I have come to this conference to tap into another opportunity to connect with a group of action researchers who continually deepen the Visible Thinking at their schools- something I wish for any school in which I am involved.
My involvement with Project Zero goes back many years and it just gets better and more exciting. Struan, my close working partner and action packed collaborator in learning, trustingly made his way over to Amsterdam to experience his first Visible Thinking conference. Get a sense of his passion and energy for this by reading his blog. And then get a copy of Ron Ritchhart’s book, Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why It Matters. I can assure you that this reading matters a great deal and will shift your understanding of what the story of learning should be.
A few teachers at ISB have taken the plunge and started to dabble with the VT routines…I see it up on the walls and hear them discuss the learning and thinking that goes on in their classrooms. We do make an effort to use the VT routines during professional development time when we meet as a faculty. We have also introduced a few of the routines over the course of the year to the leadership team at ISB. So far, so good…but how do we steep the learning and create a culture of thinking?
How can Visible Teaching Shape Teaching and Learning?
What are some of the changes we have noticed?
Ron shared with us some of Harvard’s recent research work and findings.
1. Students’ conceptions of thinking
What might be going on in the heads of students? Students were asked to map their thinking and Project Zero looked at many mind maps. From a research perspective,
four major categories of responses emerged:
• Associative- responses associated with thinking but not really thinking itself
• Emotional- revealing an affective connection to thinking (emotions and feelings)
• Strategic- comments about a specific action one takes when engaging in thinking such as knowing, remembering, finding answers, retrieval of knowledge; general and non-specific categories; self regulation and motivation; thinking strategies and specific processes- the mind moves to build understanding- deep and focus approaches to learning (making sense of new material)
• Meta- responses that demonstrated a greater awareness of the nature of thinking. These focused on epistemology, the nature of understanding, and conceptualizations of building knowledge.
Further, they found:
• Younger students’ mind maps focus significantly more on associative responses
• Older students report significantly more strategies than younger students
• There was no significant difference between grades in either emotions or meta thinking comments
• There were similar developmental tendencies in the post test maps
The largest decrease in associative comments was found among students in grades 3 & 4, followed by 5 & 6.
The largest increase in strategic comments was found among students in grades 7 & up followed by grades 3 & 4.
As we make thinking more visible, do students become more aware of thinking?
Until you can name a process, you can’t control it! Once it has been labeled, you have more tools at your disposal, giving more control.
2. Students’ perceptions of classrooms
As classrooms become cultures of thinking, do students recognize the changes?
Students perceive differences. These include teacher goals for mastery (learning), performance (work), collaborating for learning, academic efficacy, and a press for thinking (reasons for ideas etc).
3. Teacher change: three connections
• Teachers’ sense of connection to other teachers increases as they move from “soft” (friendliness/collegiality) to “hard” collaboration (talk about teaching, ask questions, feeling at times vulnerable, challenging ideas, and learning from one another).
• Teachers’ sense of connection to themselves (knowing themselves as teacher) as confidence in their own teaching grows and their efficacy is enhanced – giving themselves a professional voice!
• Teachers’ sense of connection to their students increases as come to know them as learners and thinkers –and being reenergized!
4. Classroom shifts
How do classrooms change when teachers create a culture of thinking?
• More voices are heard as students who previously lacked confidence in their academic abilities find their ideas are valued- it’s about ideas and thinking, not just having the right answer
• More questions get asked and classroom discussions become richer and more involved
• Students own ideas and questions are more integrated into the curriculum
• ESL and LD students become more active participants (routines give structure for working with language)
• Students become more engaged as learners rather than just workers
What difference does Visible Thinking make?
In small groups we brainstormed what we as practitioners see happening in classrooms and schools where Visible Thinking is being used. Here follows the observations from around the world.
• Teacher does not get hung up about curriculum
• Learning is deeper because it moves from shallow to deeper thinking
• Thinking is not seen as “work” but more collaboration and discovery
• Misconceptions become more apparent, learning community “teaches”
• Learning is the responsibility of all
• “Learning curriculum” is driven by the students
• Documentation on the wall is about thinking rather than project work
• VT taps into uniqueness of student thinking and ideas (not all thinking
and learning is the same!)
• Powerful and improved practices
• Teacher as facilitator
• Collaboration, culture of inquiry, connections
• Colleagues support for and learning from one another
• Student comfort in asking questions and facilitating discussion/ideas
• Helps people come together (study groups across schools/divisions; meets once a month)
• The learning is documented; we look at documentation
• Increase in student confidence
• Intrinsic student motivation
• Greater conceptual understanding
• Deeper and more reflective ideas
• Improved quality of interaction and discussion
• Students use routines spontaneously
• Teachers understand their students better
• Teacher self esteem and morale improved
• Teachers as researchers/coaches
• Truer learning communities
• Reflection on documentation and data (between teachers, teacher and students, students and students)
• Students fall into routines to solve issues that occur out of school
• Students reflect on procedures of routines to help them concentrate/learn- “it makes me see things more clearly”
• Teachers see a shift in their role as teachers of thinking
• Participation of students who would previously shut down as talkers or writers
• Rather than questions such as “What are the content gaps of these students?” to “What types of thinkers do I have in my room?”
• Kids are more able to talk about their own learning and provide the ability to make connections to big ideas and to real world.
Is this what it’s going to be like?
I know so…I have taken the opportunity to revisit Visible Thinking and be exposed to some new routines. What’s the magic/power bit to really take notice of?
Thinking routines both create thinking and reveal thinking. And the thinking that gets both created and revealed actually carry us into new, further, deeper learning territory.
Students feel their thinking really matters. When the routines are used flexibly, and the edges soften just a little bit…something starts to take hold, making a powerful move that will advance learning. Can we make this our picture of practice?