The Harbour School

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Minds-on: Teaching Students to Think

  • 2021
  • Middle School
  • Primary
Jen Crickenberger, Curriculum and Instruction Coach

As a member of The Harbour School’s Project Zero team, I have been spending a lot of time reflecting on what drives innovation within our school and researching how I can be an agent for positive change. After 14 years in the classroom, I am stepping out (with one foot still in the door) to be the school’s Curriculum and Instruction Coach. My focus for Harvard’s study includes how I can support teachers in taking risks and being open to change. I have my work cut out for me because change is scary and experimenting with innovative teaching practices takes time. 

A big push from Project Zero is to reflect on how we are encouraging our students to think. It’s a teacher’s primary goal, right? Through the work of Ron Ritchart, Mark Church and Project Zero’s research in collaboration with schools over years and around the world, Visible Thinking Routines were created. The use of these routines make students’ thinking at the forefront across all subject areas. Thinking Routines build habits which enable students to engage authentically with the content as they uncover its complexity in a systematic way. THS teachers have spent a large amount of time attending professional development, observing peers and reflecting on their own practices when using Thinking Routines over the past year. Now including Thinking Routines into lessons has become...routine.

To begin her first Math lesson of the year, 3B Head Teacher Sonia Hemnani used the Thinking Routine The 3 Ys to introduce the topic of calendars.  Students used whiteboards to write down why calendars mattered to them. Many responded with, “So I know when my birthday is.” Next they wrote and discussed why calendars matter to the people around them.  Their reasons included, “So that my parents know when their meetings are.”  Finally, students wrote and discussed why calendars matter to the world.  The resounding reason was in order for the government to know when people can get out of quarantine.  (Talk about real-word experiences in 2021!) When I asked Sonia how Visible Thinking Routines have helped her deliver her content, she said, “As an educator, Thinking Routines serve as meaningful formative assessment tools. The 3Ys Routine is a great way to introduce a new topic because learning transpires when there is a synergistic click and connection between new content, prior learning, and one’s own schema.”

Here at THS, we want our students’ thinking to be visible so we know that they understand what is being taught. This is much more complex than just knowledge retention. Thinking Routines help structure and support students’ thinking and are helping us to Redefine Rigor, one of our core values. A cool activity doesn't necessarily equal learning. We want our students to be thinking. We want lessons to be minds-on, not just hands-on. Ultimately, we want to cultivate engaged learners who understand the content deeply. And that, THS family, is worth taking risks for. 

*Project Zero is an educational research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

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