Apr 16

Following Dolsen Elementary’s Thinking Journey by Erin Kuhn, Teacher

Following Dolsen’s Thinking Journey

 By: Erin Kuhn, Third-Grade Teacher

Dolsen Elementary, South Lyon Community Schools

(First Published in South Lyon Herald)

How can we challenge and grow the thinking in our students, better preparing them as 21st century learners? Walking through the hallways or into one of the classrooms of Dolsen Elementary, one would find the answer to that question. Last year Dolsen Elementary embarked on a new journey, Making Thinking Visible. Based on the book, Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, it has been the school’s goal to create a culture of learning that extends not only to the students, but also to the teachers and administrators alike.

Visible Thinking is based largely around the notion of making student thinking visible, valued, and actively promoted. It works to grow both thinking skills and abilities and strengthen content learning. How can we actually see student thinking and learning, you may ask. Visible Thinking is driven by core “thinking routines.” The thinking routines are implemented throughout units of study in all subject areas and elicit key thinking skills such as making connections, questioning, considering different viewpoints, and reasoning with evidence. These are the skills and abilities that will build 21st century thinkers.

How has Visible Thinking changed the way students are learning at Dolsen?

“In my opinion, the routines and practices we use promote not only a deeper level of student thinking, but student independence and the understanding that all opinions matter and are counted on,” said Dawn Jordan, 4th grade teacher at Dolsen.

“The visible thinking routines provide the opportunity for every student to be heard in my classroom, not just the outgoing personalities. The students have learned that what they think is important and valued by our classroom community and they are responsible for sharing their ideas,” 1st grade teacher, Kristy Zuehlke added.

Not only have the thinking routines grown metacognition (thinking about the way we think) in our students, engagement during lessons has increased as well. In our second year, routines are beginning to become just that, routine. Student excitement is apparent at the mention of a routine such as “Think, Puzzle, Explore” or “Chalk Talk”. Classroom discussions are becoming richer as well, with students naturally providing support and evidence for their thinking.

Paired with existing instructional practices and curriculum, visible thinking has given teachers in our building a vehicle to promote deeper level thinking and learning. It is our hope that as we progress on this journey, we continue to challenge and extend our ability to grow the minds of our future.


Apr 16

Design for Local District-Wide Cultures of Thinking PD for Years 3 and 4

Design for CoT District-Wide PD for Years 3 and 4 

South Lyon Community Schools

By:  Lisa Kudwa, Assistant Superintendent of CITA

Our district has been involved in the learning around Cultures of Thinking for the past three years.  We have five school teams in the process of spending time with Ron Ritchhart and Lauren Childs at the Oakland County Foundations series and Leadership series.  We also have six teams who have been a part of that learning in previous years and who needed support from the district as they continue on their journey.

Those leadership teams need many things like time to reflect and process how their choices impact their colleagues’ learning and the learning of students, practice articulating their own essential understandings of Cultures of Thinking.  They also need to time to focus on the positive changes occurring at their school, and the opportunity to develop cross-district connections, to learn from one another and to plan their next steps.  While we considered joining the county level series for buildings in their second and third year of learning, we recognized that we had a strong cohort within the district and were excited to learn from one another.

We planned three local sessions- September, December and February- where the principal and two members of each leadership team would attend a district level dialogue in the morning and apply their learning from the morning’s discussion at an afternoon leadership meeting at their school.

At the sessions we begin by asking each leadership team member to consider four questions.  These questions help team members to clarify their own thoughts.  While the questions change slightly from session to session, the first two questions have remained consistent.  We have used the compass points routine as the platform for individuals exploring their own thinking and have asked:

  • What do you notice as you are helping to lead this shift in culture at your school?
  • What evidence do you see that staff learning around Cultures of Thinking is impacting students’ learning?
  • What surprises have you encountered in your use of the routines?  What strengths have you noticed as your school community builds a culture of thinking?
  • What worries remain for you and your colleagues?  What are you wondering about the work of the other leadership teams?  How would you want the district learning to continue next year?

After all participants have had time to reflect, we ask that they pair up with someone from another school to share their thoughts.  This paired discussion provides individuals with the opportunity to build a connection across the district but also to rehearse and refine their own thoughts before they join a discussion at their school level.

After the think-pair portion of session, the school team then shares their responses together.  This group reflection in a sense becomes the story of the team and the school.  The team determines their greatest strengths, the most impactful leadership team actions, and what struggles they need help addressing.

The bulk of our time together is then spent having discussions with members from the other leadership teams across the district.  One team member remains at the table to share the school’s story that was developed through the think-pair-share activity- the leadership team’s latest decisions and actions, the changes in the school’s culture, the evidence that student learning is being impacted, and the struggles that still remain for the team.  The other two members travel to three other school’s tables to learn about what is going well and what is a struggle at those schools.  The focus of those hearing the story is to listen first and then offer connections between the work of the school and the work of their own school, make suggestions about things the school might consider trying, and ask reflective questions that would help the school build a more effective plan.  We rotate three times with about 10 minutes for each table discussion.  I think of it as speed dating for leadership teams!

