Culture of Thinking (CoT) Way Elementary Tour
October 21, 2014,
Background Information: About seven years ago, Way Elementary, with the leadership of Adam Scher, Principal, initiated Making Thinking Visible in Oakland County. To begin the process, Way Elementary approved two teachers and Adam to travel to Saginaw to participate in a professional development with Ron Ritchhart who demonstrated one of the Visible Thinking routines. They immediately saw the power and value of this instructional approach and brought it back to their School Improvement Team (SIT). The team agreed that this would be their approach to meeting the “new initiative” requirement of the district. The SIT team discussed how to proceed and what to focus on at each stage of implementation.
A key feature in promoting continuous Cultures of Thinking growth at Way is to have all teachers submit analytical reflections each month. This provides them with a structure for generating insights into their work and for personal accountability. In their reflections, they look at student work and their own work through the lenses of the eight cultural forces. The following are examples of insights generated from the reflections:
- The Visible Thinking approach to teaching and learning does not take additional time but rather replaces what one has been doing.
- Using this approach helps facilitate combining curriculum standards where appropriate.
- Using the Thinking Visible tools and developing a Culture of Thinking (CoT) requires a reallocation of how the curriculum is delivered to deepen student learning.
- A noticeable change is in the learning language and attitudes of students. They are more respectful of one another’s contributions, make efforts to connect with the ideas of others and want to add on to and expand the insights of each other.
- This instructional approach demands active participation on the part of all learners. This is about creating a richer learning experience for students; it is not about test scores.
- In a Culture of Thinking, the emphasis is on reasoning with evidence and not about praising the right answer and moving on.
- When you ask questions like “How did you come up with that idea,” you find out if students understand and what kind of thinking they are doing.
WAY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TOUR
Adam Scher, Principal and Jenny Rossi, VT Coordinator, introduced the visitors to the Way Elementary journey by sharing highlights similar to those found in the background section above. They shared a picture of an iceberg to give a visual representation of the relationship of the Visual Thinking Routines to a Culture of Thinking (CoT). Adam explained that the small part of the iceberg above the water represents the routines, which are important but a small part of a CoT. The major work is done with and by the teachers, but it is equally important for administrators to be part of this learning.
Adam and Jenny used the Peel The Fruit Protocol to help explain how Way Elementary thinks about developing a culture of thinking. This protocol can be found on Ron Ritchhart’s website or in the book: Making Thinking Visible. The following is a summary of their presentation.
On the skin are the routines. Routines take more time than worksheets and many other traditional activities. We make time for thinking by considering the value of the routines and eliminating other things we have done to get to the same goal. Ask what using the routines accomplishes better than what has have used in the past? . The structure and pace of instruction changes. Ask what kind of thinking we want to capture? Which routine will help us get there? What materials will we use? When using the routines, we need real ambiguity in the issues presented. How will we generate thinking while giving appropriate support for the students?
Adam gave an example of the importance of instructional language. He shared that he visited K-1 classrooms and asked, “What does it mean to feed an idea?” The students gave surface responses. Then he changed the word “does” to “could” and asked what else could it mean? Changing the wording, opened up thinking. These young students gave deeper thinking responses, e.g. we grow when we are fed so ideas will grow when we feed them. Adam reminded visitors that the thinking is there with students, but it is up to the adults to find the language that will release it.
The pulp of the fruit=going deeper: The Making Thinking Visible routines are structures to support instruction in a culture of thinking and this is the instructional approach at Way. To make time, it is necessary to give up some traditional ways of doing things. When designing curriculum and instruction, teachers look for connections that can be made between isolated units within and across content areas. We learn from our failures and flops as well as our successes and grow in our ability to determine why something did or did not work. The instructional process is more about asking questions to deepen learning than to impart information. To avoid episodic learning, takeaways are posted in each classroom for future connections. At Way, Instruction/learning is not about 30 minute “sitcoms.”
The core of the fruit: Way uses the Last Protocol to look at student thinking. If we are not looking at the routines and their results on thinking, then we are not creating a culture of thinking. We review our instructional purpose and the kind of thinking we intended and then compare this to the work of students/ results.
Our framework for curriculum and instruction builds from learning targets to understanding goals to connecting to through lines/ big picture. Teachers at eachgrade level develop through-lines and post them in their classrooms. They help students tie learning from across content areas to the grade level through-line. For example, in kindergarten the through-line is: How does it work? Other through-lines address patterns, change and similar concepts. We learned from our students that it is important to use language they can read and understand. As the curriculum changes or teachers find that a through-line is not working, they revise it
Adam and Jenny ended the opening session by reminding the visitors that you have to believe in this way of doing things to be successful at it. They shared the following quote by Helen Keller: “No Pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”
Next, visitors walked the walls and viewed postings of student thinking throughout the school. Parents, students and staff accept that the walls are not decorated with attractive bulletin boards but rather are indicators of student thinking which at times can be messy. The following are excerpts from examples of the depth of thinking by 4th graders who were studying the three branches of government. They were asked to link/develop a metaphor using an experience from their daily lives for the way the legislative branch works. # 1: ”It is like birds because they are always arguing and bickering about stuff.” # 2: ”It is like a pencil because the lead write the law, the eraser can get rid of the law and the body protects the law when in place. The bill can die in the Senate or the House, but if it is good, it stays sharp like the point of the pencil.” # 3: ” It is like a soccer game because congress members are the players and the president is the goalie. Congress tries to make a law, like players trying to make a goal, and the president signs the law like the goalie lets the ball in. If he vetoes the law, he blocks it and congress has to try again like players trying to score again.”
Following this, visitors were placed into groups and observed the routines in action in the classrooms. For a vignette on using CSI in the art classroom, see the post to this blog on Ms. Mallory Moinar’s 4th grade art class.