“ In Puzzling over some of the challenges of teaching and learning, it struck our team that a common place at which learning breaks down, particularly in schools, is when students are given information but are never asked to do anything mentally with it. Listening, in and of itself, doesn’t lead to learning. One cannot passively absorb information in a way that will make is useable to the future.” (Ritchart, Church, Morrison p. 132)
The above quote from our reading for the upcoming class encompasses what I believe to be the main idea behind the Making Thinking Visible text. As teachers we do our students a disservice if we simply pour information into them and expect them to absorb it like a sponge. For if we do this, when the students are pressed to think critically, like a sponge they lose everything they were holding. That’s a bit of a rough analogy but I think it accurately reflects the idea that we cannot allow our students to practice simple rote memorization in their schooling. Rather, they need to take an active participation in their learning and reflect on the lessons we have taught them, which hopefully will lead to a deeper understanding and questioning of the world.
In chapters 4 and 5 of Making Thinking Visible Ritchhart and his colleagues present us with a number of ways we can have our students actively participate in their learning and demonstrate to us and themselves that they are asking the deep, critical questions essential to higher thinking. While I could present you all with a quick overview of all fourteen ideas in the chapters, I think that would be blatantly ignoring what this book is preaching as well as being of no real benefit to you. With that being said, in the coming paragraphs I will review a few of the activities that stood out to me and which I found the most interesting for one reason or another. If I leave out an activity you found especially fascinating feel free to mention it in your comment and we can discuss it in class on Thursday.
The first exercise I found interesting was the See-Think-Wonder routine, which challenges students to thoughtfully consider an image or object. To start this activity the instructor first has the students say what they see in front of them, being careful to first warn them to only say what they see, not what they infer. Second, the students tell the instructor and each other what they believe is happening in the image or object. Third and lastly, the students are asked to ponder what else might be happening with the image or alternatives to their first idea. The reason I found this particular activity interesting is that in today’s society where speed and instantaneous results are favored above all else, I feel the ability to actually stop and appreciate something is being thrown to the wayside. As teachers I think we need to help students learn how to think, and in this case that means teaching them how to slow down and thoughtfully interact with something they are seeing. I think this would help students develop a critical eye that would serve them well in all aspects of their life.
(Maybe see, think, and wonder about this)
Next, I found the Zoom In exercise of interest because it not only because it reminds me of a Nickelodeon game show I watched in grade school, but also because it challenges students to reconsider their own views. Or as the text puts it, “the process of making such tentative hypotheses enables the learners to see that not only is okay to change your mind about something, but in fact it is important to be open-minded and flexible enough to change your mind when new and sometimes conflicting information is available and the original hypothesis no longer hold true.” (p. 65) Additionally, this process is easily accomplished by the simple process of having students examine a close-up of an image, having them postulate what it is, and then repeating this process until the entire image is revealed. The ability to convey such a powerful lesson with such simple means is enticing and is a lesson I think will help our students not only become critical thinkers but also more accepting of those different from themselves by challenging their own viewpoints.
The third activity that drew my interest was the Think-Puzzle-Explore routine. This exercise, which is essentially the older, brooding sibling of the KWL activity we all know, asks students to first consider what they think they know about the topic. Next the students list the questions or puzzles they have about the topic followed by hypothesizing on how they would explore these very same questions or puzzles. As with most aspects of life, the devil is in the details and this hold true for this activity and this is what sets Think-Puzzel-Explore apart from the KWL routine. I found the idea of labeling what students think they know about a topic as tentative quite interesting because I think as learners, regardless of age, it is important to keep an open and flexible mind. By putting what you think you know in doubt or holding it up to scrutiny the learner is willing to accept new ideas and therefore more willing to accept an idea that has the potential to cause a paradigm shift in their thinking. When you consider how much violence and turmoil if caused by misunderstanding in our world it becomes easy to understand why imparting this brand of thinking on our students is important.