Team members then return to their own school groups to reflect on the journey of their school and to consider the connections, suggestions and questions offered by the other schools.  During this portion of the session, each traveling team member shares highlights from his/her conversations with other schools and the presenting team member shares the feedback from the three visiting groups.  At this time, the group may also begin to plan their agenda for the afternoon portion of the day when they will return to their own school.

We offer groups a chance to share the highlights of their conversations with the other schools.  One of my favorite outcomes of the day is that this discussion reinforces those leadership actions that are truly bringing about change for schools.  It also provides teams with feedback and recognition from their colleagues across the district.

We close each session by asking for one final reflection that helps the participating teachers and administrators to think about their needs and the needs of the district.  To provide a format for all voices in the reflection, we utilize a chalk talk routine.  Over our three sessions, we’ve asked:

  • What support could district administration provide to better help your staff create a Culture of Thinking?
  • What advice would you give to the district leadership team members who are participating this year in the Foundations series?
  • How would you want to continue the district level learning for next year?

The responses to these questions help us to plan next steps from a district perspective with input from the school leadership teams.   After the first session, the primary support requested by the leadership teams was more of the sessions in this format.  So while we initially planned only the first session using this format, we learned from the feedback gathered in the first chalk talk that teams valued this time for reflection and connection building above other types of support.  When we come together at the sessions, we begin by reading the following quote from Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison in Making Thinking Visible:

Our individual thinking benefits from being challenged, from the need to articulate ideas clearly and concisely to others, from the presentation of alternative perspectives and insights through other’s presentation of logic, the raising of questions, and so on.  Furthermore, what we are able to achieve as a group by way of problem solving, decision making, and understanding is usually far greater than what can be achieved by the individual alone.”

For us, the quote defines our purpose for meeting- as leaders of cultural change within our district we need the support and reflection that comes from meeting together and thinking interdependently.

Apr 16

What is a Culture of Thinking by Anthony Arbini, Art Teacher

What is a Culture of Thinking?

By Anthony Arbini, MMS and CMS Art teacher

South Lyon Community Schools

(Published in South Lyon Herald)

 Continuous improvement and life-long learning are at the core of Millennium Middle School’s (MMS) movement toward a culture of thinking.  The Cultures of Thinking (COT) program is rooted in twenty-one  thinking routines that serve as tools and structures for students to use when faced with curriculum challenges.

Ron Ritchhart, from Harvard University, has created this research-based, data driven model that can affect all types of learners in a positive manner.  Along with the thinking routines that teachers have been infusing into their instruction with the rigorous South Lyon Community Schools curriculum, the COT program brings awareness to eight specific forces that occur naturally in the school building and can positively impact students’ learning.  Just recently, MMS has enhanced its use of one cultural force:  the Physical Environment.  Faculty and staff at MMS created flags to hang outside of their classroom and office doors.  Creating a functional, as well as aesthetically pleasing, physical environment is just one  example of how this cultural force can enhance the learning experience for faculty, staff, and students, as well as community members who visit our building.

Infusing the routines into classroom instruction is merely an introductory phase at MMS.  Aligned with our Habits of Mind, these strategies will be used by students with teacher guidance in the beginning; over time, students will embrace and adopt routines to utilize themselves with course content whenever appropriate.  At MMS, our goal is to provide the opportunity and time for students to think, use these routines to get their thoughts down on paper, and then problem-solve. And yes, Time and Opportunity are two other cultural forces on which the COT program focuses.

The COT philosophy is not just for students.  In order to create a culture of thinkers, MMS staff must be committed to lifelong learning and strive for continuous professional development. Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, a team of teachers participated in workshops to better understand this initiative.   This leadership team then presented material to their colleagues and coached them in the use of the visible thinking routines.  For 2013-2014, MMS staff members have embraced these routines for use in their classrooms and at staff meetings.  They will also be observing use of COT routines in visits to other middle schools throughout Oakland County.

COT was first piloted in the district by Salem elementary in 2011-2012.  MMS and several other  elementary buildings began the training last year; CMS, the two high schools, and remaining elementary schools are being trained this year.  We look forward to the powerful synergy in the future when the COT initiative has been implemented district-wide K-12, much like SLCS’s successful Habits of Mind program.

I used to think school initiatives were like magic wands, and one could wave the wand and all the students would learn.  Now I think school initiatives are frameworks for continuous improvement, and they are only as good as the building culture.  At MMS, our framework is

Apr 16

Article by Alissa Day: “Can You See What I’m Thinking?”

Can You See What I’m Thinking?

By Alyssa Day, Teacher

 Kent Lake Elementary, South Lyon Community Schools

(Printed in South Lyon Herald)

School is different now from when many of us entered through the front doors and hung up our backpacks.   There is a shift occurring, and it is a good one.

