A blog by authors Patrizia Caroti, Sarah Howell, and Lisa Kester Dodgson.
While much discourse relating to teaching in the 21st century revolves around content, programmes, methods and approaches etc. there appears to be a gap in how teachers can equip students with the skills they need to deepen their understanding of the world around them as lifelong learners.
Learning is the outcome of thinking, and as such gaining insights into the ways students think is crucial for teachers, allowing them to alter students’ thinking dispositions. Thinking dispositions (Ritchart et al, 2011) are the habits of mind that develop:
- Observing closely and describing;
- Building explanations and interpretations;
- Reasoning with evidence;
- Making connections;
- Considering different viewpoints and perspectives;
- Capturing the heart and forming conclusions;
- Wondering and asking questions;
- Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.
But how do we know what kind of thinking is taking place and how can we be sure that all our students are developing these thinking skills? What insights do we have into how our students are thinking and learning?
These questions stimulated our curiosity to experiment with Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs) in our EFL classrooms and take up the 21st century challenge: “Build a culture of thinking” in our learning community.
“Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills’ course or fixed lessons.”
But what are Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs)?
Visible Thinking Routines were developed by Project Zero, an educational research group at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The routines consist of a few short steps which scaffold and guide students’ thinking. They awaken curiosity and encourage students to dig deeper, taking their thinking to a more sophisticated level (Ritchhart et al, 2011).
We can demonstrate the potential of VTRs by illustrating our mini-research project carried out with two classes of 13-year-old students, in a state secondary school in Italy. The average English competency level of the students was A2 (CEFR) with 3 hours a week of EFL instruction using a mainstream textbook. The routines were chosen according to the thinking dispositions we were aiming to develop, the content being presented in the textbook, and how suitable we felt the routines would be in the given teaching context.
We focused on three different thinking dispositions linked to three VTRs.
|Thinking Dispositions||Visible Thinking Routines|
|Capturing the heart||Headlines|
|Wondering and asking questions||See-Think-Wonder|
A routine for capturing essence.
An article about fundraising and charity concerts.
- Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The students had been working on making deductions, expressing agreement/disagreement, and probability.
- They worked individually on the texts, highlighting key phrases to help them create their headlines, and then shared their ideas on the poster.
- They shared their thinking in small groups, read the other headlines, and made comparisons.
The Headlines routine encouraged students to think more deeply about the content and develop their ability to synthesise. Through sharing their thoughts they developed meaningful conversations around the content of the poster.
A routine for exploring visuals and related texts.
A photograph of a polluted river.
- Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The See-Think-Wonder routine raises students’ curiosity about the topic with visual stimuli.
- First (see) they described what they could see, then (think) they expressed their thoughts about the image, and finally (wonder) they were encouraged to express what else they would like to know about the topic.
- The students were given question stems to help them articulate their thoughts. Although they spoke in a mix of L1 and English, they wrote their responses in English.
This routine helped the students analyse a visual, and use elements within it to generate their own ideas related to the topic. We found this routine particularly inclusive, as listening to each other’s ideas and opinions encouraged all group members to speak up and share.
A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge.
A photo, audio, and some text about the environment and recycling.
- Topic specific vocabulary and expressions had been pre-taught.
- The students made observations about the photograph and the dialogue by applying the (now familiar) STW routine before using the new CEC routine.
- Using the reading text, first they made connections (connect) to what they already knew about recycling, then they discussed what new information they had gained and how this had extended their knowledge (extend), and finally (challenge) what still puzzled them. The students worked in groups and then a plenary session was held to present their thinking
and their “challenges”.
The EFL classroom is often a difficult place for students to express their ideas and their knowledge about a given topic. The CEC routine helped the students tap into their prior knowledge and relate it to new content and encouraged them to go beyond the surface level of the topic.
A significant consideration which arose while reflecting with students is the importance of feeling comfortable and confident without the threat of evaluation; their thinking is not assessed in this approach! This concept needs to be highlighted at the outset of any Visual Thinking Routine and made clear that it is not just another worksheet to fill in with the right answer, but rather that it’s their thinking process that matters.
Visual Thinking Routines need to be used regularly and systematically across the board so that students develop good thinking dispositions and habits which in turn have a positive interdisciplinary impact over time.
How could VTRs make a difference to your teaching?
Patrizia Caroti is a teacher and ELT author with 30 years’ experience of teaching English in Italian Secondary Schools.
Sarah M Howell is an OUP author and teacher trainer. She has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels.
Lisa Kester Dodgson is an OUP author with a rich background in primary and secondary education.
References (recommended reading list!)
Majida “Mohammed Yousef” Dajani. (2016). Using Thinking Routines as a Pedagogy for Teaching English as a Second Language in Palestine. Journal of Educational Research and Practice , Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1–18. Walden University, LLC, Minneapolis, MN.
Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., Wilson, D., (2013). Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in all Schools John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K., & Perkins, D. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
“Thinking Palette.” Artful Thinking. Project Zero. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb. 2017. <https://pzartfulthinking.org/?page_id=2>
Ritchhart, Ron., Perkins, David., & Tishman, Shari. “Visible Thinking.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb, 2017.<https://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking>
Salmon, K, Angela. “Making Thinking Visible Through Action Research.” Early Childhood Education. The official journal of the Early Childhood Education Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Volume 39, Number 1. 2010. <https://www.academia.edu/4841813/Making_Thinking_Visible_Through_Action_Research>
Arcenas, Claire. “Bridging our Thinking.” Visible thinking across subject matters. 13 Feb 2015. <https://clairearcenas.wordpress.com/>
Ritchhart, Ron. “Cultures of Thinking.” Think! From the Middle. Rochester Community Schools. March 2017. <https://www.rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/cultures-of-thinking.html>
Jacobson, Gareth. “Team Teaching – an all or nothing phenomenon.” I think therefore… 16th Nov. 2016. <https://makingthinkingvisible.wordpress.com/>
“Research.” Visible Thinking for the child to be and the adult to see. <https://visiblethinking.ltd.uk/research/>