8/9 Reading Discussion: Making Thinking Visible Chapters 4 and 5

“ 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.

11 responses to “8/9 Reading Discussion: Making Thinking Visible Chapters 4 and 5

  1. Your trumpet playing and dancing walrus reminds me of the water skiing squirrel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37fDXX9stJY.

    Your intro quote reminds me of my cooperating teachers classroom. He mainly taught lecture style via powerpoint to his 12th grade Earth Science students and expected them to absorb all of the great information. However, students tuned out and just before the test would copy in the blanks from a more tenative student in class. I often heard before my student teaching tenure, “Ohhhh another powerpoint.” Death by Powerpoint. When I came in I began to switch the format to 1/2 a day of lecture per week to include the main concepts and topics that I could not get to in my activities. The rest was interactive labs that forced students to take responsibility in their own learning. The students seemed to take to it during the second semester of senior year, an impossible time to reach students since they “check out,” and my CT revamped the rest of his teaching to keep the students involved based on the pace that I had set.

    I loved See-think-wonder. I thought this might be nice to use as a Bell Ringer on somedays. The concept of delving into media for deeper meanings and clues is awesome at building investigative, inference, and observation skills crucial for science and building the mind of young scientists. I have not used this method enough and plan on doing so in the future.

    Thanks for all of your great ideas Taylor!

  2. Taylor, I really enjoyed your walk through of all of the activities. In reference to the see think wonder image you’ve put up, its a cool walrus, but I think i need other people’s help in seeing what it is. I must be missing something outside the box! When you talked about the Zoom In exercise, I had flashbacks to whatever Nickelodeon show you’re referencing, but i’m drawing a blank on that, too. Figure It Out? Was that it? Where they got the green slime dumped on them if they couldn’t? So random.

    Above everything, I enjoy these teaching tactics and would like to introduce these or similar ones into my teaching in the future. We need to push our students to use the information we’ve taught and question it in deeper, more meaningful ways. Sometimes I’m curious about the general mindsets and teaching pedagogy of current teachers, are a great deal of teachers still teaching to our students like sponges? Or, has this new wave of teaching students to think critically and be a part of the teaching really evolved? Has anyone had really bad experiences where educators refused to shift their practices? It’s not so old school, but isnt that kind of closeminded teaching slowly becoming old school?

  3. Pretty much my entire undergrad was aimed at “building bridges” from the known to the known. One of my professors (Daniel Walsh- one of my scholars) constantly stressed the importance of really getting to know our students. What they know, what they don’t know, who they are, what they are bringing to the classroom, all of these things are extremely important to know in order to teach our students. He also showed us how we always take new information that we learn and relate or compare it to something we already know. I’m becoming all to aware of how much I do this. I travel a lot, and every time I’m some place new I see myself saying, “Oh this is like…but different because…” or something like that. I always relate the new experience or new place to somewhere else I’ve traveled to or back home. If we do this so frequently as adults, children are surely to do it. Just think about how many times you say “Oh that’s like…” or “So it’s kind of similar to..” The more we know what our students know, the more we can help them also say that.

    I have an example from my own classroom of the sponge vs. real learning…As I’ve said way too many times already, each month my kids have between 18-28 vocabulary words to learn (this past year I taught them all in English and Spanish, so more like 36-56 words). I would plan activities around these words, but each day we also went through the words (I had a picture for each word on a chicken ring, and we would flip through them). The words that the kids remembered most were the ones that I had some type of gesture or sing-song way of saying it. I tried to have something for each word, but I struggle to find something for all of them. So for bells/campanas, we would pretend to shake bells in both hands and say “bells, bells, bells, cam-pan-aaaas” (sung in a particular way). Most, if not all remembered both words because they had a gesture and a specific way to say it (it gave the word more meaning). The words that didn’t have anything to go with it…something they just had to absorb and remember…they did not remember.

  4. I agree with what you and everyone else has said about expecting our students to simply soak up information: it’s unrealistic. We cannot lecture and assume that this is enough. The best way to teach and to learn is hands-on-brains-on.

    I especially think that “Think-Puzzle-Explore” is an effective tool to use in a science classroom. Many students come in already assuming to understand how everyday things happen and/or why. In a video I watched, many young students explained that we can see because our eyes shoot out lights that allow us this ability, like how you can see a cat’s eyes glowing at night. Even after they had been taught differently, their preconceived notions of how light and vision worked was predominant among the students because they had been expected to simply accept what the teacher said, rather than discovering it for themselves.

    I think there is something to be said for introducing students to a concept, probing them to come up with answers on their own, and letting them explore what the answer really is.

  5. One of the strategies that really stood out for me was the Color, Symbol, Image Routine. This seems like a great way to get students thinking about ways to connect what they’re seeing in a video clip or hearing from a speech excerpt to other things in society or their lives. Students may often get bored taking notes and this can allow for the doodling that naturally happens to be something more artistic and conducive to the material in class. Colors and images that they relate to what they’re learning can help students who are better visual learners to still engage with the text. This is a pretty broad interpretation of this strategy but I think it could be potentially powerful for a lot of students.