Think for a moment.  Now think deeper.  While you are at it, think critically.  Confused? Not sure what I mean?  Often times we hear these phrases but do not take the time to consider what it really means to think (the complex processes and internal conversations that happen naturally).  South Lyon students will be learning just what it means to think and everything that it entails as teachers across the district dive into Harvard University’s “Cultures of Thinking” movement.    The goal of Cultures of Thinking is to show students the value of their thinking by making it visible.  How many times have you sat across from your child at the dinner table and thought, “Just what is going on in that head?”  A culture of thinking can give you a window into that secret world.

So how do you make thinking visible?  One method you may overhear your student talking about this year is thinking routines.  Thinking routines are the instructional vehicles for drawing out complex thoughts such as considering alternative viewpoints, reasoning with evidence, building explanations using prior knowledge, and identification of biases.   For example, students at Kent Lake Elementary are becoming familiar with routines like Zoom In and Claim-Support-Question.  These routines require students to use clues within pictures, texts, and other stimuli in combination with their prior knowledge to build an explanation for what they think is happening.

You may also ask, why should we embrace this movement and what benefit does it serve my child?  In recent years there have been reports that question American education, saying our students will not be able to compete within a global economy.  Making thinking visible squashes the blind “follow-the-leader” attitude and encourages students to question the world around them, not just taking everything for face value.  Another benefit of using Cultures of Thinking is that students become more adept writers, as students often provide their explanations in complex sentences, using the word “because” as the backbone for their theories and claims.   Cultures of Thinking also prepare our students for the types of reasoning that Common Core will be assessing.  Vocabulary and phrases such as “extend your thinking”, “challenge”, “counter arguments”, and “reflect” are language that your children will be hearing and utilizing daily.

Cultures of Thinking does not need to be limited to the classroom.    Ron Ritchhart, co-author of Making Thinking Visible, has a simple go-to guide for parents via his “10 Apps For Parents”.  You too can promote visible thinking on your way to drop the kids off in the morning, when heading to the grocery store, or at bedtime.  In fact, you can try it right now.  Next time your child makes a seemingly simple statement, ask “What makes you say that?”, then watch (and hear) the wheels start turning.

Apr 13

Click on this link for a graphic on thinking routines

A nice info graphic on thinking routines fromhttp://langwitches.org/blog/2013/11/22/visible-thinking-routines-for-blogging/    (From Making Thinking Visible Facebook Page.)

Apr 08

Summary of Pine Knob Elementary CoT Tour in Clarkston


Summary of Pine Knob Elementary CoT Tour

April 2, 2014

While participating in the Cot tour at Reuther Middle School in Rochester Hills, I made the following observations.  Principal, Jody Yeloushan participated in finalizing this summary.   We hope this summary will provide you with helpful information and encouragement as you create your CoT journey.


The Pine Knob Cot School Tour provided very beneficial professional development for all who attended.  The folder contents were supportive of what we were about to hear and see and gave us a concise overview of CoT at Pine Knob.  The leadership team with the guidance of Jody Yeloushan, Principal, provided the needed structure to focus us during the gallery walk and the classroom visits by providing an observation enclosure and a detailed agenda.  Throughout the tour, everyone was meaningfully engaged.  Learning Services at Oakland Schools joins me in saying thank you to all the teachers who had the courage to open up their classrooms, to the leadership team for overseeing the tour and CoT at Pine Knob and to Superintendent, Dr. Rock, for attending the opening and closing sessions.

Karen Kumon, grade 4 teacher,  conveyed a deep understanding of CoT/VT to visitors,  and her enthusiasm was contagious. The support she received from her principal and Superintendent sent a strong message about how serious Clarkston and Pine Knob are about developing a systemic culture of thinking within the school and across the district.  Sharing highlights of the school’s CoT four-year history helped each participant feel more comfortable with where he/she was and provided a path for moving forward.

Opening Session:

The opening session engaged everyone by using a Chalk Talk to gather ideas and questions from the group.  Three questions were used and each person contributed to all three. Question # 3 was discussed immediately while the others were used at the closing session. (See closing) The questions with examples of responses were:

1) What do you think you will see?  (Engaging discussions, students interested in learning, trying new strategies, differentiated instruction moment and working together, ways to tap into thinking)

2) What do you hope to see?   (Ideas I can share with staff.   How this is used with special education.  How it is used in math.  Students excited about learning.  How thinking is assessed)

