Who are my students becoming as thinkers and learners as a result of their time with me?
By: Leticia Daza, MS SLL Teacher
Asociación Escuelas Lincoln – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Last year I had the opportunity to participate with a group of colleagues from my school, in the Creating of Cultures of Thinking online course by the Project Zero – Harvard Graduate School of Education. This course was based on Ron Ritchhart’s book Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our School. When the first session started, our instructor, Mrs. Faraday de la Camara, asked us a key question, a question that became a new structure of my thinking which guided and reorganized my teaching in a fabulous pathway: Who are my students becoming as thinkers and learners as a result of their time with me? I had an answer at that moment, but it didn’t completely satisfy me. Consequently, I decided to put all my effort in finding a better one. The following is my experience, and the impact that it provoked in my student’s learning.
Ron Ritchhart, defines that the process of creating a culture of thinking in the classroom like “teaching as enculturation”. Enculturation represents a process to learn from the environment that surrounds us, which can affect our learning. According to Kellen Kautzman (2014) “Enculturation can affect how you go about your own life without even knowing it.” Through that, we can say that we need to make of our classrooms a place where collective or individual thinking is visible, valued, and actively promoted. Following Ron Ritchhart’s eight cultural forces: Time, Opportunities, Routines and Structures, Language, Modeling, Interactions and Relationships, Physical Environment, and Expectations, represents the best way for creating a culture of thinking in the classroom.
I starter designing my lessons more focused on the thinking process that will conduce to the learning, rather than to be focused only on the work done (Expectations force). After having my expectations very clear, I found it important to work with the Modeling force. I wanted to show my students who we are as thinkers and learners. Modeling, for example, to make open questions, and how to inquire to find the best possible answers; sharing, discussing, and making our thinking visible. To make that happen, I decided to work at the same time with the Interactions & Relationships force. Through these forces I emphasized the behaviors that I desired to obtain as a group for showing respect and appreciation of others ideas and/or dispositions to create an ongoing collaborative inquiry. Next, as I like to work with my students collaboratively, I tried to arrange the best that I could my classroom’s space to facilitate thoughtful interactions, where my students could easily interact with their peers because they were sitting in groups. Also, we had posters with mind mappings, sketchnotings, and different materials to make their thinking visible. This arrangement represents the Physical Environment force. Later, talking about the Opportunities force, I gave my students the chance to show their thinking and understanding in very different ways based on their choices. I believe that giving students the choice of showing they’re thinking and learning is extremely powerful because it not only engages them; it empowers them.
To make thinking and learning visible, the Time force represents a very important factor. Even knowing that I always gave my students time for thinking, I wasn’t really conscious about the real importance of that force. After practicing and practicing, now, I can say that the “thinking time” represents an essential part in my everyday lessons. I found it completely necessary to let my students explore more deeply the Spanish Language and its structures. Through this, they started making many questions and connections with their first or second languages in order to find themselves their own answers, conducting them to a constant reflection about the “what and why” they are learning.
Now, concerning the Language force, I will stress the Language of Feedback. Feedback is totally necessary for learning to occur. I learned to use the most accurate language for feedback, it wasn’t easy, because I needed to train myself to use the correct language, and I am still working on it. This kind of language represents a language that is specific, and informative that directs students’ attention on the next task by setting their personal goals based on their own needs, rather than pointing out only the mistakes that they had done. I used questions like: How do you feel with the work that you’ve done? What improvements can you make? How are you going to do it? What makes you say that?
Last, but not least, I will talk about the Routines & Structures force. The use of Visible Thinking Routines is very important to promote students thinking. But, it’s necessary to use them continuously; also it is important to keep in mind that these routines are not activities. The constant use of them helped me to have a structure of thinking in my classroom (which became a habit) as a bridge to scaffold my students’ thinking.
Finally, I can say, that now I have a better answer for the question: Who are my students becoming as thinkers and learners as a result of their time with me? My students came into my classroom ready to ask questions; sharing their points of view with confidence; showed respect for others’ thinking; and knew how to apply their learning. Also, they became more open to reflect on their own learning, and could set their own goals to improve their learning. The Metacognition has being reached, and it was visible. We all did an improvement, but there is a lot more to do. Now, that a new school year has started, I cannot wait to keep on working and learning from Ron Ritchhart’s book Creating Cultures of Thinking (that I highly recommended) in order to create a culture of thinking and learning with my new students.
Ritchhart, Ron (2012). Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.
Kautzman Kellen (2014). How Does the Process of Enculturation Affect Learning? Acceded 18 August 2018 https://www.brighthubeducation.com/parenting-grade-schoolers/80030-how-does-the-process-of-enculturation-affect-your-childs-learning/