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With so much focus these days on memorizing facts and learning information for tests, our kids have been lacking in learning how to actually think. Teaching effectiveness is often based on student absorption of material, and teaching becomes defined as the delivery of that material. But we are producing effective test takers, rather than successful learners who think!
When thinking is visible, it provides us with the information we as teachers need to plan and help our students go deeper. Making thinking visible should be an ongoing aspect of effective teaching. Our kids need to see and hear us (teachers) as thinkers and learners. They need to hear each other’s questions, insights, and perspectives.
HOW to Make the Invisible Visible?
- Ask questions that model our own interest in the ideas being explored (goals as teachers)
- Ask questions that help students to construct understanding (model intellectual engagement)
- Ask questions that facilitate the illumination of students’ own thinking to themselves (support and help students clarify their own thinking)
Facilitating and Clarifying Thinking
In comes. . .
Zoom In is a thinking strategy that slowly reveals only portions of an image over time. Students observe a bit of an image closely and develop a hypothesis. Then, as more and more of the image is exposed, students reassess their initial interpretation in light of the new information. This routine teaches learners flexibility and how sometimes conflicting information may change one’s original hypothesis. Istvan Banyai has authored several picture books that are PERFECT to use for this thinking routine! One of them is called Zoom (sounds appropriate, right?). The book begins with a large image:
And finally the rooster is only a tiny part of a whole farm scene. My kids never tire of looking through these books! Zoom In is a terrific routine to teach perspective!
Think-Puzzle-Explore is similar to KWL charts that we were all taught in our credential classes. However, the problem I always had was the “K:” Students would volunteer all sorts of responses to what they thought they knew, but those responses did not necessarily include accurate information. This routine connects learning to their prior knowledge, yet sets the stage for deeper inquiry. (This routine should certainly be revisited throughout a unit!) The key to Think-Puzzle-Explore is the Explore section: After asking, “What questions or puzzles do you have?” then ask, “HOW can we explore these puzzles?” It’s not enough to just have questions, but these puzzlements should truly be what learners want to find out about.
Red Light, Yellow Light teaches students not to read unaware or not to accept all that is read as truth. This thinking routine is helping students to become more aware of specific moments that hold signs of possible “puzzles of truth.” (Don’t you love that term?!) Select materials such as opinion articles, unsolved mysteries or other sources with possible conflicts. I was thinking as the upcoming 2016 Presidential election draws closer, there will be many Red Light, Yellow Light moments from candidate speeches, ads, and platforms. Introduce the selected material to your class; you may not want to disclose the source or say anything that will prejudice the reading. Students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to search for and identify possible “puzzles of truth.” Red lights are parts of the reading that make you definitely stop to question. Yellow lights are places to proceed with caution. This routine will cause students to actually think about their reading rather than read just to complete an assignment. Then, have students provide reasons as to why they categorized their red and yellow lights. After sharing ask the class, “What have we learned about particular signs that indicate there could be a problem or puzzles of truth?” This thinking routine works well with the signposts in Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. (Another fantastic book that changed the way I teach reading!) The authors also note the importance of helping students identify places where the claims are solid (green lights) and what makes them solid.I’ve created a recording sheet to use as I’m teaching my students this thinking routine; you can grab your copy here or clicking on the image below.
Identify a dilemma for students (this can be in the form of a picture, a text, or a video). Ask, “What seems to be the issue there?” Then, draw a line with a small central intersection to represent the rope and sides. Have students name the two sides of the rope (opposing viewpoints). For each side, ask the class for the tugs, or reasons, that support that particular viewpoint. Kids record reasons/tugs on sticky notes. In small groups or as a whole class, discuss where to place the tugs (remember to emphasize the stronger tugs are further at the ends of the rope.) Focus on how the tugs compare with one another in strength.
Discussions on a tug may ensue with, “That depends…” Those reasons may be moved closer to the center with a different colored sticky note labeled, “It depends.” I myself have always had (still have) difficulty with multiple choice tests because I can justify my answers with “it depends.” (And this is NOT what test makers intend!) This routine could be followed up after the unit with the “I Used to Think… Now I Think…” routine. What a visual way to demonstrate growth in thinking!
Kathie is still just as passionate about teaching after 29 years! She loves creating “tried and true” materials to use with her students and to share with other teachers. Visit Kathie at Tried and True Teaching Tools.