3.  What questions do you have for Pine Knob?

  • When did you start the journey?  Ans:  Pine Knob started 4 years ago.
  •  How do you start routines in classrooms at the beginning of the year?  Ans:  Karen shared that she uses chalk talk to start off the year so she knows what students are concerned about, what questions they have, etc. 
  •  How do you organize time to share at your building?  Ans:  We have staff meetings and we have CoT meetings.
  • What PD have you had?   Ans:  The first year our leadership team did a book talk/study on Making Thinking Visible.  We met every two weeks, talked and tried routines.  The second year we repeated with the whole staff.  In the third year we looked at analyzing a routine and chose See/Think/Wonder as our focus.  Everybody used it and charted their outcomes.  We discussed strengths, growth and needs.  This year, our 4th, we are analyzing a unit of study at each grade level and asking, “What understandings do we want from the unit and what routines will we use to help us?”  We are looking at growth across grade levels using Reasoning with Evidence as our theme and using Zoom-In as the common routine.  We believe it is important to keep the talk about CoT alive since this shows what we value at Pine Knob.
  • What are the demographics of Pine Knob and how do special education staff and students use the routines?   Ans:  We are a Title I school with 500 students, an experienced staff and strong MEAP scores.  We have 19 classrooms and on the average there are 3 sections for each grade level.  Special education and resource room staff and students are involved in CoT as classrooms and through mainstreaming.  We have two Title I teachers and aides for reading and math.
  • Do you have 100% participation on the part of staff?   Ans.  We spent the first two years getting acquainted with this approach and now the expectation is that all teachers will be using the routines.  Our focus is that Cultures of Thinking are places where collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day to day experience of all group members.  We constantly ask ourselves, “Are we just using routines or are we building a culture?”  We check ourselves against the 8 cultural forces.

Gallery Walk:

The Gallery Walk was informative and we saw products representing student thinking using a variety of routines.  I personally counted ten different routines as I toured.  Two unique factors that stand out from the gallery walk are:

1)   Pine Knob mixes up the hallway displays so that thinking from across the grade levels is shared in each hallway.  Students notice that kindergarten and grade 5 may be using the same routines, etc.  They enjoy looking at the thinking of younger and older students.

2)   A white-board hangs in the hallway near the showcase.  The white-board is used for a chalk-talk and currently has the question:  How are all the items in the showcase connected? Anyone in the school may contribute to the chalk talk.  The board was full of remarks from a variety of members of the learning community.

Closing Session:

Teachers returned from the classroom visits motivated and inspired. The following remarks are examples of their enthusiasm:  “I could stay in that classroom all day. “  “I learned so much.”  “The students were all engaged. “  “What an interesting lesson I just saw.”  They were interested in the extent to which Clarkston had a systemic approach to Cultures of Thinking as well as changes Pine Knob has noticed as a result of using the routines:

Q:  Do you all use VT?

A:   Yes, the whole district is involved in CoT.  Dr. Rock, our Superintendent, initiated this four years ago.  Each school chose a leadership team and every building team has gone through the PD with Ron Ritchhart.  Staff members are in different places, but the expectation is that now that we are in our fourth year, all teachers will use routines as part of their instructional process.   It is part of our evaluation process

Q:  What changes have you seen as a result of VT?

A:  Teacher talk at grade level meetings focuses on thinking even though they May not be using the same routines.  The hallway and room displays now share student thinking from across grade levels.  Desks are giving way to using space for sharing and making choices about where to sit and work.

We invite all readers of this blog entry to leave comments, questions or compliments for the Pine Knob Elementary staff and students. 



Mar 31

Summary of CoT Tour at Way Elementary in Bloomfield Hills


 Summary of Way Elementary School CoT Tour

February 27, 2014

While participating in the Cot tour at Way Elementary School in Bloomfield Hills, I gathered the following information.  Principal, Adam Scher participated in finalizing this summary.  The following quote taken from Corner Stones for Teachers (see link on Teacher Resource Page)  is a favorite of Principal Adam Scher:  “When you steal a student’s struggle, you steal the learning. When you support the STRUGGLE, you take that student farther than ever.”

A well organized and structured agenda provided needed information and helped to keep us on schedule.  The folder contents were supportive of what we were about to hear and see in the leadership presentations and in the classrooms.  . The summaries gave us background that helped support the lessons we were about to observe so we could construct meaning.  In the spirit of Cultures of Thinking, everyone was highly engaged.

Adam Scher, Principal, and Jenni Rossi, teacher leader, conveyed their deep understanding of both the purpose and framework of CoT/VT . The six years of VT/Cot experience of Way Elementary provides us with a valuable resource for PD in the county.  Those who are in the initial stages get a vision of where they are going and experience the ethos of a culture of thinking first hand.  They can see and feel what it means to go from learning about routines to developing a culture of thinking where students and staff use the language and the dispositions of putting thinking at the center of learning.  Sharing highlights of Way’s CoT history and placing the tour emphasis  on the implementation of the routines to deepen learning provided both a context for what we were about to observe and a clear focus for our observations. Adam and Jenni also modeled the importance of respecting and knowing the prior knowledge of the learners since all were familiar with the routines.  This helped to move our learning forward.

Opening Session:  The following are some of the helpful insights shared.

1.  To shift our language to thinking we need to slow down presentation so we can move from covering material to generating understanding.

2.  It is important to start with the trust that teachers will try.  It is easy to see the progress since you see things start to be hung up as teachers begin.

3.  Way uses the Peel The Fruit graphic and protocol to communicate and understand the process of moving from learning routines to developing a culture of thinking.  This gave us a visual journey of getting under the skin (the structure of the routines) to the purpose of the lesson.  Some of the key points we took away included the importance of:

  • Fitting the routine and materials to the purpose of instruction and learning.
  • Considering what we wanted students to see or hear as a result of the instruction.
  • When planning a unit, deciding where do we put the routines,  how many should be used and realizing that routines are not always the right tool to use.