    The Explanation Game and Zoom In and your explanation of these strategies also seem really applicable to a social studies classroom. Bringing in artifacts or even abstract images from historical time periods and having students guess aloud what they might mean is a great way to get discussions flowing. Students are forced to deal with their own preconceptions about the world and view things in a way they have not before.

    These strategies are definitely great alternatives to the PowerPoints and lectures that most of us have grown up with.

  6. Honestly I got lost in thinking and wondering about that walrus, does it know its dancing?? does it know what dancing is?? does it see what its trainer is doing as some strange human ritual?

    Anyway the Artifact!! I love this, i took many anthro classes in college and was presented the same challenge, usually it was a rock or a stick, and the “throw it at a bird” answer was almost never right. The Artifact activity can be taken in many directions, i’m my content area of history I think about using it not only to discuss what something is or its function, but what the material it is made of says about the culture, is it artistic? do the designs say anything about this culture or this time? The artifact can even be a painting or a photograph. I had a professor show us a picture of the CEO of Montgomery Ward being carried away by the army and asked us what was going on. At the time we did not recognize him as Montgomery Ward and a really long discussion ensued to figure out what was going on, I learned more from the discussion and the path to the answer than I did from the answer. So I LOVE the artifact activity. http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=show_mesg&forum=389&topic_id=9551335&mesg_id=9551335

  7. Taylor, I think as educators we have moved into the 21st century with high expectations for our students and as such will strategize in ways to help them. I do believe that information gathering goes hand in hand with concrete examples to help students learn better. As teachers we have to adjust our teaching styles to address all learning modalities in our classrooms.
    “Think-Puzzle-Explore” routine is great teaching concept to motivate and sustain learning in our classrooms. I like the three dimensional approach to teaching a given subject, it gives students some sense of what is expected of them and gives the teacher some flexibility on assessment/evaluation.
    The Explanation Game and Zoom In are two great activities to bring interest and promote active participation from students who would otherwise not be involved. Images and artifacts are always interesting to middle school students and will get them in a lively discussion whether in a science or a language class. These teaching strategies can make a huge difference for students who are struggling with reading, mathematics and science.

  8. Andrew Cardiasmenos

    As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog responses, basic reflection and critical thinking exercises are the key to true learning in school. I consider “true learning” here any material that students soak in by thinking critically and actively applying it to their daily lives. Rote memorization and standardized test scores never even come close.

    I also really like Color-Symbol-Image (CSI) because it helps create the link between the concept and its visual counterpart, while simultaneously involving an action! It allows students to be creative, to collaborate, and to conceptualize learning through individual expression. It helps prove that any material can produce multiple thoughts and perspectives.

  9. Metaphors and imagery! I had an illuminating experience with students years ago who were complainsong about their math classes and how they could barely apply anything they learned to life issues. I asked them, well what life situation would you apply the Pythagorean theorem to? Not in measuring something, but metaphorically? A student thought a minute and said, how about two parents and their child? What? We all asked…
    She went on to say that the a and b sides of the triangle can represent the personality and background ic the parent, and the hypotenuse is the resulting personality of the child….whoa! We were all blown out by that one–then the group started brainstorming other ways equations could stand for personal or societal relationships. It ended up being a mind blower session. Metaphors become a way to add meaning beyond the literal franchise, and give students an opportunity to interpret something through the lens of other senses and conscious definitions of objects, ideas, things, people etc.

    Incorporating metaphor in thinking activities as a motivation towards generating ideas opens the doorway of imagination to broader connections and interdisciplinary dialogue(whether labeled that or not) in class.

  10. The activities detailed in this chapter really incorporate the idea of bringing thinking inside of our classrooms back to life. Truly active learning and minds-on engagement are what is being tapped into here with these types of thinking routines. The benefits that these routines may provide to our students are uncompromising. I saw these thinking routines as opportunities to get back to the basics in the classroom. For instance, these activities can be effective within classrooms that are in abundance of resources or those in lack of resources. They are simply needed to enhance learning for all students.

    The Think-Puzzle-Explore routine is one that struck me as an essential revival to the over-used KWL graphic organizer. The 3-2-1 Bridge routine, I found this to be of interest because we often explain things to others especially students using similes and metaphors as a way to bridge the old with the new–prior knowledge with newly incoming ideas. All of these activities really have me excited as I plan to use many of them within my future classroom.

    -Emiko

  11. Luckily as an English teacher-to-be, I feel we will have to lecture a lot less than our compatriots doing science or social science. I agree that as an English teacher, the 3-2-1 bridge activity sounds awesome – using similes and metaphors to gauge understanding is perfect! Anna’s example of her cooperating teacher having to keep up with the swift pace she was teaching at, even with seniors, was really inspiring! My brother just completed his student teaching and I observed his school and he noted that it was SO hard to keep the seniors from checking out – they would refuse to do work because “it was Friday.” I am definitely going to keep these activities in mind for the future.

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