Dear Families,

A theme of Runkle School’s Professional Development for this year is “Visible Thinking,” a term popularized by education researcher Ron Ritchhart of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s research group “Project Zero.”  In studying this work last year I found its overriding themes resonating with me quite profoundly: children as innately curious and inquisitive beings, learning as a social endeavor, and teachers as facilitators of both their students’ knowledge acquisition and in their meta-cognitive development — in other words, teaching that seeks to put each child in charge of her or his own learning, and helps develop all students into creative, disciplined lifelong learners.
I have purchased for each staff member a copy of Dr. Richhart’s book, “Making Thinking Visible,” and we have begun exploring together during faculty meetings the key principles of this work, as outlined by the author:
Learning is a consequence of thinking. Students’ understanding of content, and even their memory for content, increases when they think through—and with—the concepts and information they are studying. Thinking through issues is not a solo endeavor, however. Team members often share and build on one another’s knowledge.
● Good thinking is not only a matter of skills, but also a matter of dispositions. Openmindedness, curiosity, attention to evidence, skepticism, and imaginativeness all make for good thinking. Such characteristics concern not so much a person’s abilities as how the person invests those abilities. Children and adults often greatly underutilize their thinking capabilities. Accordingly, besides nurturing relevant skills, education needs to promote open-mindedness over closed-mindedness, curiosity over indifference, and so on.
● The development of thinking is a social endeavor. In classrooms, as in the world, there is a constant interplay between the group and the individual. We learn from those around us and our engagement with them. The sociocultural character of classrooms and schools should ensure that thoughtful learning is pervasive, not sporadic.
● Fostering thinking requires making thinking visible. Thinking happens mostly in our heads, invisible to others and even to ourselves. Effective thinkers make their thinking visible, meaning they externalize their thoughts through speaking, writing, drawing, or some other method. They can then direct and improve those thoughts. Visible Thinking also emphasizes documenting thinking for later reflection.
● Classroom culture sets the tone for learning and shapes what is learned. We have identified eight forces that shape classroom culture: (1) classroom routines and structures for learning, (2) language and conversational patterns, (3) implicit and explicit expectations, (4) time allocation, (5) modeling by teachers and others, (6) the physical environment, (7) relationships and patterns of interaction, and (8) the creation of opportunities.
● Schools must be cultures of thinking for teachers. Professional learning communities—in which rich discussions of teaching, learning, and thinking become a fundamental part of teachers’ experiences—provide the foundation for nurturing thinking and learning in the classroom. Administrators need to value, create, and preserve time for teachers to discuss teaching and learning, grounded in observation of student work.
I will share additional information about this exciting work with you in future missives.
Jm Stoddard

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