4.  We need to consider why we need to change how we are delivering instruction.

  • We need to engage all students and meet them where they are in their learning.
  • They all can learn the intended  outcomes and they all can construct their own new learning.
  • All takeaways are different based on prior knowledge and new insights constructed.

5.   Inquiry based learning is not new and has been around since before Dewey.

6.    This is an instructional approach; not a program.  It is not an add on; just a different way.

7.    Way has moved beyond “planning” to “examining unit design.”    Teachers ask:  How do we connect lessons to make units and connect units using our Through Lines?  We are not about episodic learning; we are about helping students make connections within and across content areas, generating insights and constructing new concepts.  Deepening understanding is the goal.

8.  It is important to reflect on the questioning we do.

9.The cultural forces are there if we intentionally put them there or not.  They tell the story of what is going on in the classroom.  Are we about management and control or student learning or about deepening understanding?

10.Inquiry learning can be messy and sometimes noisy.

Importance and Process of Teacher Reflections:

  • Tour packets included examples of how teacher reflections changed over the years.  This provided us with a ”Step Inside” view of professional growth from year one to six.
  • Teacher reflections on using the routines as part of their instructional process are a big part of their learning as they develop a culture of thinking.  The examples in our packets show the progress Way is making from learning the routines to creating a culture of thinking in the classrooms and the school.
  • At first the opportunity was offered but was not a requirement.  The reflections gave the principal and teacher leaders feedback on what staff needed to move forward.
  • Staff members asked for a structure to help guide them in the reflections so this was provided for years 1 and 2.  After that teachers were ready to chose their own approach to reflections using journaling, etc.
  • Teachers completed the reflections on a monthly basis and shared their reflections with each other which made for powerful professional conversations around what was working and not working for individuals.  They learned from and helped each other.
  • The reflections provided teachers with the opportunity to engage in inquiry learning like the routines engage the students.  They were treated like adult learners.
  • When we look at the product of our thinking, we become our own best critic.  Peer feedback helps to balance our understanding on what is working and not working.

Using Through Lines to Link Learning Across Content Areas at a Grade Level.

  •  Grade 1 example:  How do we use Patterns to see the world?
  • All grade levels have them K-4.  Students are helped to connect their learning across content areas using the selected through line for the grade level.
  • They are shared with parents so they can see the learning journey of students at Way.
  • With practice, students learn to independently use the through lines to connect their learning?

 Gallery Walk at Way Tour.

  • The gallery walk in the school was very inspiring.  The hallway displays at every grade level had thinking at the center even when a particular routine was not the focus of the display.
  • The depth and complexity of student thinking was impressive.  It was particularly interesting to observe how art was used as a tool for helping students to communicate their thinking about math and science.
  •  In grade 4 the students used art to communicate how molecules behave when freezing takes place.  Art helped them communicate what it meant to freeze in unique and individual ways.
  •  As students are becoming increasingly more visual in their preferred channel for learning, art is becoming a more critical tool for communication.
  • It was also interesting to see how teachers, using sticky notes,  gave each other feedback on displays.  This is powerful modeling for students as they see the adults learning from each other and working as a team.
  • The displays showed application of routines to events beyond the traditional activities of the classroom.  Students used routines to communicate their listening, seeing, thinking and wonderings about what they learned from field trips and resource speakers.

Comments from the Participants after the Gallery Walk included:

  • Appreciated the emphasis on applying the routines and the emphasis on process over product.
  • The displays communicated the many different levels of student performance and understanding.
  • It was clear that students would learn from each other as they shared their varying levels of understanding.

Classroom Visits:

Assigning participants to classroom visits helped to evenly distribute the participants and give depth and breadth to what is observed across the grade levels. You had an impressive roster of teachers who were willing to open their classrooms to visitors.  Please convey our appreciation for their willingness to share their time and expertise with all of us.



Mar 31

Summary of Reuther Middle School Tour, Rochester Hills


Summary of Reuther Middle School CoT Tour

March 25, 2014

While participating in the Cot tour at Reuther Middle School in Rochester Hills, I made the following observations.  Principal, Cheryl Gambaro has participated in finalizing this summary and reminds us that “Every day is a great day to be a Crusader” at Reuther M.S.   We hope you will find helpful information and encouragement from the Reuther experience.

Opening Session:

Principal Gambaro shared highlights of years I and II of the Reuther CoT journey, the vision for year III, and the impact of VT to date.  This was both informative and inspiring.  The following highlights helped put some participants at ease as they begin this journey and encouraged others who were a little farther along as they saw how their journey was like that of Reuther.  Beginning the session by sharing the impact of VT on your school and why it works helped to create interest and ignite curiosity.  The following is a summary of those remarks:

  • • VT has had a very positive impact at Reuther.  It has been one of the most rewarding PD experiences we have shared.  This is because it is solid best practice and supported by years of research. The routines can be integrated into existing instructional strategies and they won’t become outdated.  This has helped shape our PD and give greater meaning to department time.  It also helps to provide solid evidence for our SIP goals. It is being implemented across all grades in all subjects.  Administrators model the routines when working with staff that is another form of staff development.
  • • Reasons why it works: 1) Students get a deeper introduction to the content, 2) Teachers can identify the flaws in student thinking, 3) It is a form of continuous formative assessment, 4) VT naturally allows for differentiation of instruction, and 5) It has reignited a passion for instruction.