A fourth exercise I would like to use once I am teaching is the 3-2-1 Bridge routine. In this exercise the instructor facilitates learning in his or her classroom by framing the learning period with a response that asks for three words on the subject, two questions, and one metaphor or simile which the student has considered in regards to the lesson at hand. The teacher should have students do this first at the beginning of a lesson or unit and again at the end, followed by a “bridge” in which your students consider the similarities and differences in their responses. What I particularly like about this activity is the metaphor/simile portion, because I cannot hide the fact that I’m going to be teaching English and a good metaphor or simile is like drug for me. My own obsessions aside, asking students to use metaphors or similes makes them consider the subject in more detail while also asking them to relate it to their own world view, giving them the chance to creatively express their feelings and ideas.
Next, I greatly enjoyed the section on The Explanation Game because having had it used in my class as a student I can vouch for its effectiveness and ability to engage students. In college I took an anthropology course and frequently my instructor would bring in artifacts (or reproductions) from the distant past and without saying anything about them would ask the class to consider what their use was to early mankind (maybe he read this book at some point?). Not only was this activity fun but I found it got me thinking in a different way than I traditionally had been use to in a classroom setting. Instead of waiting to have the answer told me I was happy to venture guess after guess because playing the part of archeological detective was incredibly enticing. I could see how this process could easily be applied to any subject, even English. The object of examination does not have to be a physical object, it could just as well be a character in a book, a metaphor, or even something so vague as a theme or motif. In any case, the presenting of an object to students and having them hypothesize about what it is or its significance is something I’m sure most students would love.
(Not sure if artifact or trash.)
The next routine that caught my eye is something I found interesting because I had unknowingly incorporated it into my Boldly Braiding lesson plan before I had even completed the reading of this section of the text. I don’t mean to be self-aggrandizing but rather I would like to point out that this is an activity we have probably all completed at some time in our educational life, even if it hasn’t been since grade school. This activity, the CSI: Color, Symbol, Image routine, is astounding because it engages students in high level thinking but in such a way so it comes naturally to them. As the text puts it, “Metaphors are a major vehicle for developing our understanding or ideas as we connect something new to something we already know by identifying similarities and making comparison. Put simply, a metaphor is a connection between one thing and another.” (p. 119). When learning something new and challenging for the first time, I think it always helps to be able to tether that idea to something we already know. All the best philosophical writing does this well and that is what makes it good – the ability to say the complex in simple terms cannot be heralded enough. In fact, this is what all good writers of fiction do and helping my students realize this is one of my goals as a teacher. So asking a student to take a major theme or idea and turn it into a color, symbol, and image (in that order) seems like an excellent way to both instruct students and give them confidence in their ideas about the subject at hand.
The final routine I would like to discuss in this post is the 4C’s. To put it shortly, in this activity students are asked to make connections, challenge the text, identify key concepts, and identify changes in their attitudes or thinking in the process of or after reading a text. Again, the reason this particular routine caught my eye is I can see how useful it would be in a classroom that predominantly focuses on written text and large, sometimes vague ideas. When teaching literature I think all the actions contained in this lesson are ones we want to impart on our students, so it’s nice to see them all concisely explained and detailed in this section of the book. I think it would be of particular benefit to students if they were asked to answer these questions on a daily basis in a journal of some sort, as this would allow them to track the progress of the understanding. This process of metacognition would certainly lead to deeper thinking and questioning, and perhaps more importantly, would help my students better understand who they are and how they learn.
So, there is my not so concise list of the activities I found most intriguing in our reading for this week. My question for you all now is which lessons did you yourself find the most interesting? Further, how would you employ these same routines in your classroom? Also, I’m curious to see how often you think these types of activities should be used in the classroom, if at all. While Making Thinking Visible certainly is a useful book for tips and hints on teaching it certainly is not the end all be all of the teaching universe. Are there other activities not discussed in this week’s reading which you think are good ways to get students thinking differently and visibly? If so, let us all know in the comments as it’s always useful to learn new ways to teach and learn.