Ritchhart, in his workshops and in his book ‘Intellectual Character’, talks about creating a culture of thinking ‘in which thinking is valued,visible, and actively promoted as part of theregular, day-to-day experience of all group members’. I’ve suggested some ways to engender a culture of thinking in the classroom, in a previous post. If you haven’t explored the Project Zero Visible Thinking website, I highly recommend it.

I used the ‘Diamond Ranking’ thinking routine this week, to stimulate thinking  and get students to prioritise their ideas. DIAMOND RANKING

Start with your question, topic, or provocation. Each student gets nine sticky notes and writes one idea on each. In pairs or groups, they pool their ideas and negotiate them down to a total of nine. This requires the ability to provide supporting evidence for keeping your suggestions in. Finally, prioritise the ideas according to the ‘diamond ranking’ …the most important goes at the top, the least important at the bottom and so on.

The kids were totally engaged and their discussion was meaningful and relevant. They are used to thinking about big ideas and evaluating issues … they don’t only do it for 45 minutes a day.

It was only after the lesson that I thought we should have grabbed some laptops and done the activity in linoit, rather than on paper. This would have allowed inclusion of images, embedding in a wiki or blog, sharing and commenting.

I just wasn’t thinking…

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