Using power- point slides helped to convey the following key points visually:

  • • VT is now spreading to the elementary and high school levels. You can find information about our journey, our thinking map, etc. on the website.
  • • When making change at Reuther, we proceed from Informational to Transformational, e.g. we do not do one-time PD, etc., Making Thinking Visible fits this model for change.
  • • Year I: We participated in the OS Leadership Foundations, created our COT Team, began practicing routines, held summer meetings and engaged in networking with other school.
  • • Year II (this year):  We began to see the whole spectrum from as we learned from other schools.  We engaged in a VT Book Talk, did gallery walks, planned a unit using the thinking map and teachers brought samples of student work to share with colleagues.  We began creating a VT parent connection by inviting Ron to do a parent night.  His presentation is on the Reuther website. Some staff members attended the OS Leadership Develop sessions where we connected with other schools like Clarkston who has been very helpful.  Some of our teachers are attending the Design Studio sessions at Oakland Schools.  We are using this as a model for creating our own unit design opportunities.  We call them Think-Tank-Tuesdays where interested staff come and design lessons with the help of our Literacy Coaches and Design Studio participants.
  • • Year III vision:  We will continue to use the Thinking Map to guide us and focus on the 8 cultural forces. We realize that using VT routines does not mean you are developing a thinking culture. Ron Ritchhart is coming to Rochester Community Schools to do the Leadership Development Sessions so more of our District staff will be able to attend.

The personal remarks from the teachers and students at the end of this opening session were helpful to tour participants.

  • • Teacher Perspectives: We all got the book and read it as a leadership team.   We participated in school observations and tried out the routines to get familiar with them.  We followed this with asking why use a routine and identifying its purpose.   VT becomes a way of doing things.  You listen more to the kids when you observe and teach.  All students are able to contribute.  When you start using the routines, they help you learn where the students are in their thinking. These routines are basic principles of good teaching.
  • • Student Perspectives I like VT because you can show your voice, draw, do what works for you to communicate.  VT helps you connect things and think deeper without knowing how hard you are thinking.  It helps me know what I think rather than what the teacher is thinking.  You are challenged to think deeper not just give a surface answer.  Sometimes I debate with the teacher.  Your own thinking and claims are valued.  You can use it in any class.  It makes learning fun.  Everyone participates.  You don’t get tired of routines because the content is different and they help you learn.

Classroom Visits:

The classroom visits were well organized and providing a summary of each routine that was being used helped to focus the observations. Providing participants with choice helped to fit the experience to their own needs.  You had an impressive roster of teachers across content areas who were willing to open their classrooms to visitors.  Please convey our heartfelt thanks for their courage and also their commitment to CoT.

Closing Session:  

Teacher representatives from science, social studies, PE, ELA and math were available to answer questions.  The following are some of the reflection remarks and questions from participants during the debriefing/closing session:

Q:  What do you notice about the engagement of struggling students who may not be getting assistance through special education?

A:  VT helps them write with structure and enjoy it more.  Each can think at his/her own level; there is natural differentiation.  It helps them connect to the topic and material. All students feel a part of the lesson.  It opens up conversation with everyone.  They have a richer learning experience because it gets them talking to each other more and they hear each other’s thinking.

Q:  Can you speak to the feeling that this is another thing added to what we already have to do?

A:   It is not adding to but rather replacing strategies that aren’t working with routines that do work.  We see much better results.

Q:  How long does it take to get students to know how the routine works?

A:  The first time it may not go well, but it doesn’t take long for them to catch on.  Keep trying.  Sometimes I teach a routine by using it during transitions, e.g. when students are waiting in line I will show them a picture and do a CSI with them.

Q:    How often do you do the routines?

A:  I don’t always do routines.  You find where they naturally fit the purpose of instruction. You become more comfortable as you use them; this happens naturally.

Q:  How does this fit in math?

A:  You may have to adapt them.  Just try it and then alter to make it work best.  Claim- Support-Question works best for me.  After you are comfortable using the routines, you can make up your own.  Pick one and work with it and then move on.

Q:  How do you implement Think-Tank-Tuesdays?

A:  Teachers bring units or student work to colleagues who give feedback.  We have 45 minutes before and after school once a month on a Tuesday. It is voluntary.  It is our Design Studio in our building.  We get PD hours for this.

Q:   What advice can you give us to help encourage our colleagues to try this?

A:  Attitude makes the difference.  Decide to try it and see how it works; you will get better results.  What you expect is what you will get.  If you expect it not to work, it will not.

A:  Start with your unit and expectations and decide how routines can help you instruct, teach, and help students learn the intended learning outcome.

