My quest to encourage critical thinking among my students, both online and in a classroom setting continues and this week I have turned again to 'The Power of Making Thinking Visible' by Ritchhart and Church.
The premise behind this book is to help teachers encourage Thinking Routines that enable young people to practise skills of analysis, increase engagement and a feeling of empowerment.
Teaching analytical thinking skills can be tricky. I often find that students will simply try to write a fact with a comment like, 'which is important/significant' on the end, hoping that this is sufficient. In order to combat this I have, in the recent past, given students sentence starters to lead them. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was not creating a Thinking Routine, but instead was scaffolding them to such an extent that they were just filling in the blanks hoping that they would get the word that I was thinking. In effect, while they often got the 'right' answer, I was actually dis-empowering my students.
One of the Thinking Routines in the aforementioned book is called 'The Story Routine: Main-Side-Hidden'. This was the one that I chose to facilitate a discussion about the current social and political situation in Belarus. This Thinking Routine could be applied to any level of education and for the majority of subjects.
After sharing a video clip and articles with the students - a week ahead of the meeting of the Politics and International Relations Society- I introduced the Thinking Routine.
The students were asked the following:
What is the main or central story being told?
What is the side story (or stories) happening on the sidelines or around the edges?
What is the hidden story? Is there something happening below the surface that we aren't readily aware of?
As the students explored this Thinking Routine, I asked follow up questions to challenge them, such as 'What makes you say that?' and 'Why do you think that this may the case?' and 'What do you think the consequences of this may be?' and 'How might this impact the democratic process?' and 'Is this important? Why?' and 'How does the hidden story or side story help us understand the main story better?'
Thinking in such terms and then being asked to explain why they think what they think is empowering and so far away (happily) from the over-scaffolding of the fill-in-the blanks sentences.
What I have observed in my students is not just agile thinking but a growth in their confidence. They have time to think and can see that they are thinking. They can see that I am interested in their thinking and that I am thinking.
Thinking becomes the classroom culture, but it then becomes a habit that they can use in all aspects of their lives - this makes them better communicators and critical thinkers. I have also observed how this Thinking Routine has improved some students' emotional intelligence. They listen carefully to learn from their peers, they are not just waiting for their turn to tell others their views. I model how we can bring in others into the conversation and give feedback using the Feedback Ladder. I have watched with delight as some of my students will preface their comments with 'I really liked what....said about......and it made me wonder.....' and 'Can you tell me a bit more about that as I am not sure I quite get it?' and 'That links to the point that .....made so I wonder if.....?'
I do believe that our young people need to be nurtured and while this undoubtedly can happen in the home, it can also happen in the classroom. Both environments are very different and there are different protocols, expectations, pressures and issues, but both provide excellent opportunities to help young people grow and develop into confident, heard, responsible, thoughtful individuals who are respectful of the views of others.