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  • Writer's pictureKaren Caswell

Thinking and Making Meaning

How can we help students become better thinkers?

‘Thinkers’ know how to think creatively, critically and deeply, and never stop at simply what they see.

One way to help students develop these skills, and habits, is through the use of Visible Thinking Routines. Visible Thinking Routines are simple structures, for example a set of questions or a short sequence of steps, that can be used across various grade levels and content, that are rich in thinking. Visible Thinking Routines have many benefits, especially for children who are just learning how to think and reason. They promote imagination and creativity. They aid in memory retention and they help students be more present in the moment. Minds wander less when they're actively engaged. Using VTRs also results in higher rates of student engagement, according to Harvard Graduate School of Education's Project Zero. The classroom becomes more enjoyable for the teacher as well as the students, as they work together to strengthen the skills required to think.

A Visible Thinking Routine my class recently used to develop an understanding of rules and laws is called Making Meaning (from The Power of Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchart and Mark Church). Making Meaning is a routine for constructing collective meaning of words, ideas, concepts or events. First, each student in the group shares one word they think is related to the main word, ides, concept of event. Then, each student adds their thinking to another student’s word. After that, students make connections between the groups of words, and then write any questions they have. The final step is to write their own definition of the original word, idea, concept or event. This routine was used to co-construct a class definition of ‘rules’ and ‘laws’, which were then displayed. Through the students actively engaging in the thinking process, they developed a deeper understanding than when being given the definition. Students documented and shared their thinking at each stage of this routine before moving on to the next phase. Groups engaged in a collective exploration of thinking through the use of a gallery walk at the end of the routine, in order to explore similarities and differences between the thinking of different groups.

Visible Thinking Routines also foster the development of many Deep Learning skills, including:

Collaboration: I work well with others, and our team effort makes the learning experience more successful; I listen to and understand other people’s viewpoints, and I value their perspectives even if they differ from my own; I respectfully share my viewpoints and learn from the viewpoints of others.

Communication: I can make myself clear to others when sharing my thoughts; I can connect and communicate more than a single idea, and in more ways than one; My communication is relevant to my audience and allows them to understand my points;

Critical Thinking: I can connect what I know with what I learn and expand my understanding of a topic; I can use a number of strategies to find and create new knowledge and beliefs; My knowledge and the knowledge of my peers combine to spark new, powerful ideas; I use what I have learned in one task to solve new or different tasks.

"Most of all, have the confidence in every learner's ability to think and your capacity to nurture that thinking. The results will amaze and energise you." Ron Ritchart
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