A:  After you know the purpose of the routine and have tried it as designed, don’t be afraid to personalize so it works for you.

A:  Student products are proof of what is working.




Mar 29

Jason Sheldon and Students use I Used To Think/Now I Think in Grade 8 American History.


Jason Sheldon and Students use I Used To Think/Now I Think 

Grade 8 American History:  The Powers of the President

Brandon Middle School, Ortonville, MI. 

The following quote is over the door of Mr. Sheldon’s classroom:  “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”  (Vince Lombardi)

Purpose of Thinking Routine:  I Used To Think/Now I Think.

This routine helps students reflect on how their thinking about a topic has changed and why it has changed.  This routine also helps develop students’ metacognitive skills and ability to communicate their own thinking.

Lesson Goal:  Powers of the President:  What powers does a president have/not have?  What can the president do and not do? How has your point of view about the powers of the President changed?

 Before the Lesson:  Students completed a web hunt on facts about the structure of the federal government, e.g. # of senators, # of representatives, total # in congress, purpose of each branch of government, etc.   Students were familiar with the framework for the writing of the Constitution, the concept of balance of power among the three branches and why the founding fathers used this approach to setting up the government.  They also had experience with the thinking routine, I Used to Think/Now I Think.

During the Lesson:

As students entered the classroom they viewed the goal of the lesson projected on a screen in the front of the room.  Mr. Sheldon began with an overview of historical happenings on this day and then moved into the question of the day.  As a warm up, he asked students to imagine that they were the president and make a list to finish the starter:  “If I were president, I would…….”  Students made an individual list and then shared this list with a student next to them in a turn and talk routine. Next, the students contributed to a class list that was projected on the screen.  As students shared from their individual lists, Mr. Sheldon accepted and confirmed their responses without comment or judgment.   A student  entered them into a computer document that was projected onto the screen.  Next, he distributed a sheet of presidential powers and gave students about 3 minutes to use the information to critique their personal list. After critiquing their own list, he asked them to apply the information to the class list.  As they applied the powers to their class list, the class applied what they had learned so far to explain why an item was or was not a power of the President.  They  deleted the responses that did not fit and identified which branch of government had the power.  In the final list, students determined that 3/13 items were powers of the President and added one item from a student’s personal list.

After students completed the critiquing of the list, Mr. Sheldon distributed a template for the thinking routine:  I Used to Think/Now I Think.  Based on questions from the students, he had to clarify the directions by explaining that the I Used to Think category referred to what they thought when they began the lesson and not what they thought when they were in elementary school.   The Now I Think category referred to the end of the lesson.  As students were sharing changes in thinking, it was interesting to observe their verbal and nonverbal expressions as they confronted the misconceptions they had about the powers of the President.

What the teacher did to engage students in thinking and deepen understanding:

  • Planned carefully to build the necessary background knowledge so students could benefit from using the I Used To Think/Now I Think Routine.
  • Activated and capitalized on the prior knowledge of students.
  • Asked questions so students would need to use their prior knowledge and reasoning abilities to generate new insights and deepen understanding.   For example, after it was determined that an item did not belong on the list, Mr. Sheldon would ask, “Who can make this decision?”   “Which branch of government has this responsibility?”  “Is this a government decision or a private business/person decision?”  “Why?”
  • Helped students trace the pattern of thinking from the desired service to the branch of government responsible to the resources need and the source of the resources/taxes.
  • Gradually released the responsibility for learning to the students by the way he structured the lesson, structured the interaction and sharing of students and made comments to help students clarify and extend thinking.  They had to apply prior knowledge to help explain the reasons for accepting or deleting the state power of the president.
  • Demonstrated that thinking was valued by giving students enough time to reflect, write in their notebooks, generate lists, share and critique outcomes.
  • Used the Think/Pair/Share approach and accepted each student’s contribution to the class list by confirming it without judgment or evaluation.  This made the classroom atmosphere safe for contributions and opened up thinking for all.  This was a very powerful component of creating a culture of thinking in this classroom.

What did Students do that Shows Thinking and Understanding?

  • Reflected on their personal beliefs about the powers of the President by writing in their notebooks and generating a list that illustrated their understanding and conception at the time.
  • Listened to the contributions of classmates and added to a class list.
  • Contrasted and compared individual and class lists with the fact sheet on the powers of the President and what he/she can and cannot do.  See note below.
  • Gave reasons why a particular power did or did not belong to the Office of the President.
  • Applied their prior knowledge to determine which branch of government had the particular power and why.
  • Confronted and corrected their misconceptions by using the thinking routine, I Used To Think/Now I Think.   The pattern that emerged among students was that I used to think the President had more power than other branches of government and could do anything he/she wanted; now I know that congress has a lot more power than I thought and may be more powerful than the President.  
  • Applied their new understanding using prior knowledge to answer the following question posed by Mr. Sheldon:  Why did the founding fathers not want to put all the power in the hands of one person?   Responses to the question included to maintain a balance of power, prevent a dictatorship, prevent a monarchy like the country they came from, prevent chaos.

Note:  Of the 13 items on the class list of Presidential powers, only 2 survived the critique:  1) Try to stay out of war and 2) Try to make sure the government is running well.  Mr. Sheldon asked students if they had items on their own list that survived the critique and one item was added:  3) Be in public/visit with the American people.

After the Lesson:  Students will study in more detail how the government works and participate in a simulation of the lawmaking process, further demonstrating the separation of powers in the U.S. government and introducing the concept of checks and balances.

Mar 13

Mr. Arbini and Students Use Headline Routine in Grades 7/8 Art Class

The following is an Art lesson I observed during a M.S. CoT Target-Tour hosted by Millennium Middle School in South Lyon on 12/3/13.

 Tony Arbini and Students Use the Headline Routine in Grades 7/8 Art Class

Differentiating Between Collage and Assemblage

 Headline Routine: The purpose of this routine is to capture the big ideas and important themes in the process of deepening understanding and constructing new concepts.  This helps students reflect and synthesize as they identify the essential concepts in new learning or when deepening understanding of a topic.  By grasping the heart of the learning, students are prepared to make meaningful connections in future learning situations.  “By asking students to sum up their current notions of a lesson or concept using a headline, teachers send the message that taking notice of big ideas is critical to understanding.  “Documenting the group’s headline in some way helps student to consider a topic from multiple angles and create a rich mental picture of what is important to keep front and center in their thinking.”  (Richhart, Church, Morrison.  Making Thinking Visible.  P. 111)

 Unit Goal:  Students will differentiate between collage (putting two dimensional items together) and assemblage (putting three dimensional items together).

Before the lesson:  Students had been introduced to the basics of collage and assemblage as art forms and had seen visual representations of both. This was the second class of a week-long unit on collage. Students also have learned the Elements of Art, those basic components used by the artist when producing works of art. They include: line, form, space, color, shape, value and texture.  In this classroom, these elements are referred to as tools of art.  Students have learned a rhythmic Tools-of-Art chant (their art toolbox) to help them remember these basic elements.

 During lesson:  As students entered the class, they noticed a picture by Picasso projected on the screen. http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/collage/chair.jpg Mr. Arbini started the lesson by asking students why he might chose to show them this picture.  The students identified it as a collage.  Next, they engaged in their Tools-of-Art chant and used these tools to individually describe what they saw.  They used this information to decide upon a name and title/headline for the picture.  They used what they knew about the elements of a collage to support their headline.  After sharing their headlines, students continued work on their collage projects they had begun the previous class period.

 What did the teacher do and say that showed thinking and understanding?

  • Thought through the lesson from the perspective of using thinking routines, e.g. projecting a Picasso picture with no explanation to engage students in see-think-wonder inquiry learning as they prepared for the lesson.
  • Asked  students to identify reasons why he  (Mr. Arbini) may have chosen this picture to begin the lesson.  By using this approach rather than explaining/telling them why, Mr. Arbini activated student reasoning and their prior knowledge/understanding.
  • Engaged students in the Tools-of-Art chant to help them review the basic elements of art and to prepare them for their headline routine.
  • Used the headline routine to help students focus on the essential big ideas and synthesize information about collage as an art form.  This helps to create a more complex mental image and to lay a foundation for distinguishing collage from assemblage.
  • Initiated the sharing of headlines so students would have the opportunity to view the collage from multiple perspectives.
  • Helping students to summarize the difference between a collage (adhering two dimensional items) and an assemblage (adhering three dimensional items) and realizing that the Picasso they were studying was a combination of both.
  • Assigned students to create their own collage as a way to apply the elements of art and their understanding about this art form. 

What did the students do that showed thinking and understanding?

  • Applied the elements/tools of art to the Picasso to generate new collage insights and understandings.
  • Synthesized information and identified the big ideas that are essential for creating a collage.  
  • Used their new understandings to generate and defend headlines for the Picasso collage.
  • Applied their understanding of the essential elements of a collage to create a collage of their own.
  • Increased their individual perspectives by listening to and reasoning with others as they shared and defended their headlines.
  • The following are examples of headlines students generated and defended1) Journey In a Ship (The collage has shapes and colors that remind me of a ship)  2) My Life/Picasso’s Life in a Picture (The shapes look like things that may have been important to him.) 3.)  Mysterious Collage:  (I don’t know what it is.)  4.) Rusted Metal Junk Collage:  (The texture of some of the shapes remind me of metal and the color orange used looks like it is rusting.)
  • One student gave a headline that surprised most of us:  Delivery Man Grows Pair of Goat Legs.  At first this seemed like  an off-the-wall remark but the teacher accepted it with the same seriousness as the others and asked the student for the details that would support this.  The student pointed out how he saw the shapes make the image of a deliveryman in the middle of the collage and a pair of goat legs toward the bottom.  This generated many aha expressions from students and observers.  This may be a good example of how hearing the headlines of others helped this student to create a richer mental image of the collage.


Please leave questions or supportive comments for Mr. Arbini and students.


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